Culver City, CA


Cayton Children's Museum

Bringing play indoors, the Cayton Children’s Museum was designed as a series of unexpected spaces that inspire kids to learn about and engage in their community.  Located steps from Santa Monica Pier, the museum will adaptively reuse part of the upper floor of Santa Monica Place, a retail center originally designed by Frank Gehry, by transforming a former artisanal food hall into the home of the Cayton Children’s Museum.

Imagined as an inclusive space for free and safe discovery, the museum’s non-linear design relies on a network of freestanding, tactile objects purposefully sited to frame portions of the five exhibit neighborhoods while not revealing the entirety of the museum’s total offerings all at once.  The free plan approach affords each visitor the opportunity to chart his or her own “Path of Awesome” through the more than 30 exhibits focused on helping kids play their way to a better world. 

Exhibit Neighborhoods include Launch Your, a hands-on space for 0-2 year olds to navigate various types of topography while building coordination and confidence, Let’s Help, a collection of exhibits dedicate to the role of first responders, veterinarians and farm to meal process that enables our food chain, Together We, exhibits that promote collaboration and group interaction, Reach For, a space to stretch your individual capacity and abilities in the Cloud Climber, and Reflect On, a contemplative neighborhood with exhibits focused on find new ways to be present and our ability to connect with nature and those  we’ve lost communication with.

Acting as waypoints along their path are architecturally scaled objects affectionately referred to as the Armadillo, Porcupine, Onion, Egg, Houses and Drum. These objects shape the exhibit neighborhoods and address the requirements for non-exhibit program such as: entry/ticketing, security, classrooms, flex theater and MUSE the Museum’s retail frontage in a fun and irreverent way. Nicknamed for their external appearance, these objects solve non-exhibit program requirements while remembering that everything is a teachable moment in a children’s museum.

The exterior of each architectural object was designed to have a unique interactive or tactile experience associated with it to further the museum’s mandate for storytelling. Together, the objects and exhibits encourage activity throughout the open playscape and blur the line between exhibit and architecture.  This blurring of architecture and exhibits is exemplified by the Cloud Climber, an oversized navy and fuchsia net structure hung from the ceiling in the high bay space. The climber is architectural in scale covering over 20% of the museum’s footprint. The installation also contains multiple destinations within itself. The Cloud’s large format allows children to move laterally over multiple exhibit neighborhoods from within the Cloud and a sneak view of the exhibits happening below from one of the numerous window portals.

The Cayton Children’s Museum prioritizes the power of play. Made to inspire a sense of curiosity, the design is a contemporary space for exploration and adventure. Celebrating the everyday, the museum embraces the energy and spirit of children. In doing so, it creates an exciting and unexpected space to discover no matter the visitor’s age.

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Status: Built
Location: Santa Monica, CA, US
Firm Role: Architect