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San Francisco’s de Young Museum: “Smart” or Not?

San Francisco’s de Young Museum: “Smart” or Not?

When considering building materials, what do you think of? Glass, steel, concrete, stone, wood, and some subtleties in between? The utilization of these materials in a building, act as a palette for the designer, giving life or another dimension to the structure. But what if these materials could reach beyond their static existence and give

View of de Young Museum tower, San Francisco, California

When considering building materials, what do you think of? Glass, steel, concrete, stone, wood, and some subtleties in between? The utilization of these materials in a building, act as a palette for the designer, giving life or another dimension to the structure. But what if these materials could reach beyond their static existence and give a building a pulse? A building which changes and interacts with its surrounding environment, as if it is a living, breathing organism. What if these materials could be “smart?"

What is a “smart” material?

It can be defined as a material whose properties alter in reaction to an environmental change relating to temperature, moisture, light, etc.

Copper museum facade detail, San Francisco, California, de Young Museum

San Francisco's de Young Museum tends to be recognized first for its architecture rather than for the art and artifacts within. The architects Herzog & de Meuron are known for a captivating treatment of materials in their designs. The Museum's monolithic form clad in 7,200 perforated copper panels, is seen by some as an eyesore sticking out of Golden Gate Park’s backdrop of trees and foliage; even though each perforated and uniquely embossed copper panel is designed to manipulate light similar to light passing through a tree. To further mirror the surrounding landscape, the copper is eventually expected to oxidize, turning the material shades of blue and green. With interior gardens carved into the building’s form and a camouflaged skin, overtime the structure is designed to feel as though it is receding into its surroundings. The building encapsulates a sense of life, as though it is a living and breathing organism.

Museum cladding on tower, San Francisco, California. de Young Museum

Sure, any material can be categorized as “smart” when exposed to the elements right? What differentiates it is when a material is intentionally designed to take on certain actions. Materials such as these are already being implemented in building design around the world.

  • Al Bahar towers in Dubai “breathe” to protect its occupants from the scalding heat of the desert. Geometric fiberglass shapes open and close in reaction to changing light and temperature increases across the tower façade.
  • An apartment complex in Germany contains microscopic algae within the exterior walls which heat the water and is then harvested for use by the building.
  • A façade composed of titanium dioxide on a Mexico City hospital devours smog, providing cleaner air for patients.

With the Industrial Revolution, materials shifted from the rudimentary bricks, mortar, stone, and wood to a world of glass and steel, completely redefining the evolution of architecture. Now with developing technologies, it can be said that we are reaching another frontier in materials. A “smart” material movement, in which materials play an active role in their environment rather than simply exist. A movement driven by advancements in technology and necessity for sustainable methods in our changing world

How have “smart” materials been used in buildings within your city? What is your favorite "smart" building? 

Credits: Images by Lauren Golightly. Data linked to sources.

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Lauren Golightly is a graduate of the University of New Mexico with a degree in Architecture and Art History. Her studies in art history are based in architectural history, theory and criticism, and focus on modern and contemporary influences. A back...

  • Emily

    This building is super cool looking.

  • Lauren Golightly

    It is a cool building with an interesting treatment of materials. I’m glad you were able to come out and experience it in person!

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