DLR Group tapped to design new home for Jacksonville’s Museum of Science & History

A Perfect (MOSH) Fit

DLR Group tapped to design new home for Jacksonville’s Museum of Science & History

A conceptual interior rendering of the new Museum of Science & History planned for the Jacksonville Shipyards. (Courtesy MOSH)

The plan to relocate the Museum of Science & History (MOSH) in Jacksonville, Florida, from its longtime home along the city’s Southbank Riverwalk to downtown Jacksonville’s Northbank reached a major milestone this week with the announcement that global integrated design firm DLR Group will lead the design of the highly anticipated new facility. Joining DLR Group for the so-called MOSH Genesis project is the New York- and New Orleans-based landscape architecture and urban design studio SCAPE and local firm kasper architects + associates.

Along with the design team announcement, MOSH also revealed three new conceptual interior renderings of the new museum, although they are for illustrative purposes only and do not represent the finalized design.

The most popular museum in Florida’s most populous city, MOSH has been situated at its beloved but aging Southbank home since the late 1960s. MOSH was first chartered as the Jacksonville Children’s Museum in 1941, becoming the Jacksonville Museum of Arts & Sciences in 1977. In 1988, the nonprofit institution was bestowed with its current name following a significant expansion and renovation project that included the addition of the Bryan-Gooding Planetarium (formerly the Alexander Brest Planetarium). Despite the major late 1980s expansion and subsequent renovations, MOSH has steadily outgrown its 77,000-square-foot home, necessitating an entirely new museum building across the St. Johns River at the downtown Jacksonville Shipyards. (A previously announced $80 million plan to further expand and renovate MOSH’s Southbank campus was ultimately scrapped, and the relocation scheme was first announced in October 2020.)

Per a press release, the $85 million relocation scheme will enable MOSH to “meet the growing demand for exhibits and programs that inspire innovation” with dedicated spaces for exhibitions, events, educational programming, and, of course, a new Bryan-Gooding Planetarium. Early projections have estimated that MOSH will be able to serve 58,000 students (double the pre-pandemic number) and 469,000 visitors (a 168 percent increase) annually by moving into more spacious digs across the river.

exterior of a florida science museum with palm trees
MOSH’s current home, completed in 1969 in the Southbank district of Jacksonville. (PicoOrdinalo/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0)

The MOSH Genesis project team was selected as part of a competitive, eight-month-long process spearheaded by the MOSH Board of Trustees and the Genesis Oversight Committee. Of the ten competing firms that completed the RPF process, three emerged as finalists: DLR Group, SmithGroup, and Grimshaw Architects.

“We knew this project required the expertise of both a national firm with deep experience in museum architecture, and a local partner with existing relationships and knowledge of the Jacksonville market,” said MOSH president and CEO Bruce Fafard. “Together, we know DLR Group, kasper architects + associates, and SCAPE will bring our vision to life.”

Museum projects led by the Omaha-founded DLR Group include, among others, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia, New York’s Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, the Chandler History Museum in Arizona, the lauded renovation of the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Renwick Gallery in Washington, D.C., and a handful of Cleveland-based projects including renovations at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland, and the now-underway expansion of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.

interior of a science museum with dolphins overhead
(Courtesy MOSH)

“MOSH will have a dramatic impact on the Jacksonville region, telling its unique story of human and natural history and culture, innovation and current science,” said DLR Group Senior Principal Paul Westlake, who leads the firm’s Cultural + Performing Arts practice. “We are honored to be part of this groundbreaking project and are fortunate to be partners with both kasper architects and SCAPE. Erik Kasper and his team impressed us with their design ethos, knowledge of Jacksonville processes and their deep community-service efforts. Kate Orff and the SCAPE team believe landscape architecture can enable positive change in communities by regenerating living infrastructure and public landscapes.”

The relocation of MOSH to the shipyards comes at a time when big changes are afoot in and around Jacksonville’s downtown riverfront. Unveiled in June, SouthEast Development Group has proposed a $1.1 billion overhaul of the Northbank area that would yield, in multiple phases, expansive new public parkland and ten new buildings—a mix of commercial office space, residential, hotels, and retail—across a 20-acre swath of riverfront real estate predominately owned by the city.

Additionally, Perkins&Will was recently named the winning firm in a design competition to transform Riverfront Plaza, formerly home to the Rouse Company’s Jacksonville Landing entertainment and shopping complex, into an iconic new downtown waterfront park. (OLIN and Agency Landscape + Planning were also in the running.) The centerpiece of Perkins&Will’s winning park design is a monumental JAX sculpture that has been been met with decidedly mixed reactions from locals.

As detailed by Jacksonville NPR affiliate WJCT, Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan and his family have donated $5 million to the $85 million MOSH Genesis capital campaign, which hit the $31 million mark in late June. Kahn is behind an ambitious redevelopment proposal for the Jacksonville Shipyards that would include a Four Seasons Hotel and Residences, sports medicine complex, office building, and substantial revamps to the city-owned marina. Meanwhile, an overarching, Jessie Ball duPont Fund-supported initiative known as Activating Jacksonville’s Waterfront is working on a community-centered, broad-based masterplanning effort focused on the transformation of the downtown riverfront. Project partners for the initiative include DVDL, JLP+D, nonprofit community group Groundwork Jacksonville (the only Groundwork USA Trust in Florida), and New York-based architecture and urban design practice WXY.

As for MOSH Genesis, the museum began negotiations regarding the move with Jacksonville’s Downtown Investment Authority (DIA) late last month. If all the requisite approvals are met, pre-construction work on the new facility, which would be built on a four-acre parcel within the Shipyards, could kick off as early as the beginning of next year. The entire project is expected to take three years to complete.