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Walter Hood, MacArthur ‘genius’ grant winner, will transform Oakland Museum of California

The lauded landscape designer will turn the museum into a more publicly-friendly space

Exterior shot of the museum’s steps with new flora and plants growing from the rooftop.
The future 12th Street entrance.
Renderings by Hood Design Studio, courtesy of Oakland Museum of California

In an effort to expand its role as a public gathering place, the Oakland Museum of California, located on the perimeter of Lake Merritt, will undergo major architectural and landscape improvements starting this year.

Most notably, Walter Hood, who, along with 25 other recipients, just won this year’s coveted MacArthur “genius” grant, will spearhead the look and feel for the new grounds.

OMCA’s iconic terraced gardens, positioned at each of the museum’s three stories, will see the most change. The gardens will soon feature a myriad of plants native to California, with each terrace representing an ecoregion of California containing greenery and flora found throughout the state.

A fresh batch of sculptures will be placed throughout the public gardens, including works by California artists like as Ruth Asawa, Bruce Beasley, Beniamino Bufano, Mark di Suvero, Viola Frey, George Rickey, and Peter Voulkos.

Exterior rendering shows three levels of concrete facade of museum with plants bordering each level.

Three 20-foot openings will replace the imposing exterior wall along the museum’s northern side facing Lake Merritt, creating a new entrance and opening up the campus on a well-trafficked pedestrian corner.

In creating the new design, Hood researched the work of Dan Kiley, the original landscape architect of the museum’s gardens. Kiley’s plans didn’t include its current northern garden wall—a barrier placed during an era of civil unrest when the museum opened in 1969.

“In the late ’60s, Oakland was in turmoil,” Hood told Art Net News in August, noting that Black Panther co-founder Huey P. Newton was jailed not far from the museum’s home, resulting in public protests. “We think the idea of walling the museum in may have been a product of the times.”

A rendering of a stage with a band playing. The stage is highlighted by four steel posts and a cover.
The outdoor stage area at night.

New configurations along the museum’s 10th Street side will allow direct entry into OMCA’s cafe and public event space, creating better pedestrian access.

Other new highlights will include built-in lighting and audio/visual elements in the outdoor stage area, as well as enhancements to the terraces and patios, central courtyard, and seating areas.

On Thursday, the museum announced that it already raised approximately $71 million toward the $85 million fundraising goal for its renovation. Construction on the new OMCA is tentatively scheduled for completion in the fall of 2020.