Dezeen Magazine

Morphosis OCMA aerial

Morphosis completes terracotta-clad Orange County Museum of Art

American architecture studio Morphosis has completed a terracotta-clad art museum in Costa Mesa, California, that features expansive gallery space and a multi-storey atrium.

The 53,000-square-foot (4,924 square metre) museum features a set of galleries wrapped around a large outdoor terrace with public steps that lead up from the sidewalk.

Morphosis terracotta art museum california
Morphosis designed the Orange County Museum of Art in Costa Mesa

The multi-storey Orange County Museum of Art (OCMA) is located at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts – an art complex in Costa Mesa.

Los Angeles-based Morphosis, which was founded by Pritzker Architecture Prize-winning architect Thom Mayne, designed the structure to have a "gradient of architectural intensity, from complex forms at the museum's entry to rectilinear and flexible forms within the galleries".

Morphosis Terracotta museum
It is clad in terracotta

Morphosis chose to wrap the structure in a sculptural facade of white, glazed-terracotta panelling punctuated at points by windows that brings light into the galleries.

The concrete and steel structure was exposed at moments, with massive support beams crisscrossing up from the ground to support the upper levels.

View of museum with surrounding buildings
A large staircase leads up to a central terrace

The main level wraps around the entire block and holds most of the gallery spaces. Some of this gallery space was set up like a  "storefront" according to the studio in order to open up the experience to the street and passersby.

This level also includes the entry lobby with a mezzanine and the large, window-lit atrium.

Walkway with terracotta panelling
Concrete, glass and steel are also visible in the design

At the front entrance, a massive set of stairs proceeds up to a large public plaza that sits on top of the main level. The staircase is meant as a public space and passes under a section of the facade.

The studio likened these steps to those at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City or the Spanish Steps in Rome.

Terrace on orange county art museum
The terrace leads to galleries and the museum cafe

"Linking the museum to the arts complex's Argyros Plaza and adjacent performing arts venues, the stair will become an inviting gathering space for pedestrians and visitors," said Morphosis.

The plaza level spans nearly the whole of the museum and the firm noted that it was equivalent to nearly 70 per cent of the building's footprint.

Atrium in Orange County Art Museum
The multi-storey atrium is over the lobby

The space was designed to host a sculpture garden, be an extension to the galleries and host open-air events. A cafe and a museum shop will be accessible from the terrace level.

"The OCMA design represents a new model for museums based on public, urban, communal spaces with strong connections between interior and exterior," said Mayne and Morphosis partner-in-charge Brandon Welling.

From the open space rises an asymmetrical, sculptural wing that holds the upper levels of the entry atrium.

At the top of the atrium is the Education Pavilion, which will hold spaces for educational programming and performance space that looks out through floor-to-ceiling glazing to the terrace level.

Morphosis museum Orange County skylight atrium
Windows bring light into the atrium

The museum – founded in 1984 – will hold a variety of temporary exhibitions that feature the works of artists, architects and designers as well as a permanent collection.

Designs for the museum were put forward in 2015 and construction was begun in 2019. The museum opened in October 2022.

Other projects by Morphosis include an asymmetrical supertall skyscraper in Shenzen as well as the Emerson College campus in Los Angeles.

The photography is by Mike Kelley unless otherwise noted. 

Project credits: 

Architect: Morphosis
General contractor: Clark Construction Group
Structural engineer: John A. Martin & Associates
MEP engineer & sustainability: Buro Happold
Civil engineer: KPFF
3Lighting designer: Horton Lees Brogden Lighting Design & TM Light
Fire life safety engineers: Simpson Gumpertz & Heger
Cost estimator: Dharam Consulting
Landscape architecture: OJB Landscape Architecture
Signage / graphics: Follis Design & Weidner CA
Acoustics engineer: Newson Brown Acoustics
Audiovisual / IT: Waveguide
Facade: Walter P Moore
Specifications: Construction Specifications Inc.
Commissioning: Integrated Commissioning Solutions
Projection: VT Pro
Geotechnical engineer: Leighton Consulting
Structural concrete: Coan Construction CompanyElectrical / Telecom /
Fire alarm: AJ Kirkwood & Associates Inc.
Mechanical and plumbing: Pan Pacific MechanicalFraming / Drywall /
Plaster: Infinity Drywall Contracting
Ceilings: Martin Integrated
Fabric ceiling: Fabric Wallcraft
Steel fabricator: SouthwestSteel & Beck Steel
Steel erector: Pro Steel Erectors, Inc.
Polished concrete: Shaw & Sons
Glazing: Roschmann Group
Terracotta / metal panels / roofing & waterproofing: Best Contracting Services, IncOrnamental Metals & Railings & Misc.
Metals: Washington Ironworks
Landscape & irrigation: American Landscape

More images and plans

Orange County Museum of Art by Morphosis
Orange County Museum of Art by Morphosis
Orange County Museum of Art by Morphosis
Orange County Museum of Art by Morphosis
Orange County Museum of Art by Morphosis
Orange County Museum of Art by Morphosis