Olson Kundig unveils a reimagined Bay Area Discovery Museum

Let’s Play

Olson Kundig unveils a reimagined Bay Area Discovery Museum

Attracting 35,000 annual visitors, Olson Kundig’s campus-wide renovation of the Bay Area Discovery Museum introduces several new spaces and exhibits while upping the museum’s appeal to accompanying adults. (Courtesy Matthew Millman)

Olson Kundig has shared new details and photography of its recently completed campus-wide renovation of the Bay Area Discovery Museum (BADM). The STEM- and arts-focused children’s museum sits on the grounds of the National Register of Historic Places-listed Fort Baker, part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, located in Sausalito, California.

First announced in early 2019, the transformative $18.5 million overhaul expanded the footprint of the multi-building BADM within its historic location, while yielding five new research-backed permanent exhibits and activity areas, as well as improved amenities as part of the museum’s BOLD: Spark Curiosity, Inspire Innovation capital campaign. The revamp of the 7.5-acre BADM campus was completed in incremental phases, allowing the museum to remain open to pint-sized visitors and their adult chaperones while renovation work was underway. (BADM shuttered entirely during the first few months of the coronavirus pandemic, reopening in August 2020.)

view of a maker space for children with activity tables
A new activity space at BADM was completed as part of the $18.5 million makeover. (Courtesy Matthew Millman)

Alan Maskin, design principal with the Seattle-based Olson Kundig, led the project along with principal and project manager Marlene Chen. San Francisco-based landscape architecture and urban design firm Surfacedesign, Inc., and museum exhibit design and fabrication practice Pacific Studio, also based in Seattle, were also tapped to round out the larger project team.

In a press statement, Maskin, who also helmed the design of the newly opened ANOHA – The Children’s World of the Jewish Museum Berlin (which also employed considerable timber components), said that the renovation project “presented an incredible opportunity to align updated facility and exhibit design with the Bay Area Discovery Museum’s visionary educational theory and practices.”

“We know that children are not exposed to design and engineering at an early enough age, so BADM’s mission to introduce STEM concepts through play and creative experiences is exciting,” Maskin added. “The museum builds on this idea by creating an environment where access to that vital learning is explicitly equitable and every visitor has the opportunity to integrate that type of thinking into their life—the potential for where that can lead these children is limitless.”

view of a children's museum exhibit showing how things work inside the Bay Area Discovery Museum
The new How Things Work exhibit (Courtesy Matthew Millman)

In conceiving the new exhibits and activity areas, the project design team, joined by BADM’s own research division, eschewed the glaring colors often associated with museum spaces designed specifically for kids. This toned-down approach, which the firm notes also has appeal to adults who might be otherwise discouraged from actively engaging with their children due to the overwhelming, candy-colored aesthetics that often permeate such spaces, invites young visitors to use their own imaginations to further bring the museum’s spaces to life.

As detailed by the firm, workshops held during the design and development phases specifically sought insight and ideas from the museum’s core target users, an approach that further advances “Maskin’s agenda of trusting children as the experts of their own experiences.”

a toddler explores an interactive museum installation
Exploring the revamped Tot Spot (Courtesy Matthew Millman)

The new exhibits and activity spaces at BADM include: A newly reimagined maker space, the Fab Lab, outfitted with digital fabrication tools; How Things Work, a new exhibition with considerable adult appeal that “teaches children systems thinking by cutting in half and removing the outer shell of household items” per the firm; new forest- and bay-themed exhibits in the Tot Spot, the museum’s toddler-dedicated exhibition area, and a new dedicated STEM classroom. Outside, the new Gumnut Grove, a creative play space for children aged five-through-ten is anchored by a trio of treehouses/play structures, and a new interactive boat exhibit at Lookout Cove, an adventuresome 2.5-acre play and discovery area, provides sweeping views of the Golden Gate Bridge.

two historic buildings with the golden gate bridge in the background
View of the BADM campus at historic Fort Baker in Sausalito. (Courtesy Matthew Millman)

“They are insatiably curious about how children learn best,” said Kelly McKinley, CEO of the Bay Area Discovery Museum, of the Olson Kundig team. “They understand the unmatched power of play and delight in transforming children’s understanding of their world. And they create, as a result, beautiful and imaginative environments that captivate young children, and their parents to boot.”

children exploring an interactive museum with the golden gate bridge in the background
The How Things Work exhibit (Courtesy Matthew Millman)

The expanded and newly reimagined BADM is open Wednesday through Sunday with advanced reservations required due to COVID-era capacity limitations. Social distancing is required and visitors must don facial coverings in both indoor and outdoor spaces due to the significant number of children not yet eligible for vaccination.