How's that SFMOMA

Brave new world: SFMOMA from Snøhetta

A large cloud of fog lies quietly behind the massive, geometric San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. A cloud of fog, as is often found in the Bay of San Francisco, gray, opaque, unclear. But this cloud gets its appearance from plastic panels on the facade. It is so static because this is the new SFMOMA, designed by the Norwegian architects Snøhetta.

The striking facade was covered with 700 glass fiber reinforced plastic panels (FRP - fiberglass reinforced polymer). With the added silicate crystals and their meandering surface structure, they should look like the rippling water surface in the bay. The building also has the appearance of a cloud due to its lying shape. Despite the ten storeys it houses, it is wider than it is high. It thus clearly opposes the predominant development in SoMa, the district in which it is located. With this, the architects also wanted to set an example against commerce, which is becoming more and more popular. In her opinion, it is embodied in these vertically oriented buildings. Last but not least, the economic success found its way into the district thanks to Mario Botta's building for the SFMOMA.

Connection of two giants
When a design was sought in 1988, Botta enjoyed a good reputation, especially in Europe. Nevertheless, he prevailed against internationally renowned architects such as Frank Gehry and Tadao Ando. With its simple forms and clear geometry, its construction should stand out from the abstract and dilapidated buildings in the vicinity. He worked with materials that did not yet bear witness to industrialization, such as brick, wood and natural stone. Charles Jencks led this to categorize Botta as a postmodern classicist. Whatever the name of the style, it cannot be denied that it was the merit of the massive Botta building to change the SoMa district sustainably through its presence and its ambivalent reactions among the citizens. Over the years it has developed into a magnet for art and culture. Craig Dykers, co-founder of Snøhetta, finds diplomatic words: “The building has reached its destination and hit SoMa like a meteorite. That is how it kicked off development in this quarter. ”Dykers also emphasizes his efforts to create a visual connection to the old SFMOMA with the new building. For example, the ruffled facade is based on the various uses of brickwork at Botta. The color of the facade not only imitates the mist, but also wants to create an analogy to the granite of the black and white skylight tower. Despite all these efforts, Mario Botta has so far nothing positive to say about the new building. He didn't cherish his design, he stood there like a silent wall. He only got this impression from pictures in the newspaper. It remains to be hoped that the completed building teaches him better.
Apart from these differences of opinion, Snøhetta is pursuing a similar goal with the design as Botta in 1988: With new pedestrian paths, several terraces that allow views of the surroundings and new entrances, the SoMa district should benefit from a construction project this time as well. The building should appear more inviting. The sculptures on the open-air areas virtually interweave art with the city.

The way up
The city residents are also specifically invited to use the museum as a meeting point and place to stay. One of the new entrances leads to the freely accessible exhibition rooms on the ground floor. There, a staircase clad in maple, which uses the entire width of the room, serves as seating in an informal atmosphere. The architects see it as one of the liveliest places in San Francisco in the future. Another way leads via a new sculptural staircase, which now grows up under the skylight in the Botta building. Your steps take up the gray stripes of the flooring again, while the light maple cladding clearly stands out. An old staircase was replaced at this point to create a seamless transition from the existing to the new building. Just like the staircase mentioned above, this path also leads to the second floor, to the Schwab-Halle. The first works of art can also be seen here. A ticket can also be purchased there for the further way up to the museum.

In the best case, the visitor works his way through the ten floors of the museum, ascending from below. On his way, works of art alternate with fresh air and viewpoints. There is already a very special work of art on the terrace on the third floor: America's largest wall garden with more than 19,000 plants from 21 native species. Apart from this green wall, the remaining exhibition rooms function as "white canvases for curators". In close cooperation with the museum management, suitable rooms have been created for each part of the collection. The pillar-free floor plans remained as flexible and minimalistic as possible without getting too big. In this way, visitors can concentrate optimally on the art.

Enhanced art experience
In addition to the fantastic collections, SFMOMA's educational offering has also been updated. Now students, teachers and other inquisitive people can use the library and classrooms. The generation of digital natives is also welcomed with the new museum concept: a dedicated app lets composers, comedians, artists, authors and others have their say in brief statements. Although the museum with its cubature opposes the commercial buildings, there is no way around the expanded museum shop. He is even represented by a branch at the San Francisco airport, where he can also supply the outgoing art lovers with souvenirs.

Exemplary in terms of energy
With a low consumption, the new Snøhetta building is working towards the LEED Gold certificate. The rooms of the museum are only illuminated with LEDs. In the future it will use 46% less energy and even 60% less drinking water than before. The large wall garden, for example, is fed by the building's water recovery system.