Mingei International Museum has completed a major transformation of its facility on the Plaza de Panama in Balboa Park, one that redefines its relationship to the park and the San Diego region.
The transformation will reveal a new and dynamic museum with enhancements and improvements to the 1915 Spanish Colonial style House of Charm, including the addition of 10,000 square feet of space for exhibitions and programming, a new theater and education center and amenities including a bistro, gift shop and coffee bar. The total finished square footage will be over 50,000. New features include:
By translating Mingei’s mission, goals, and aspirations into a dynamic and new environment, architect Jennifer Luce designed a project that promotes an enhanced dialogue between the museum, its surroundings, and the other cultural institutions within the park. Mingei is also giving back to the City of San Diego through the addition of open space and restoration of its historic home, The House of Charm.
Mingei leadership and architect Jennifer Luce made intentional, aesthetic choices focused on materials and exceptional craftsmanship and design at every turn. From local artisans to international icons, the application of craft is evident throughout the museum. After two years of design, planning and fundraising, Layton Construction was hired to complete the renovation. Demolition began in September, 2018 with full construction commencing one year later.
The Commons level (main floor) of the museum, accessible from the Plaza de Panama and Alcazar Garden, will be open and free to the public at all times. With a significant art installation of permanent collection objects, Shop Mingei, a new bistro, a walk-up coffee bar, and an outdoor courtyard, this “living room for the park” will provide ample gathering space and a warm welcome to park visitors. Opening a new entry point from west to east — connecting Alcazar Garden continuously through the ground-level open and public spaces to the Plaza de Panama —provides the public a sense of exploration and discovery.
The Gallery level (upstairs) will include newly configured, flexible gallery spaces totaling 15,000 square-feet, each with a sculpted plaster ceiling making reference to origami and reflecting light in a striking way. This level will also host Mingei’s art reference library, the Founders’ Gallery, home to the Museum’s iconic Nakashima table, and two upper-level terraces overlooking the Plaza de Panama that have not been open to the public for many decades.
New architectural elements and spaces help activate and support the mission of Mingei. They include an annex featuring a 120-seat-capacity flexible theater with a retractable 40-foot glass wall opening onto a new amphitheater with unobstructed views of historic Palm Canyon. It will also serve as a communal resource, available to partnering cultural institutions throughout the region. Its roof will become an outdoor courtyard for informal gatherings, intimate outdoor lectures or programmed events.
Behind the scenes, the redesign will support best practices in art handling, registration and scholarly research. A new light-filled education center will provide a hub for students, educators and learners of all ages to engage in hands-on activities.
To explore the deeper connection between the art of Mingei, the transformative architecture, and LUCE et studio’s commitment to artist collaborations, LUCE initiated a series of commissions with acclaimed women artists. These artists were invited to work with the built environment on a grand scale. The commissions serve the dual purpose as distinct stand-alone creations while simultaneously functioning as elements purposefully and imaginatively woven into the building’s public spaces.
The museum project was awarded an AIA San Diego Design Award in 2019 in the “Unbuilt” category.