Triton Museum Visit
by Suzan Swabacker
The winner was the architectural office of Barcelon and Jang. OWADP Member Darlene Jang and Wayne Barcelon presented the history of the project to a crowded 40 attendees in the Triton Museum on Wednesday, January 25, 2023, to hear about the intense competition that their firm won some 40 years ago.
To begin with there were 5 semi-finalists selected from 57 entries invited to a 56-hour charette at the future museum’s location in Santa Clara, California. In those days teams arrived with paper, pencils, T-squares, lots of pens, and lots of coffee. The 2½-day competition was continuous. Each team could choose to sleep or not. Each team was allowed five members at the competition site, although Darlene and Wayne’s team had 7 rotating members. Two remained at the hotel where they found wrappers from the bars of soap and shredded them to create palm trees with toothpicks for the final model. Oh yes, in those days one built a model out of cardboard. No such 3-D renderings existed although pen and watercolor perspectives were prevalent.
The primary competitor at the time was the JV joint venture team of William Turnbull (think Sea Ranch) and Frank Gehry (think some buildings that leak). Journalists showed up to ask questions and “bug” the competitors, but they informed the public about the event, as well.
Wayne and Darlene did an excellent job educating the audience about the values and the considerations of their team. A sense of place, a strong consideration of energy conservation strategies (unusual at that time), and a focus of the museum to an existing quiet garden became the cornerstone of their design.
Having been involved with several major galleries prior to the competition, Wayne and Darlene recognized the pitfalls that several of the competitors incorporated into their final presentations. These included: One, some 40 doors leading outside; a security breach, noted Wayne. Two, using maximum glass in the façade which meant UV light deterioration of the artwork -- not to mention a buildup of the heat in summer, leading to an increase in cooling, not a decrease. Darlene and Wayne’s solution included elements of a curved serpentine windows creating a softer edge for garden viewing, colonnades to create deeper set windows for shading, and UV ultra-violet protected glazed skylights with two movable baffles that allowed curators to regulate the amount of light entering the galleries. Thirdly, only Darlene and Wayne’s model complemented the scale of neighboring adjacent homes. Their design took into consideration the Museum’s size relative to its neighbors. The audience murmured with this juicy detail.
According to Wayne, they were quite surprised to win the competition, but win it they did. Holvick Construction completed the Triton in 1987. The budget of $1.7 million, tiny even for the time, was met. Pretty remarkable given that no homes in the area could be purchased for under $2 million today.
Darlene and Wayne finished their talk by highlighting some of their more well-known projects in San Francisco: City College of San Francisco Chinatown North Beach Campus; conversion of the Julia Morgan Chinatown YMCA to a Chinatown Historical Society Museum; Associated Architects for the Jeanne Gang’s unique MIRA SF Apartment building at 160 Folsom Street.
As one of the directors said to them afterwards: “We should have a retrospection every 37 years! May you be around for the next one.”
A video of the event can currently be seen at https://www.facebook.com/TritonMuseum/
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