Manetti Shrem Museum of Art

“Good museum architecture is something that enables the public to enter into a significant relationship with art.”
- John Miller, from Museum of the Future

Defining the museum as a landscape of cultivation, the design of the recently established Manetti Shrem Museum at the University of California, Davis, captures the Central Valley’s spirit of optimism, imagination, and invention. Cultivation has a divergent etymology, on one hand rural, on the other urban bourgeoisie. The overarching ‘Grand Canopy’ seeks to embrace both contexts, extending a rolling form patchworked with aluminum beams over both site and building. An environmental silhouette, the design provides identity and awareness to multiple constituencies.

Beneath the canopy, the spatial and experiential qualities of diversity and transparency underscore the museum’s democratic stance. Casually taking root at the edge of the campus, the unique form of the canopy draws visitors from a distance. The subtle interplay of light and shadow across the public plaza helps blur the boundary between civic and institutional spheres. Inside, a glass-walled lobby invites interaction as the convergence of viewing, learning, and making areas. These interconnected interior and exterior spaces create informal opportunities for experiencing art and learning, supporting the museum’s mission to have all visitors become students.

Close attention to the museum’s many contexts led to the innovative organization of its social and physical components enabling the cultivation of relationships. A single-story plan and central lobby lounge allow for barrier-free physical and visual connectivity to all of the programs and activities. The result offers a model for the future museum that is neither isolated nor exclusive, but open and permeable; not a static shrine, but a constantly evolving public event.

Project completed by SO-IL and Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, associated architects – Ryan Keerns involved as Project Manager / Project Architect.


University of California, Davis


Davis, California


Museum of art with classrooms


30,000 sf


Completed 2016


AIA California Council - Honor Award
AIA San Francisco - Merit Award
Architizer A+ Awards - Finalist
Blueprint Awards - Finalist


Abitare - 534, Jul 2013
Architect - Dec 2016
The Architect's Newspaper - Feb 2017
Architectural Record - Dec 2016
The Architectural Review - Mar 2017
Art Ltd. - Dec 2016
Cultured - Winter 2016
DETAIL Magazine - Dec 2018
Mark - No 65, Dec 2016
Metroplis - Dec 2016
The Plan - 096, Mar 2017
The Wall Street Journal - Best of 2016

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