Behind the Oakland Museum’s $20 Million Plan to Transform Its Roof Into a Public Art Oasis
August 5, 2019
Photo Courtesy Hood Design Studio
With the intent to upgrade and reinvigorate its rooftop gardens, the Oakland Museum of California has commissioned Walter Hood, landscape architect and CED professor, and his practice, Hood Design Studio, to undertake a $20 million renovation project for the outdoor portion of its seven-acre campus.
Overgrown and unmanageable, one of Hood’s main tasks focused on identifying vegetation suitable to the untested rooftop beds. Hood’s design envisions the four levels of the terraced garden to represent various ecological regions in the state: low desert, coastal forests, chaparral and woodlands, and the Mediterranean climate.
Hood hopes the different landscapes will make the terraces easier to navigate, helping visitors orient themselves on each level.
“Today, we understand sustainable aspects of landscape in a way that we didn’t 50 years ago,” said Hood at a luncheon in New York unveiling the museum’s plans. Figuring out how to replant the gardens while staying true to the spirit of the original design, he said, “was almost a research project.”
Other aspects of the new design include seating throughout the terraces and a permanent stage for performances and film screenings in the main courtyard.
Hood’s plan also includes opening the entire space, replacing walls with trees and connecting garden views to the adjacent Lake Merritt. Over the decades, the garden had become hidden behind a monotonous grove of dull, bushy evergreen trees.
In creating the new design, Hood began with research-like projects to investigate appropriate vegetation for the garden and delve into the museum’s history. Research into Dan Kiley, the original landscape architect who worked on the gardens, led Hood to understand that the initial designs did not include the northern garden wall, but the barrier instead was likely intended to protect the museum during an era of local unrest.
“In the late ’60s, Oakland was in turmoil,” Hood said, noting that Black Panther co-founder Huey P. Newton was in jail not far from the museum’s future home, which led to protests in the streets. “We think the idea of walling the museum in may have been a product of the times.” The new entrance will serve as a public porch, hopefully attracting members of the public who might not have known the museum was even there.
Hood's other museum projects include landscaping work at the de Young Museum in San Francisco, the Broad in Los Angeles, and the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum in New York. He is also working on the forthcoming International African American Museum in Charleston, South Carolina.
Hood's design for the Oakland Museum Gardens is scheduled to be completed by fall 2020; groundbreaking begins next month in sync with the 50th anniversary of the museum's original opening. The rooftop renovation is a single part in the master plan to upgrade the museum building and introduce a larger audience and name to the museum and Oakland.
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