architecture: fixing SFMOMA

It’s sad when an architectural statement falls short. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art hired Mario Botta for their new building in 1994 and undoubtedly hoped they’d get a statement building from an up-and-coming starchitect. It turns out he ripped off the sloping stack atop the atrium from his own earlier design, the planned ring of trees on it was never practical, and his atrium below that stack is a dark, low-rent uninspiring place.

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, interior staircase

original atrium and staircase

Really good architects can work with what exists and make it better, sometimes all that blather about “engage with the skyline that surrounds it. Its sculptural identity is found in a formal language that embraces and invites the silhouettes of its neighbors to participate in the dialogue of the new urban identity” actually means something. In this case it looks like up-and-coming starchitects Snøhetta may have figured out how to fix the bad Mario Botta design with their massive expansion:

The design of the interior spaces synthesizes the current Mario Botta-designed building and the new Snøhetta expansion into one seamless whole … To create an expansive, flowing space on the entry level of the museum, the original staircase will be removed from the Botta atrium.

In other words, junk that stupid ugly staircase peering out on the cheap siding lining the dull box of the original atrium

The sketches look good, and Snøhetta’s Oslo Opera House  is really great. The huge expansion will incorporate the Doris and Donald Fisher Collection (they planned their own museum in the Presidio, NIMBY types stopped it, then Don Fisher died), including Richard Serra’s sublime sculpture “Sequence”. The exterior has a New Museum (Sejima + Nishizawa/SANAA) Herzog/de Meuron vibe; we’ll see how badly San Francisco planning paralysis and special interests will screw it up.

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