Six months after the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art released conceptual designs of how a new wing would look alongside its current home, the institution on Wednesday showed how the two pieces might fit together inside.
The biggest surprise: To try to create one seamless cultural facility, SFMOMA intends to remove the iconic centerpiece of the existing museum on Third Street – the atrium’s three-story granite staircase.
Director Neal Benezra also said that before the expanded museum opens in 2016 it will be necessary to close the current building for an unspecified period.
This will allow time for similarly sized but very different buildings to be fused. It’s also when the dark dramatic staircase would make way for an open path leading through the atrium up to the expanded museum’s entry foyer in the heart of the proposed addition.
Patrons also would be able to approach the foyer from Howard Street, past a tall glassed-in gallery with free admission.
“We have to widen the stairway passage to make it accommodate more people, and create visual access” from Third Street to the indoor-outdoor foyer, said Craig Dykers of Snøhetta, the architectural firm leading the design effort. “We want to make sure people don’t feel they’re getting two separate experiences, depending on where they enter.”
The addition’s exterior form remains essentially what was shown in May: a white masonry bar extends from Howard Street to Minna Street behind the statuesque brick-clad box that SFMOMA opened with fanfare in 1995.
Letting light in
The east-facing wall would fold back as it rises to allow sunlight into the center of the block. There, SFMOMA’s sculpture garden – which sits atop a parking garage – would be joined by a second, smaller sculpture garden 30 feet below, the two spaces linked visually by a planted wall.
The new wing would be 200 feet high, compared with the 163-foot peak of SFMOMA’s huge diagonal skylight.
Overall, the addition would increase the amount of SFMOMA’s indoor gallery space from 59,000 to 130,000 square feet.
The galleries framing the atrium would remain intact, but the addition would hold five levels of exhibition space running parallel to Third Street. Above them would be three floors of space for museum offices.
The architects and museum officials acknowledge the need to avoid a cultured behemoth where visitors feel exhausted or lost – criticisms that have been leveled at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, which devotes 125,000 square feet to galleries.
“There’s a lot of square footage, no question,” Benezra said. “We want enough distinction and diversity that you don’t feel overwhelmed by the amount of space.”
That’s one reason for removing the staircase and opening sightlines from Third Street up to the new entry foyer: The idea is that the easier and more logical the procession, the better.
Similarly, the addition’s design has evolved since May to add a half dozen or so outdoor terraces of varying size, at least two connected by exterior stairways.
“Terraces help change perspective, and give you an idea of where you are,” said Dykers, whose firm is working with EHDD Architecture of San Francisco.
While Wednesday’s presentation took the design to the schematic level, much work remains to be done.
The look of the new wing along Minna Street is still being fashioned, Dykers said, as is the texture of the masonry skin facing Yerba Buena Gardens. The ceiling height of the gallery along Howard – which will open with Richard Serra’s immense sculpture “Sequence” – continues to rise and fall in a quest to find dimensions that feel neither compressed nor cavernous.
Given its size, the project has moved smoothly and swiftly since SFMOMA decided to build a new wing in 2009. The city’s Planning Commission has approved the environmental impact report, and a vote on the full project is scheduled for January.
The target opening date is early 2016. Construction would begin in the summer of 2013, after two buildings on Howard Street are demolished.
SFMOMA: Shape of things to come
— The combined buildings would include 470,000 square feet of space, with 130,000 square feet devoted to galleries. The existing museum is 225,000 square feet with 59,000 square feet devoted to galleries.
— A full 40,000 square feet of space would be accessible without buying a ticket: A visitor could enter on Third Street, stroll through the building to an outdoor terrace above Natoma Street, then exit on Howard Street after visiting the large free gallery along the way.
— Art from the vaunted Fisher Collection will be mixed throughout the galleries rather than be displayed on its own. “We want to tell the story of contemporary art in a coherent way, not as a set of private collections,” said Neal Benezra, the museum’s director.
— In addition to the main pathways leading in from Third and Howard streets, there will be an entrance on Minna Street for nighttime events.
— The capital campaign to pay for the expansion and bolster the museum’s endowment now has a fundraising goal of $555 million, up from $480 million. Already, $437 million has been raised.
— In its 2000 monograph on the Mario Botta building, SFMOMA told readers “a stroll up or down the grand staircase should not be missed, for this is the most dramatic route through the building.”
E-mail John King at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article appeared on page A – 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle