MOXI Science Museum Comes to Life With Whimsical, Sustainable Design

AB Design Studio Completes First LEED Gold Museum in Santa Barbara County


AB Design Studio has completed MOXI—The Wolf Museum of Exploration + Innovation, the first LEED Gold certified museum in Santa Barbara County. Photos: Jason Rick. Click here for high-resolution images.

SANTA BARBARA, CA: To fulfill MOXI—The Wolf Museum of Exploration + Innovation’s mission of igniting learning through interactive experiences in science and creativity, AB Design Studio created a whimsical, yet rigorously designed, building.  The initial sandcastle design by the late exterior design architect Barry Berkus, AIA, served as the spark for the museum completed by architect-of-record/interior design architect AB Design Studio.

“We channeled the original vision for the architecture on the outside consistent with its setting in the city’s El Pueblo Viejo historic district,” says Clay Aurell, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP, Co-Founder of AB Design Studio.  “On the inside, we took a forward-looking approach to bring excitement to this exploratory museum for all ages.”

AB Design Studio developed a robust structural system for supporting curved, plastered walls and bringing the playful architecture to life, as well as adapting it to meet sustainability standards.  Massive steelwork frames the building, and ceiling trusses and beams are exposed in some areas to emphasize technology.

“For a museum meant to engage guests and inspire learning, it was important for the building to do the same,” says Steve Hinkley, President and CEO of MOXI.  “AB Design Studio created a highly functional open floor plan along with numerous opportunities throughout the museum for guests to learn about the building systems and design.”

Beyond the arched entranceway, light-filled, open galleries are neutral backdrops to kinetic, interactive exhibitions about science, technology, engineering, art, and math (STEAM education) on two floors.  Dramatically connecting the first and second floors, a sweeping, curvaceous staircase evokes sand swirling into the building from the ocean.  “We designed a smart structural skeleton to allow wide-open spaces and tall ceilings,” says Josh Blumer, AIA, Co-Founder of AB Design Studio.  “The amount of precision that went into the details was incredible—including building a 3D model of the structure.”

Each floor is free of structural columns to provide lofty, open areas for interactive exhibitions.  Museum staff offices at the northwest corner of the second floor are furnished with modular office partitions designed to be easily dismantled should the museum want to turn this area into future exhibition space.  Exterior planters integrated into the façade extend from the office perimeter to a visitor observation deck with views of the Historic Train Station.

The rooftop Levinson Family Sky Garden provides an unencumbered, outdoor setting for exhibitions, and is enclosed with wavy concrete and glass parapets.  A “Glass Walk” floor allows daylight to penetrate the innermost areas of the first and second floors.  The tower lookout is fitted with structural glass and wrought-iron balustrades within its arches and Douglas fir timbers in the ceiling.  The entire terrace offers panoramic views of the ocean, city, and mountains.  Built-in planters around the perimeter collect and manage rainwater and run-off that filter down to cisterns at the ground floor.

MOXI is the first LEED Gold-certified museum in Santa Barbara County.  The concept of reduce, recycle, and reuse is applied to every part of the building.  State-of-the-art building systems ensure high indoor air quality; strategically placed, generous windows provide daylight; cisterns release water slowly back to the water table and replenish aquifers; energy-efficient structural glass is used for windows and door openings; 30 percent of materials are composed of recycled content, including carpet tiles made of fishing nets; LED lighting is used in coves between the walls and ceilings.

AB Design Studio is committed to consistently redefining and expanding the perception of what is possible for people and communities through “emotive architecture.”  Practicing a rigorous process of discovery, AB Design Studio strives to unleash explorative, context-based designs that creatively re-assess what built environments provide for users and society.  The firm’s architecture, interior design, and master planning talents are applied to a variety of project types, including museums, retail, hospitality, commercial, housing, healthcare, education, and single-family homes.  Whether new construction, adaptive reuse, renovation, or interior design, AB Design Studio promotes innovative techniques and thoughtful use of materials.  The award-winning firm is headquartered in Santa Barbara, CA, and maintains offices in Los Angeles and San Francisco.


Project Team:
Architect-of-Record/Interior Design Architect: AB Design Studio
Exterior Design Architect: Barry Berkus, AIA
General Contractor: Armstrong & Associates
MP Engineer: Mechanical Engineering Consultants
Electrical Engineer: JMPE Electrical Engineering
Structural Engineer: Taylor & Syfan Consulting Engineers
Landscape Architect: Van Atta Associates
Lighting Designer: Ann Kale Associates
Exhibition Designer: Gyroscope
Photos: Jason Rick