Ohr-O'Keefe Museum of Art - Ceramic Art and Biloxi History

Located in Biloxi, Mississippi, The Ohr O'Keefe Museum is a non-profit art museum and arts center dedicated to the late ceramics artist George E. Ohr. The museum is named for both Ohr and Annette O'Keefe, the late wife of former Biloxi mayor Jeremiah O'Keefe. Her name was appended to the museum in recognition of the family's ongoing contributions, which exceed 1.8 million dollars.

The museum is designed by Frank Gehry Partners, whose work with Zahner in the past resulted in various high-profile architectural projects such as the Guggenheim in Bilbao, the Experience Music Project in Seattle, and the Pritzker Pavilion at Millennium Park, Chicago. Gehry met with Jerry O'Keefe in 1998, and agreed to design the new museum for Biloxi, Mississippi.

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Ohr-O'Keefe Museum of Art, photographed across the water of the Atlantic Ocean Gulf in Mississippi.
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Ohr-O'Keefe Museum of Art at dusk, designed by Frank Gehry Partners.
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Ohr-O'Keefe Museum of Art main building at dusk, Biloxi, Mississippi.
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Ambient reflectivity of the Angel Hair Stainless steel panels by Zahner for the Ohr-O'Keefe Museum of Art.
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Ohr O'Keefe Museum entrance at dusk, designed by Frank Gehry Partners.
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Ohr O'Keefe Museum at dusk, featuring Angel Hair Stainless Steel and ZEPPS Technology.
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Ohr O'Keefe Museum gallery interior designed by Frank Gehry Partners with Eley Guild Hardy Architects.
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Ohr O'Keefe Museum Pods detail, designed by Frank Gehry Partners.
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Ohr-O'Keefe Museum Pods designed by Frank Gehry Partners.
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Ohr O'Keefe Museum viewed from the South elevation.
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Ohr O'Keefe Museum viewed from the South entrance.
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Ohr O'Keefe Museum gallery interior designed by Frank Gehry Partners with Eley Guild Hardy Architects.
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Ohr O'Keefe Museum gallery interior designed by Frank Gehry Partners with Eley Guild Hardy Architects.
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Ohr-O'Keefe Museum of Art campus in Biloxi, Mississippi.
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Ohr-O'Keefe Museum Gallery of African-American Art designed by Frank Gehry Partners.
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Ohr-O'Keefe Museum of Art .
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East tower of the Ohr-O'Keefe Museum of Art, showing the structural steel forms which support its roof.
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Ohr-O'Keefe Museum main building and gift shop/coffee shop in Biloxi, Mississippi.
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Southeast view of Ohr-O'Keefe Museum of Art in Biloxi, Mississippi.
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Ohr-O'Keefe Museum Ceramics Studio in Biloxi, Mississippi.
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Ohr-O'Keefe Museum Roof system featuring Angel Hair Stainless Steel.
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Ohr-O'Keefe Museum Ceramics Studio in Biloxi, Mississippi.

Building the Ohr-O'Keefe Museum in Biloxi

The trees are architecture, they are as interesting as any building. It's like if you go to a dance and your dance partner is the tree. She's a pretty partner, so we'll try and waltz her around a bit. — Frank Gehry

Constructing a complex building such as this one requires accurate engineering, which is why Gehry has partnered with Zahner on many of the firm's most complex projects. Each of the pods, the  engineered using the ZEPPS process, a patented system developed by Zahner for building forms.

Using this process provides a simple way for architect's to design and building curved and otherwise complex forms. For architects, these forms provide a complete wall system, from the exterior facade, the the insulation, electrical, as well as the interior wall studs which are ready for curved interior drywall.

This brings the construction of complex forms into realistic territory. ZEPPS enables precise engineering, smooth construction, and uniform surfaces in the final product.  

In his initial designs, Gehry envisioned a single building, dancing with the graceful live oaks.  He later expanded the project into several buildings, scattered among the trees.  ‘The trees are architecture, they are as interesting as any building,’ describes architect Frank Gehry. ‘It's like if you go to a dance and your dance partner is the tree. She's a pretty partner, so we'll try and waltz her around a bit.’

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One of the ZEPPS Panels for Frank Gehry's Pods at the Ohr-O'Keefe Museum of Art.
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Gehry's Pods at the Ohr-O'Keefe Museum of Art, during construction.
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Ohr-O'Keefe Museum of Art with skins featuring Angel Hair Stainless Steel.

As the project neared completion in 2005, disaster stuck the southeast coastal areas of the Southeastern United States.  Hurricane Katrina tore through Biloxi, destroying 90% of the buildings along the coast and the gulf.  Many of the 'floating' casino barges were torn from their footings, and cast along the shores causing futher damage.

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Photograph of the Grand Casino Biloxi on the job site in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

One of these casinos, the Grand Casino Biloxi, found its way onto the Ohr-O'Keefe construction site, where it's path of destruction was halted by the live oaks surrounding Gehry's Pods. The decision to nestle the buildings within the trees paid off, and damages were reduced.

The pod-like structures were shipped back to the Zahner campus, where they remained in storage as the cleanup and re-construction process took place from 2005-2010. The pods were then shipped back to the site and the museum was substantially completed in 2014.