The City of Oakland's original intention was to construct an art museum, a natural history museum, and a cultural history museum. While working with the groups involved, it was agreed that these separate entities could be combined into one complex, with a common architecture, and that they could share a common objective - to create a regional museum of California and its environs.
Studying the area, its origins, and possible future growth, it became clear that this project could play a vital part in the downtown renewal and that it would serve this purpose best by being a meeting place as well as a museum. Concurrent with this was the belief that traditional museums were not only poorly designed to preserve and exhibit objects, but their designers also ignored the comfort, convenience, and psychological needs of the museum visitor.
The building, which occupies four blocks, is conceived as a walled garden with large welcoming entrances. The galleries are arranged so that the roof of one becomes the terrace of another. A pedestrian street connects the different levels and the other functions - an auditorium, classrooms, changing galleries, restaurant, offices, and garage. Each area opens directly onto lawns, terraces, trellised passages, and broad flights of stairs.
The entire museum is built of a light-colored concrete with a sandblasted finish. The wide walls that surround the planting are just the right height to sit on; and in the intervening time since the building was finished, the planting has done what it was hoped it would, growing over the entire building, gradually submerging its form and creating a lush, colorful garden.