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SF MoMA: A Must-Visit Museum

by John Webber

A daring architecture firm brings its forward thinking design to San Francisco.

The architects at the cutting-edge firm Snøhetta have never shied away from thorny design problems and controversy: Witness their 2014 debut of the National September 11 Memorial Museum Pavilion, in Manhattan, as well as their ongoing revamping of the Times Square pedestrian experience.

“Both projects are about social connectivity,” says Craig Dykers, 54, Snøhetta’s German-born cofounder, who is based in New York. This year sees the Norwegian-American firm completing two very different projects in Northern California, and both will likely burnish its reputation for putting ingenious problem solving ahead of mere aesthetics. First comes a redesigning and expansion of the kitchen and gardens of Thomas Keller’s famed Napa Valley eatery, the French Laundry.

The other is the $305 million addition to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, which doubles the size of the institution to 460,000 square feet, which opened May 14 after a three-year closure. There was no room on the site, in the city’s dense South of Market neighborhood, to create a new structure at a respectful distance from the postmodern edifice of the 1995 Mario Botta– designed museum. “The building is in a dense urban environment and gets very little natural light,” says Dykers.

“There is no chance to reach out and grab the surroundings.” So the addition wraps around the back of Botta’s structure, extending behind a neighboring hotel, too. Inspired by San Francisco fog, the eastern façade is clad in white fiberglass panels that create rippling bands, studded with silicate crystals to catch the light. “We imagined the new and existing buildings as dance partners,” he adds. “You don’t copy each other, you complement each other. It makes the dance more interesting.”
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