Bergelectric recently completed a major renovation on the Mingei International Museum—a non-profit public institution that collects, conserves, and exhibits folk art, craft, and design. The project was an effort to reconnect the museum’s art and architecture with its immediate context in San Diego. Located in Balboa Park, the museum first opened its doors in 1974 and reopened their newly renovated facility to the public at the end of 2021.
As art took more precedent than construction, Bergelectric had to be very flexible in its approach to follow this mindset to encompass the museum’s ambitious project scope. Berg’s crew had to deliver extra effort and attention given the detailed approach required by the architect (LUCE et Studio). Mingei had multiple levels of unique and dissimilar construction requirements based on functionality and aesthetic design—and the electrical design was not an exception. For instance, the design of an entire ceiling of one level was based on an old-fashioned musical box featuring the complete lyrical notes to the piano roll song “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life.” To accomplish this, Bergelectric installed track lighting that integrated with the timing of the song’s notes into a perforated metal ceiling composed of five ribbons. In addition, they had to customize exterior lighting in specific areas to look like they were from the 20th century—matching the existing lighting in Balboa Park. In total, over 1,000 light fixtures were installed, including 30 different types of fixtures.
Other unique electrical features included: design based on both permanent and temporary art pieces; spotlights installed in the historic tower to display a Dale Chihuly glass sculpture suspended over a new grand staircase; and refurbished 30-year-old light fixtures and fabricated lights installed to light the arcade entryway.
Because of the extraordinary level of detail required, Bergelectric appointed a dedicated project engineer to study the ins and outs of the drawings as well as keep up with all the changes, participate on coordination meetings, coordinate with Berg’s subcontractors and communicate with the project foremen daily to update/track changes to the intricate design as needed.
Unfortunately, the construction of the Mingei International Museum occurred during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. To maintain safety protocols and COVID mandates, Bergelectric implemented Microsoft Teams to facilitate communication throughout the project. This application was integral to all processes of the project, with scheduling being a large portion of it. As face-to-face meetings and job walks were kept to a minimum, daily meetings and any conversations over mobile devices or computers were held via Microsoft Teams.
The completed renovation now offers the public a free commons level (main floor) of the museum, accessible from the Plaza de Panama and Alcazar Garden, which is open and free to the public at all times. With a significant art installation of permanent collection objects, Shop Mingei, a new bistro, a walk-up coffee bar and an outdoor courtyard, this “living room for the Park” provides ample gathering space and a warm welcome to Park visitors. Opening a new entry point—connecting Alcazar Garden continuously through the ground-level open and public spaces to the Plaza de Panama—provides the public a sense of exploration and discovery.
The upstairs gallery level now includes newly configured, flexible gallery spaces totaling 15,000 square feet, each with a sculpted plaster ceiling referencing origami and reflecting light in a striking way. This level also hosts: Mingei’s Art Reference Library; the Founders’ Gallery, home to the museum’s iconic Nakashima table; and two upper-level terraces overlooking the Plaza de Panama, now open to the public for the first time in decades. By reclaiming lost spaces within a static footprint, visitors now have a new opportunity to experience the full size and history of the building and enjoy views of the Plaza previously unavailable.