Located at the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge on 7.5 acres of National Park land in Sausalito, The Bay Area Discovery Museum (BADM) features outdoor and indoor exhibition spaces and programming for children from 6 months of age to 10 years. The campus-wide master plan and renovation honors the architectural integrity of the historic site and the museum’s child centered mission while transforming the experience for guests. To reimagine the museum exhibits, the design team collaborated with early learning experts from BADM’s in-house research division. New exhibits and play areas seamlessly incorporate the latest research into interactive activities and environments. Within the museum grounds, children and their caregivers can learn about the world around them—and discover the impact of their own imagination, curiosity, and innovation. The playful exhibits and interactive landscape experiences celebrate the regional landscape while engaging users through intentional learning opportunities.
Renovated and newly introduced spaces include Faith, a rejuvenated commercial fishing boat sourced from nearby Bodega Bay. An existing exterior exhibit that utilized a real boat for imagination and play was beloved by museum guests, but small and in need of replacement. The new boat, Faith—a fully functional, decommissioned commercial fishing vessel known as a salmon troller—is both larger and more accessible than the previous iteration and includes multiple interior and exterior levels. The boat was prepared for the museum at Spaulding Marine Center—sharp elements removed, handrails added, the interior cabin refurbished, etc.—and then sailed to the museum campus, where it was craned out of the water and transported across the site via truck. The design team worked to optimize the positioning of the new boat and design of the surrounding areas for improved access to the campus and greater visual connectivity to the Golden Gate Bridge and the San Francisco Bay.
Child-directed learning environments allow children to take charge of their own learning by exploring activities that are personally meaningful to them. Faith is a real, life-size fishing boat that empowers children to take the lead and fully immerse themselves into the experience, allowing them to engage in learning through play. The large boat also allows opportunities for peer parallel and collaborative play.
Repurposing an underutilized space on the BADM campus, Gumnut Grove introduces a climbing activity area that allows children aged 5–10 to refine their gross motor skills, explore risk and develop confidence in a safe environment. Here, the design team worked to develop an approach that paid homage to the historic grove of eucalyptus trees on site—inspired by everything from the seed pods peppered around the ground plane to the tapering form of the leaves.
During an early design workshop, children were invited to share their thoughts and ideas for the new outdoor play area, which helped to inform the final design. A to-scale prototype developed by the exhibit fabricators, further allowed the design team to test and refine these ideas before fabricating and installing the new structures.
The structure includes a perforated slide inspired by eucalyptus leaf shadow patterns, as well as a series of climbing structures inspired by gumnut seed pods. The oversized scale of the elements as well as the bridges, slides and climbing nets that connect them create a fantastical landscape of exploration.
Unstructured outdoor play is critical for child development. At the outdoor spaces at the BADM children have opportunities to practice assessing and taking risks in a safe and supportive environment, which builds self-confidence and is linked to better decision-making and a willingness to try new things.
The Bay Area Discovery Museum landscape and exhibit areas are designed to be playful and engaging through intentional learning opportunities that encourage visitors to expand their imagination. The play areas connect to the broader regional landscape through materiality, framed views and unique experiences that cultivate curiosity and exploration.
Architect: Olson Kundig Architects
Fabricator: Gizmo Art Production
557 McReynolds Rd, Sausalito, CA 94965
Design year: 2019
Year Built: 2021Entrant name: Surfacedesign