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Embodying the Culture of The Oregon Coast

11 December 2017 / by Signal Architecture + Research PLLC (author) / Oregon
 (photo:  Signal Architecture + Research)
/ (photo: Signal Architecture + Research)

The Coos History Museum and Maritime Collection (CHMC) was founded by Oregon’s oldest historical society and now houses more than 250,000 historic photographs and artifacts of agrarian, maritime, and culture of the Oregon Coast. Located on the historic wharf at the gateway to Coos Bay in Oregon, the museum bridges the history of the region to the present through stories of the Coos and Coquille Tribes, coal miners, loggers, farmers, and shipbuilders who constitute the history of the region.



The Museum had long outgrown the facility it had occupied since 1950 and a grant in 2000 initiated a search for a new home. The grant stipulated that the new museum be located on Highway 101 in order to provide a development catalyst for the long abandoned historic wharf at Coos Bay.


Seattle-based Miller Hull Partnership was brought on to the project during the height of the economic downturn in 2010 with Mark Johnson (now Principal of Signal Architecture + Research) leading the team as Project Manager and Project Architect. Realizing that austerity would save the project, Mark led the team through scale and programming efforts to reduce budget while protecting the Museum’s vision.


“Designing a museum means designing for conflicting interests. Curators want a repository, administration wants earned income, and the public wants entertainment and a convening space. Not only that, but the particular Coos Bay environment means designing for regular gales and potential earthquakes. The Coos History Museum, under Signal and Mark Johnson’s vision, made all of those things possible in a compact but still dramatic 15,000 s.f. space. Their ability to find common ground through design allowed those voices to come together and make a museum,” said Frank Smoot, former Museum Director.


The goal was to design a museum that paid tribute to the past, drawing reference to historic wharf structures, while also serving as a beacon for change along the historic waterfront. The simple barnlike form of the building honors the history of the site while conveying a message of community and culture.


With historic docks on the east, a cove to the south, and the historic roadway to the west – and future development to the north – the building had four key elevations, each with independent programming goals. One such goal was exhibitory-framed exterior spaces that create outdoor rooms to extend museum programing beyond the walls.


The building interprets the massing of waterfront industrial facilities in form and material, while providing the interior programming suitable to a museum. Referencing historic daylight monitors, a light well pierces the ban-shaped volume, providing a visual cue for circulation, stairs, and a central focal point from Highway 101. Ground floor spaces are primarily public or commercial, with a gift shop and multi-purpose gathering space supporting the large gallery.


Second floor programming is primarily dedicated to staff and volunteer offices, boardrooms, archives, and travelling gallery mezzanine. A stair tower serves as a repository to tall exhibits, such as canoes, pulleys, or other suspended elements that require the 40-foot clear exhibit space.


The building expression portrays historic net shed, mill, and cannery structures using a modern form that matches historic district guidelines with visual landmark and cultural catalyst goals. As a gathering place for small to large groups, the site connects the Coos Bay Wharf Trail to historic docks that will once again host the tall ships of the Pacific Northwest.



Client: Coos Historical Society

Location: Coos Bay, OR

Size: 15,000 SF

Cost: $5.1 million

Project Design Lead: Signal Architecture & Research

Architect of Record: Miller Hull






Signal Architecture + Research PLLC


Signal Architecture + Research PLLC

Focused on connecting people with place, Signal Architecture + Research PLLC works to design inspiring places for humankind, drawing distinct influence of experience through materials, function, light, nature, and sound. Communication, listening, and collaboration – from clients to communities creates the foundation for our approach to integrative design dialog. We strive for design expression that elicits the story of a place within its context, be it interior, park, home, public facility, cabin, or progressive infrastructure. Through a design process based in research and discovery, we test and play within the merger between pragmatism and the intangible. We seek to discover the outstanding and quiet patterns between places and program in solutions that impart narrative and design discipline. We see an interdependence between the design disciplines, where the language of landscape, mechanical, structural, lighting, and technical systems are mutually influential, reflective of context. Layering conceptual design upon research and natural processes, Signal celebrates the human activities of a place through perception, the movement of the sun, and the passage of time. At once of the place and for its people, we strive to make inspiring places to live, celebrate, work, reflect, and learn. Visit us at www.signalarch.com

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