An aerial rendering of Selldorf Architects' proposed expansion plans.
Courtesy Selldorf Architects An aerial rendering of Selldorf Architects' proposed expansion plans.

More than 70 architects, critics, and academics—including Robert A. M. Stern, FAIA, Paul Goldberger, Hon. AIA, Toshiko Mori, FAIA, and Mohsen Mostafav, Intl. Assoc. AIA—sent a letter to Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego (MCASD) board chairman Paul Jacobs and director Kathryn Kanjo, petitioning expansion plans that would alter parts of the existing structure designed by Denise Scott Brown, Hon. FAIA, and Robert Venturi, FAIA.

"The MCASD stands on the verge of making a tremendous mistake," the petition writes. "We recognize the museum’s need to expand, but we ask that it do so without irreparably damaging a cultural landmark and in the process severely weakening La Jolla’s beloved village center."

Established in 1941, MCASD is located in the former residence of heiress Ellen Browning Scripps, which was designed by American architect Irving Gill in 1915. Since the organization's inception, its structure has undergone numerous expansions and additions, including the 1996 work completed by Venturi Scott Brown & Associates (VSBA). After acquiring an adjacent property, the museum selected New York–based Selldorf Architects to realize a $75 million expansion plan in 2014, which, if completed, will quadruple gallery space to 40,000 square feet.

MCASD Exterior
Courtesy Selldorf Architects MCASD Exterior

"Selldorf Architects was tasked with creating new architecture on the southern part of the site that would provide significantly more gallery space, create a more welcoming and clear entry, and give greater coherence to the site enhancing the museum’s connection to its spectacular coastal setting," the project description writes.

Design mandates from the museum included "clarifying the entry sequence to the building, ... expanding gallery space while integrating the complex existing conditions into a harmonious whole ... [, and] adding a new volume to the south on two levels for new galleries and includes a new public art park," according to the museum.

However, according to the petitioners, this work would "tear down much of VSBA’s façade 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."

Denise Scott Brown joined the petitioners in their condemnation of the current plans. “You could spend your budget on the new galleries, not on an unnecessary reframing of the Scripps House and a harmful distancing and reducing of the entry," she said in an additional statement. "In designing our building, we carefully analyzed and reacted to a pattern of activities on Prospect Street. But now the delicate connections that we created are to be severed, equally threatening the museum and the village. Why not go on from what we so lovingly provided."

An architectural timeline of the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego
Courtesy Selldorf Architects

Following the release of the petition, MCASD offered its own statement renewing its support of Selldorf Architects and and clarifying the issue of the entryway.

"Following the building’s 1996 opening, at the behest of the museum, VSBA made an effort to remedy this important issue by designing additional exterior and interior signage. Despite these efforts, the entry to the museum remained elusive to many visitors. With the significant physical expansion of the site to the south, and the auditorium becoming a gallery, the balance of galleries is now located to the south, and Selldorf’s placement of the entry is therefore both intuitive and functional."

"Designed with sensitivity to its site, Selldorf’s plan respects and celebrates its place in the coastal landscape as it integrates the needs of the museum into the aesthetics and culture of the community," the MCASD's Kanjo said in a statement. "With clarity and rigor, Selldorf’s design accomplishes the museum’s very important goal of creating additional gallery space to showcase our world-renowned permanent collection, and does so in a way which gives continued presence to three generations of the Museum’s architects.”

Selldorf Architects is currently in the midst of two other museum projects including the Frick Collection expansion in New York, and the redesign of Atlanta's High Museum of Art.