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Mingei International Museum

LUCE et studio architects inc.

San Diego, California, United States

February 2022


Jennifer Luce (Architect)


Ann Worth, AIA (Project Designers, LUCE et studio), Kei Tsukamoto, AIA (Project Designers LUCE et studio), Bryon Spicer (Structural Engineer, KPFF), David Reed (Landscape Architect), Teal Brogden (HLB


Mingei International Museum


Nick Lehoux and Paul Rivera


Mingei International Museum has a 40-year legacy of exhibiting cultural objects of craft, design and folk art while preserving traditional practices and celebrating those who carry forward the making of the hand-hewn object. Mingei means ‘art of the people’; a term coined by Soetsu Yanagi in 1927 as he lamented the loss of hand-arts to industrialization and attempted to imagine the future of craft in the modern world. Today, Mingei Museum sits at the center of the contemporary conversation between digitally driven arts and the those of the hand; a blending of practice that spawns new and innovative approaches to the design of objects we use in our daily lives.
This project began as an RFP for operational renovations to enhance the function of day-to-day work practices, storage utility and updated lighting systems. The selected architect facilitated several meaningful conversations, unearthing an opportunity to provide functional change paired with an opportunity to shift programming. The objective became a goal to OPEN Mingei’s wealth of cultural history to community. The architects and museum director embarked on a 6-month study, revealing shifts that could transform the Historic building. Balboa Park, the museum’s nationally designated park, became the catalyst that would shape an extensive, respectful change made to the World’s Fair building. Opening itself to this community landscape park, programming expanded. The project has grown to include an Education Wing, new Galleries, a Theater addition offering space for community events, outdoor terraces and courtyards offering space for public gathering. An Arts Research library invites the public to learn and study while gazing at art in the galleries. A café and restaurant teach visitors a lesson in cuisine as a form of craft and bring joy to the experience of the museum.


In 1915, San Deigo won a bid to host the Panama-California World Exposition, celebrating the opening of the Panama Canal and San Diego as the first US Port of Call. Built throughout 640 acres of central city land, Balboa Park became the civic beacon for the city.
Plaza de Panama was and is today the central public space of the park and of the city. Mingei International Museum is housed in the ‘House of Charm’ (formerly the House of Mining), situated on the Plaza and bordered by Alcazar Garden, Palm Canyon and the Plaza. Bertram Goodhue (and Irving Gill) were the original architects of the building.
Mingei sits in a landscape masterplan originally conceived by Frederick Law Olmstead. The museum made it their goal to honor these illustrious beginnings and to generously add to the Park experience by including a new Museum Courtyard (2.000sf) and a theater amphitheater (1,200sf) and 2 rooftop terraces (2,700sf). This effort weaves the museum life into the civic spaces and opens Mingei to community.
The building’s 75,000sf house 3 shared tenancies; Mingei Museum, The Globe Rehearsal Studios and The Institute of Contemporary Arts. Mingei’s project has fully restored the building, added freight elevators, upgraded mechanical systems and brought the structure up to current codes; benefitting all in their daily work for the community.


The original RFP was released early in 2015, defining a $3.5M refresh of the entry experience, replacement of floors, new lighting and augmenting storage. From 2015-2018, the project scope grew to a comprehensive 55,000SF renovation of an historic structure. Museum board and community support grew and as a Capital Campaign began, the narrative of Mingei’s story solidified the purpose of this project and of the museum in community. 2019-2021 saw fundraising efforts shared between architect, board, and museum staff. Construction duration was 3 years, successfully executed throughout the Pandemic challenges.
The Client was open and collaborative from the beginning, understanding that they must build a foundation for the future of Mingei. The project has fundamentally transformed the practices of the museum and its goals as a place for all to experience. Community has embraced Mingei as theirs, doubling attendance from 2022-2024 and increasing membership by more than double in the same period. Museum facilities are used (an often donated by Mingei) for cultural celebrations, dance performances, classical concerts, craft demonstrations and civic meetings. The new theater is scheduled 365 days of the year, often with several events happening in a day. Visitors to the museum revel in the free and open access to art paired with educational demonstration in the plaza level community ‘Living Room’.
Since its $60M transformation, the expanded 55,000sf Mingei has grown in community presence exponentially. It has become a destination for out-of-town visitors, a place for a Friday night dinner and galley hop and a place to bring family for an entire day of activities. Revenues have increased 30% annually over 3 years. In all, programming welcomes people of many cultures and ethnicities who would otherwise not consider a visit to a museum. The diversity of the collection and offerings has brought the museum experience to a moment in history that begs for this opportunity!

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