The Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego recently released plans to begin demolition on a portion of its La Jolla building designed by Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown. Aiming to expand and renovate, the museum is facing mounting criticism from a range of architects, critics and historians. The new plan calls for Venturi Scott Brown's exterior colonnade into Axline Court to be removed, and for the museum's neon-accented entry atrium to be repurposed as a public gathering space. With a part of the colonnade already removed, critics have signed an open letter hoping to save VSB's work.
The museum complex centers on a 1915 residence that Irving Gill designed for philanthropist Ellen Browning Scripps. Over time, additions by San Diego-based Architects Mosher Drew and, later, Venturi Scott Brown, added gallery space, an auditorium and the entrance atrium. The entryway, completed in 1996 by VSB, was created in the Postmodern style. The new $75-million expansion by New York-based Selldorf Architects would move the museum’s entrance south along Prospect Street. The proposed addition would add 30,000 square feet of gallery space to the museum to showcase its permanent collection.
"This well-loved urban space is now threatened by the museum’s expansion plan. The plan, drawn up by New York-based Selldorf Architects, would tear down much of VSB’s facade as well as their dramatic colonnade—interrupting the urbane rhythm of the street and destroying the courtyard. And it would move the museum’s entry to a formulaic glass lobby that thumbs its nose at Gill’s architecture."
Open Letter to MCASD
Museum director Kathryn Kanjo said that the new plan is an attempt to make a more overt and transparent entrance for the museum. Addressing this point, the open letter explains the value of VSB’s design, noting the firm's "careful study and understanding of La Jolla’s urban form. Its street frontage, museum store, and cafe extend the rhythm of Prospect Street’s lively storefronts.” The VSB colonnade and entrance was designed to engage the point where the city's commercial thoroughfare becomes residential in La Jolla.
The petition and open letter has already been sent to director Kanjo. While no official response has been made, new construction is still slated to begin in October.