By Meghan Hall
The Randall Museum, originally established in 1951 in San Francisco’s blossoming Corona Heights Park neighborhood, reopened its doors to the public in February 2018 after a year of extensive interior renovations. The museum, which is completely free to its guests, has been a family-friendly staple for years in San Francisco’s Corona Heights Park neighborhood and receives approximately 100,000 guests per year.
“The Randall Museum has been a city institution for over 67 years,” said Peter Pfau and Liz Ranieri of Pfau Long Architecture and Kuth Ranieri Architects in a joint statement. “It is one of the only free museums in the city and offers intergenerational programs for the community to access and understand the Bay Area’s natural world, including interpretive wildlife exhibits, science and STEM labs, woodworking and fine arts.”
San Francisco Recreation and Park Department, along with Randall Museum Friends, renovated the museum with the help of a $5.5 million grant from the California State Parks Nature Education Facilities Program (NEFP). The City’s General Fund and numerous public and private donations covered the rest of the $9 million cost.
The new interior was designed by the Pfau Long/Kuth Ranieri Joint Venture, composed of two of the Bay Area’s leading architecture firms. Both Kanieri and Long were chosen by the City to work on the project because Pfau Long Architecture has completed numerous projects geared toward educational environments while Kuth Ranieri Architects has extensive knowledge in museum and exhibit design. The two firms were teamed up early on, and have a long history of working together.
“We feel the success of the project reflects the joyfulness in collaboration and the shared goal for bringing Randall into the next millennium,” Pfau and Ranieri said.
Both firms are known for their environmentally-focused designs, and the Randall Museum project was no different. The team immediately decided the building was worth renovating rather than building anew and managed to recycle 75 percent of the project’s construction debris.
“For this piece of San Francisco’s midcentury modern history, the design team saw a clear starting point: reuse of the primary building structure and systems,” the pair explained. “Preservation of the existing building would not only keep many tons of demolition waste out of landfills and limit the use of raw materials but also maintain a historical landmark in Corona Heights Park.”
Pfau and Ranieri aided in the selection of low- or no-VOC materials, and the design team chose FSC-certified wood and used linoleum created from recycled content to cover the mezzanine. LED fixtures and new plumbing were also installed in order to meet CalGreen requirements.
The interior of the building was reconfigured in order to increase the building’s efficiency and meet American Disability Act requirements. Although the structure maintained the same footprint, the building’s new design increased the amount of programmable space by 30 percent.
The hands-on children’s museum, which provides an abundance of after-school programs for children of all ages, now includes a high-tech laboratory, an upgraded live animal exhibit and a new concession area. According to Pfau and Ranieri, the goal of the renovation was to continue to inspire creativity and a love of learning, and that the Randall Museum was a unique project because both had visited the museum with their own families over the years.
“One of the biggest ways we designed for children and families was to bring a sense of wonder and expression to the program,” they said. “We created a “tree wall” for the animal exhibits. It houses raptor cages, exhibit vitrines, and study stations, allowing visitors to interact more with the exhibits and to be part of the display.”
Pfau and Ranieri said the tree wall, which is made from glue-laminated timber and separates the animal room and main lobby, is the design team’s favorite feature because of its versatility.
While Pfau and Ranieri admit that the project’s limited budget posed some initial challenges, they are ultimately happy with the result. “We are interested in blurring the lines between architecture, interiors and exhibits—doing more than one thing in a single gesture—and this was a fun example,” they said.