Photography by Eric Staudenmaier
The Cheech Marin Center for Chicano Art & Culture

Housed in a historic former library at the center of Riverside, The Cheech is the first public space in the United States dedicated to celebrating Chicano art and culture. WHY’s design for the structure is inspired by extensive engagement with artists, activists, and local residents, and it was clear from the start that The Cheech would offer something very different from a typical “white box” gallery. Instead, this is a space infused with sabor – flavor, vitality, and radical hospitality.

Photography by Eric Staudenmaier
Key info
Design Architect
Executed by WHY Architecture Workshop Inc.
Riverside, CA
  • Completed 2022
  • 60,000 sq. ft.
Design Architects
Photography by Eric Staudenmaier

The 1964 New Formalist library was transformed to showcase the collection of the comedian Cheech Marin, comprising over 700 paintings, drawings, photographs, and sculptures by artists including Patssi Valdez, Sandy Rodriguez, Carlos Almaraz, Frank Romero, and Gilbert “Magú” Luján. The site in its entirety conveys the spirit of The Cheech, with outdoor spaces encouraging art programming, impromptu performances, and experiences of all types – from lowrider shows, to quinceañeras, to outdoor sculpture.

Photography by Eric Staudenmaier

The project retains the civic history of the former library as a vital site of gathering for the community, making space for multiple intersecting cultural narratives. Rather than applying a dramatic, top-down approach to transforming the building , WHY worked closely with Page & Turnbull’s historic preservation team to identify a series of carefully localized interventions, addressing each point sequentially to reinvigorate the structure while preserving its historic character. This approach – which WHY terms Acupuncture Architecture – acts to defragment the spaces and improve circulation, bringing a new openness and flow to the spaces.

Photography by Eric Staudenmaier

The guiding principles of the design were developed through a series of community outreach workshops which engaged a diverse cross-section of stakeholders from the city, including artists, educators, activists, business owners, and local residents. Additional programming featured a pop-up presentation as part of the Riverside Art Walk, inviting passersby to comment on the project and learn about its prospective impact on the city. The sessions were a chance for stakeholders to articulate their hopes about what The Cheech could be, as well as discuss key concerns and ensure that the design allowed for uninhibited expression of Chicano culture.

Photography by Eric Staudenmaier

"It was realized beyond my dreams. I look at the museum now, and the architecture is quintessential modern Mexican and Chicano. I think the spirit of being Chicano is seeing what’s in front of you and turning that into part of your art culture— that’s the spirit I wanted to convey. That spirit can incorporate different elements, it’s defiant of the word 'no,' and it’s always looking forward and evolving."

Cheech Marin
Photography by Eric Staudenmaier

The semi-circular entry steps draw the visitor towards the building, and the open “front porch” podium will feature large-scale sculptures to be rotated according to new programming and exhibitions. The building’s entry lobby is envisaged as a Zócalo or open town square, a central gathering space which connects the four main galleries and offers amenities such as a café and a gift shop.

Photography by Eric Staudenmaier

One of the most striking features of the space is the visual connection to the upper galleries, highlighted by the installation of a newly commissioned work of lenticular art by the De La Torre Brothers. The monumentality and dynamism of the installation will generate a central source of energy for The Cheech, encouraging visitors to explore the different galleries. Accessed by a restored mid-century stairway, the second floor will feature exhibition and community art galleries, a multi-purpose video space, staff offices, and artist in residency studios where visitors can witness the next generation of Chicano art as it emerges.

Executive Architect
  • Hamel Construction
Civil Engineering
  • Epic Engineers
Structural Engineering
  • Structural Focus
  • Design West
Lighting Designer
  • HLB
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