Commonly, the most dreaded hurdle for architects is: How to address the site in a way which does not dismiss the surrounding urban fabric. Drawing in the occasional pedestrian would be a compliment, but it is not always that simple. A building’s connection with both city and site can often become clouded and disjointed with codes, programming, and of course the too familiar egos that tend to surface.
Architecture firm Snøhetta makes the engagement of urban fabric seem effortless with its design for the expansion of San Francisco’s Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA). Set to open to the public in early 2016, SFMOMA's sleek addition will expand the museum’s program to nearly two to three times its current size to accommodate the museum’s growing audience, collections, and educational programs. But not to worry! Unlike the fate of the Bay Bridge, the existing museum designed by Mario Botta will be joined to its more contemporary counterpart.
The museum’s mission is to connect the arts to a diverse range of people while engaging the surrounding city. Snøhetta was given the complex challenge. How do you draw public interest and circulation to a lot seemingly sandwiched within a compact urban context?
The answer is transparency. Strategically placed programmatic elements and the use of transparency will potentially open up space to create more engaging environments in experiencing art for the public. A serious contrast to the existing museum, which is noted for being primarily internal and possessing a heavily grounded appearance composed of brick.
What does a more “transparent” art experience look like?
- Outdoor terraces placed throughout the museum.
- A ground floor gallery with twenty-five foot high glass walls showcasing art for the nearest passerby.
- The city’s largest living wall of native plants in San Francisco in the form of a vertical garden.
- A “white box” space that will house live art performances, services for school groups, film screenings, and special events for the public.
Was it mentioned that the ground floor gallery would also serve as a community social space for people to gather and view art free of charge? The use of glass creates a more intimate connection between interior and exterior, making a space feel continuous and allowing for a dialogue between the city and its people. In implementing accessible public spaces, open galleries, and multiple entrances, SFMOMA is hoping to redefine the relation between communities and the museum as an institution. Rather than alienating the individual from the occasionally daunting world of modern and contemporary art, they are aiming to invite the individual and city into their world.
With the architecture firm’s precedence for creating designs which maintain a dynamic connection with its surroundings and users, there is high anticipation for the new expansion. If successful, the museum could redefine San Francisco’s image of public space and museum within a dense urban setting.
In what other ways can architectural elements and materials draw in public interest? Do you think SFMOMA’s approach will be successful?
Credits: Images by Snøhetta. Data linked to sources.