On the Luce | Mingei International Museum

Canadian-born architect Jennifer Luce is the powerhouse behind LUCE et Studio, a collaborative practicing at the intersection of architecture, art and design.

Luce et Studio's work spans multiple scales from regional masterplans and commissions from museums like Mingei, to boutique hotels and custom furniture. The office itself is a "work in progress that contains information about people encountered over the years and their craft." An entire alcove is devoted to the Museum's Transformation.

Your name is synonymous with San Diego architecture. What attracted you to the city?

It was by chance. I had come to the US from Canada for a competition to do a building in DC, where I worked for a number of years. Needing to solidify the decision had to do with immigration and sponsorship, looking for a partner. Moving to San Diego was about work and living in this country. I left a couple times to go to grad school but always came back. There’s an emotional connection to the city. Though I remain “Canadian from Montreal,” I have a strong sense about my purpose in/and this community.

It was like an arranged marriage.

Tell us about your relationship to Mingei and the renovation.

For me, this project with Mingei is a perfect confluence of all the things I feel strongly about. It means so much to me. It’s about the Park, and my background is in urban planning. The craft of fine art and design I’m passionate about. And it’s one of the most authentic and humble institutions in the city that I believe in. It couldn’t be a better fit.

It’s a partnership of sorts. We are your architect, but we’ve done "all of it" together. We moved beyond just floors and lighting to traveling with (Mingei Executive Director & CEO) Rob (Sidner) and board members to understand the futures of museums, what your efforts are and how we can identify the strengths of our union. The outreach that we do, we do together.

What differentiates this build from redesigns of other museums?

How deeply Mingei is rooted in the emotional and sentimental core of the city by being in the Park. It’s like the Met in NYC. The behemoth for me has the same homey quality, to explore not just the exhibitions but to dive in and spend a rainy Saturday afternoon. It’s personal on that level, with a global presence.

I compare it to many places, to New York, London, Paris . . . translating that energy and attitude to Mingei, the thoughtful, quiet contemplative world that Mingei is and how relevant the Museum is for San Diego. It’s an important moment to aspire to something big. Not big, but a big gesture of change.

What’s most special about the build to you?

Terraces look out onto the Park. In the sculpture court, you can have a meal in a secluded spot surrounded by art. It reminds me of Bilbao though there's no multidimensional stainless steel—it speaks to the city, but it’s intrinsic. I’m optimistic that we can do all of this in the context of a historic building. For the Met building, in the plazas, you climb stairs, but there’s no relation to the city. We want to create a relationship to the plaza and Alcazar Garden.

In relation to that circulation that has continuity to the park as well as the city, what’s your secret to success in acquiring permissions?

It’s a good question. I care about the conversations with developers. It’s a coup to get permissions. Typically building in the Park is challenging. There’s a historic designation and care to be had. We have presented all the change we proposed as an advantage to experience the park, as a gift to the city. It’s an effort made by a humble, beloved institution in the city. When you go outside to speak about the project, there is a sigh: "I love that place."

What distinct materials are you using for the the interiors?

(referencing the samples on display) We’ll use a Venetian finish on the walls. The reflective white marble will capture light and shadow. The oak floor made by Dinesen was milled in Denmark, and they leave in the original flaws in the wood and fix them with butterfly joints. That will be used throughout the gallery flooring and the vertical wall surfaces. The gray stone was mottled from insects tunneling and secreting calcium trails that fossilize in the stone; the camouflage is left over from the organisms that bored through it.

What is your favorite and most challenging part of the renovation, if they're not one and the same?

I think my favorite part is this moment and gesture of opening and exposing. I think that comes in three main places:

There were beautiful elegant working arcades in the Park of the 1920s and teens, like Torino in Italy arcaded to protect it from snow. Opening the Museum up to the arcades is amazing. How well people will interact with opening . . . they will experience it and embrace it.

The multipurpose theater made from an appropriated, once functional loading dock will be transformed into a vibrant life of performance, meeting and gathering. It opens the Museum to so many more people. The entry points converge in two main areas. It reminds me of markets in Europe taking up a block of a city with different entries and different experiences each time. It’s unique, about surprise.

The theme of opening and exploring is the bell tower—an existing space that was forgotten, and then we rediscovered it. We're peeling it away and relining it to house the Chihuly but allowing access. Mounting the stairs will be a psychologically energizing experience.

Tell us about the classroom.

We took the classroom for granted as necessary. That the Museum created a wing devoted to education is really important. It’s not in the basement, which is often the case with institutions. After we rendered it, we realized it’s an exciting space. We knew it would be beautiful but didn’t know about that extra plane of light.

"It’s an important moment to aspire to a big gesture of change."

Plaza level, free to all.
Education Center, a light-filled wing.

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