Othmar Hall: Charles M. Schulz Museum

Since its’ establishment in 2002, the Charles M. Schulz Museum, has offered art programs for local children. These “art camps” were run out of a small building that was ill-suited for education and although just a short walk from the Museum, difficult for parents to find. The Museum’s goal was to create a new building that would both, improve the quality of the experience for the children and showcase the program to visitors as well as the greater community.

The team located the new building, Othmar Hall, along the western edge of the Museum’s Courtyard. Previously, that side of the courtyard was bound by an eight foot tall plaster wall, which after meandering through the outdoor exhibits, felt like an abrupt “dead-end”. By locating the building in the Courtyard, the art program gains a physical presence, the work being produced by the children is highlighted and the Courtyard gains increased activity. This location also provides for a key element of the Museum’s program: a secure and private space for the children to play. The building becomes a threshold between is public face (Courtyard to the east) and its private face to the west.

Othmar Hall’s Courtyard façade is low and modest, to not compete with the Museum’s main building and the use of cement plaster, wood and metal pick up on the existing palette. The new building greets visitors with a long shady bench to relax, beneath a ribbon window that offers glimpses into the activity inside.

As the building’s standing seem metal roof rises, it creates tall ceilings in the classrooms with transom windows to let in daylight. The slatted wood ceiling and cork flooring not only provide warmth, they help reduce sound transmission. For increased flexibility and to accommodate various events, the space can be divided into two classrooms or opened into one larger space for major gatherings.

From the classrooms, seven foot wide pocket doors open to a covered patio that ultimately leads to the landscaped play space beyond. Blurring the line between inside and out, the patio’s walls are clad in blackboard panels and its’ deep ten foot overhang not only limits heat gain, it also provides a sheltered space for lunch and outdoor instruction.

Design Challenge

The Courtyard of the Charles M. Schulz Museum is defined to the north and east by the existing building. To the south, the Courtyard faces the street, which meant that the only space left to locate the new addition, Othmar Hall, was to the west. To maintain enough open space for the play area, the building became a narrow “bar” with its primary façades: east (Courtyard) and west (Play Area). Facing the Courtyard, a vitrine window to showcase the children’s work, was a key programmatic element. And to the west, it was important for the building to be open to the Patio and Play Area beyond, like a pavilion. The challenge therefore was to design a building with this solar orientation and program; that not only met CalGreen standards, but exceed them. With respect to the envelope and lighting, Othmar Hall was able to exceed the CalGreen standards by nearly 27%, even with considerable glazing on the east and west façades. The building achieved this by having almost no glazing on the south façade and with deep overhangs to minimize solar heat gain: 5’ at the east façade and 10’ at the west. In addition, the Corridor, which separates the vitrine from the Classrooms, acts as a thermal break to keep the Classrooms cool. And on the west, where large transom windows sit over glass pocket doors, motorized shades housed in the ceiling are timed to close in the late afternoon. Furthermore, this abundance of natural daylight allows the building to conserve energy by minimizing the need for artificial lighting throughout most of the day. Overall, the buildings mechanical system exceeds the CalGreen standard by 27% and contributing to the overall efficiency of the building is the roof insulation. The close cell spray foam achieves an R value of 49, which exceeds the minimum code requirement by nearly 40%. By collaborating with a talented group of local engineers, the design team was able to produce a building that is both: energy efficient and open to the outdoors.

Physical Context

Like much of Sonoma County, the project site has abundant natural beauty that the design team worked to preserve. The centerpiece of the Museum’s existing Courtyard is a beloved 100 year old redwood and west of the Museum’s administration wing is another majestic redwood with a double trunk of 20” and 24” in diameter. Those trees were thriving but a row of four dwarf cherry trees, planted in 2002 when the Museum was constructed, were in poor health and had reached the end of their natural life span. The location and continued health of the redwood trees would guide the location and shape of the Museum’s new addition: Othmar Hall. The building took on a long bar shape, placed where the cherry trees once stood but comfortably set back from each of the existing redwood trees north and east of the building. As part of the Othmar Hall addition project was the renovation of the existing Courtyard. The Courtyard lacked adequate drainage, which contributed to the poor health of the cherry trees. A new 40’ long slot drain was installed to channel water from the Courtyard’s hardscape and all new rainwater collected from the building’s roof fed directly to rain garden planters. West of the new building a row of new Coral Bark Maple trees have been located to replace the cherry trees that were removed. This row of trees will not only shade the building and Play Area in the late afternoon, but the changing colors of the foliage will produce a dramatic backdrop for the children to view from the classrooms.