The Magnes Museum
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The Magnes Museum

November 25, 2014
The Magnes’ vision was to break from the traditional museum experience where a pre-scripted and linear program guides your perception of the collection.  Instead they wanted to “turn the sock inside out” and reveal the collection (usually hidden in the back rooms) to the visitors.  This creates an experience that allows the visitor to realize the depth and extent of the collection, and thus be encouraged to guide their own exploration.  We took this notion of “placing the viewer within the collection” as a driver for our design efforts.

The layout of the plan places the exhibition space in between the arrival space and the actively used gallery and event spaces. This means that day-to-day visitors must pass through the collection display space (with its changing display of collection elements) each time they go to an event or exhibition.  The area’s sensuous wood and glass display cabinets, with their faceted-shapes, creates nooks and crannies that draw your body in to be surrounded by the different and varied collection pieces.  The archival stacks are visible through large glass walls to either side of the display offering blunt honesty about the nature of archival activity, and views that connect these stored elements with the actively displayed ones around you.  It’s all there to be seen and to engage the imagination.

The design of the featured display elements and donor wall is the product of a close collaborative working process with a local designer fabricator, Pacassa Studios.  This give-and-take collaboration allowed the fluid evolution of these featured display elements to start early and ultimately move to the highest level of refinement and craft.  What emerged was a space at the heart of the building, defined by a series of vessel like forms that display the artifacts, and a long vitrine wall that exposes the archives behind it.  The Magnes Collection demonstrates the benefits of a collaborative process that breaks down the traditional boundaries between designers and makers, and offers a glimpse of this exciting new model for design process

Location / year

Berkeley, CA / 2011

Project Type


Principals in Charge

Peter Pfau, FAIA, LEED AP


Peter Pfau, FAIA, LEED AP
Natalie Kittner, LEED AP

Photographic Credits

Pfau Long Architecture

Project Scope

Design-Build Renovation or Expansion

Square Footage

17,000 GSF

Project Manager

Natalie Kittner, LEED AP

Team Members

Michael Jak, AIA, LEED AP
Anthony Diaz
Adriana Daringa, LEED AP
Melanie Turner

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