Museum of Arts and Sciences, Daytona Beach

A new gallery wing design brings permanent collections (and a prehistoric sloth) together in a single unifying space

By Richard Reep AIA, LEED AP and Stephanie Moss 

The new West Wing Gallery for the Museum of Arts & Sciences, designed by VOA Associates Incorporated, recently opened in Daytona Beach, Florida. The West Wing addition houses five galleries staging MOAS’s world-class permanent collection. The museum commissioned VOA through an invited design competition, which VOA won in 2012.

Today, we’re checking in with designers Richard Reep and Stephanie Moss on the challenge and inspiration behind the design. Interview by John Dugan.

Why did the museum rebuild its West Wing?
The museum’s original West Wing was built in 1969, with subsequent additions in the 1970s and 1980s. It was built in a low-lying area prone to flooding. After the most recent flood, the museum received a FEMA grant to raise the floor level up above the flood zone.  With this grant, and an additional employee charity grant (ECHO), the museum invited VOA Associates, Inc. and several other firms with museum experience to submit a design proposal. 

What did VOA do that stood out in the original design competition?
We successfully won the competition by listening to the client to learn exactly what its program needs were, and delivering an elegance and strong design.  For example, the museum’s existing planetarium was part of the re-build, and other competition entries made this an exaggerated design feature. Our team looked at the site and found an unused courtyard the ideal size for the planetarium. This strategic infill placed it exactly where the museum preferred it operationally while creating a dynamic new design language that carried through the rest of the project without needlessly overpowering the architecture.

How did we approach the design competition for MOAS, Daytona Beach?
The original wing was composed of a series of hexagonal galleries, clustered like a honeycomb. With our museum experience, we wanted to clarify the way the museum presented its collection and strengthen the visitor experience with a structurally clear organizational element. We did this with a new long, tall gallery that knits each of the permanent collections together with a single unifying new space.

What kind of exhibits will be show in the West Wing galleries?
The central space and lobby allow for rotating exhibits and highlighted items from permanent collections. The program required three equal-sized galleries for African art and artifacts, an important pre-Castro Cuban art gallery, the Prehistory of Florida gallery, and a new gallery for travelling exhibits. These are adjacent to the main gallery which currently has a portion of the permanent exhibit on display.

What was the design process like for the West Wing?
This project required us to create a strong and compelling design for presentation and approval by the client. Our design team worked together closely to create a design approach that boiled down to a few simple rules. These rules could be applied to each unique condition in a way that allowed for variety in the museum’s interior spaces while staying true to a unifying thesis.

The MOAS is situated on a nature preserve, how did that influence our design for the new West Wing?
Nature in Florida has a very intimate and nuanced relationship with water. This nature preserve is no exception; it is a very dense coastal forest that has a flat, undulating forest floor. When it floods in this area, an inch can make a big difference between wet or dry, live or die. The design of the West Wing concretizes the memory of water in the nature preserve through its horizontal layers of materials creating an interior experience meaningful to the visitor.

What kind of visitor experience is promoted through the design?
The design provides a timeless space for the museum’s future. It plays the role of venue, home to curated pieces from permanent collections and showcase for temporary displays. We thought a lot about the display of visual art, how viewers experience it, and how to properly honor the work of the artist. Because the collection ranges widely between science and arts, the West Wing’s job is to unify it into a grand, humanistic statement, while letting each piece stand out in sharp focus for contemplation.

Are there any unexpected elements, things one wouldn’t expect in a museum art gallery?
In the rear of the West Wing, off a small corridor looms the skeleton of a 13-foot tall Giant Ground Sloth that lived in Florida 10,000 years ago. It’s the museum’s most remarkable and unique piece. The museum was interested in presenting this sloth for maximum impact. The Florida Natural History exhibit gallery is entered at an angle and the sloth is revealed only when the viewer has entered the gallery.  

The original 1960s vintage Museum is reminiscent of much of the design discussion of that era:  the hexagons recall the philosophy of Buckminster Fuller, and the original free-plan design and stacked bond concrete masonry recall much of the Sarasota School of Architecture.

The West Wing evolves the design language into the twenty-first century with a more fluid interior sense.  While it would have been nice to continue the free-plan flow of space, the museum’s programmatic imperative was to divide the galleries into discrete rooms. 

What did working on this project mean to you personally and professionally?

SM: This project was three years from competition to completion. It will have a great impact on Central Floridians. I am energized by projects that serve as educational resources. I see the MOAS Daytona Beach as a unique place that provides the public with opportunities to engage with a wild variety of subject matter – everything from Cuban art and Coca-Cola to constellations.

RR: I have been fortunate to design several museums, and our working relationship with this client was one of the very best of my career. The design challenge, to create a highly specific place about memory and site using a very spare palette, was rewarding.

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