MOSH 2.0 launches a major, five-year museum expansion
When the Jacksonville Museum of Arts and Sciences (originally the Jacksonville Children’s Museum) became the Museum of Science and History (MOSH) in 1969, it moved into its current building, designed by North Florida architectural icon William Morgan. Morgan described his modern, brutalist design as a “castle for children,” and MOSH has indeed served our city and its children with innovative, award-winning exhibitions and programming for decades.
It has also, however, outgrown its space. Between 2014 and 2017, MOSH served 700,000 people, routinely selling out its special programs for young adults, the very young and home-schooled children in particular. MOSH was feeling its impending maximum capacity back in 2013, so it embarked on the first of four independent, community-based studies, guided by input from over two-hundred and fifty stakeholders, to help envision its next phase. The MOSH 10-Year Master Plan was completed in 2016, and in January of this year, the museum officially launched the first fund-raising efforts for MOSH 2.0: Expanding the Capacity to Inspire Innovation. MOSH 2.0, as stated by the museum, is designed to meet the growing demand for exhibits and programs that inspire innovation, both for museum visitors and across the community.
The expansion will nearly double the number of visitors the museum can serve annually, a clear boon for the local economy, and position it as an institution for lifelong learning as part of the Downtown redevelopment. Morgan’s “castle” will be renovated and expanded from its 77,000 square feet to 120,000 square feet, and reoriented toward the St. Johns River, making it a riverfront beacon on the Southbank. MOSH president Maria Hane says the plan is to create a seamless indoor/outdoor experience between the museum and its environs. “As a fixture on the Southbank of Downtown, MOSH is in a perfect position to transform our riverfront with an iconic campus where science, culture and innovation come together,” says Hane. The building’s river-facing facade will be entirely of glass, looking out over its campus toward St. Johns River Park, the iconic Friendship Fountain, and the city’s funky, spiral pump house (which Hane hopes will become a separate rooftop event space). Integrated into the museum will be a café and retail store that will operate separately and be open to park-goers during non-museum hours, activating the area for extended hours.
“Our team envisions MOSH as a place where people of all ages are inspired to understand more about the many dimensions of their connectedness to this region’s unique culture and ecology,” says Steve Lovett, partner at Elm Lovett Miller (ELM), the local planning, architecture, and landscape architecture firm who designed the renovated space and its landscape.
In 2016, The Downtown Investment Authority and Urban Land Institute (ULI) of North Florida Technical Assistance Panel (TAP) were tasked to identify the best use of the museum’s fifteen-acre site for Downtown development. The major takeaway: “The waterfront should be the focal point of the study area, and a grand entrance is essential to signal that one has arrived at an important destination.”
MOSH’s positioning on the Southbank also puts it within an emerging wellness corridor, spanning the area from Baptist Health to the planned development The District, and creates a major point of interest to be seen from the also-expanding Northbank sports and entertainment district across the river. This places the plan well within the visionary recommendations of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Jacksonville to create riverfront activity nodes that are connected destinations designed to engage our community and attract tourism.
“The St Johns River is the physical and ecological heart of our region,” says Lovett. “MOSH’s new design celebrates its spectacular setting alongside the river and is intentionally designed to be a foundational element in the renewal of Jacksonville’s Downtown waterfront.”
Inside, the updated building will increase exhibition areas by two-hundred percent and use interactive displays to showcase our region’s cultural, natural and innovative ecosystems through experiential learning. The first floor will house the café and retail space, along with experiential learning opportunities. Two features that Hane highlights are the Walk-Through Aquifer, simulating our state’s natural water source that is located below us, and a Water Quality Bio Lab where guests can conduct their own experiments such as river water sampling and analysis. There is also a new dedicated school group entry and a large, cutting-edge Early STEM Learning space for ages 0-5.
The entrance to the Alexander Brest Planetarium will remain on the second floor, as will large temporary exhibition space. Plans include indoor and outdoor exhibits on our ecosystem, and cultural exhibits that feature instruments from diverse cultures and a Digital Music Maker Studio. The top floor offers conference space and a rooftop event space, and dynamic exhibitions that focus on the Cultural Ecosystem. One exhibit, Faces of Jax, will create a collective tapestry of residents and visitors by scanning and displaying guests’ faces on curved LED panels that form an iconic sculpture.
MOSH hopes that this updated “castle for children” will offer young and old the immersive learning experiences that are shaping the future. “Our plans will support Downtown development, bolster regional tourism and allow our children to develop the skills to succeed in the modern, 21st-century workforce,” says Hane.