41st Annual Meeting – Architecture Session, May 30, Panel: "Collaboration in Design: Working with Architects at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA)” with Craig Dykers, Sam Anderson, Ruth Berson, and Jill Sterrett

War Memorial Veterans Building, 1935
War Memorial Veterans Building, Van Ness Avenue, 1935

With just a day between the ground breaking ceremony at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) and the 2013 AIC conference, panelists Ruth Berson, Craig Dykers, Jill Sterett, and Sam Anderson once again came together to discuss the debates and collaborations that resulted in the “generous, magnetic, and transformative” design for the SFMOMA expansion.  Each of the panelists were representative of the variety of programs and interests that had to be addressed in a project of this scale.  This project began with generosity of the Fisher family of San Francisco. The institutional history of the SFMOMA was an important consideration before beginning to search for project architects.  The SFMOMA had humble beginnings on the fourth floor of the War Memorial Veterans building.  As it developed its own collection, the SFMOMA out grew the 1935 beaux arts building and needed it own dedicated building.  In 1988 Mario Botta was selected to design the new building.  Within fifteen years, the museum had brought in the Fisher collection and expanded its own holdings leading to the need for additional space. The new building on Third Street opened in 1995, marking the 60th anniversary of the museum.
Due to open in 2016, the expansion will add 235,000 square feet to the SFMOMA complex and will “seamlessly join the existing Mario Botta-designed building with a new addition.”  The project will more add more than 6 times the current public space.  There is also offsite storage for the museums expanded collection.
See: http://www.sfmoma.org/our_expansion
SFMOMA, Third Street, Mario Bota, 1995

Ruth Berson, SFMOMA staff member and Deputy Museum Director for Curatorial Affairs, began the discussion with “Why expand-‘Why Between the What'”.  Ruth participated in the design by contributing to the space planning and design development process.  The planning process included an international search for architects,capital campaign, and the identification of the design intent.  First priorities were Magnetic, Transformative, and Generous.  Secondary words were added as guiding principles: Open, Distinctive, and Passionate.  All of the priorities and principles led to a design that was artist centric, collection driven, and civic minded.  In efforts to remain artist centric, artists were sometimes contacted to discuss the space.  The new design used the guiding principles by expanding the program to include white space for events, performance art, and meetings.  Technological advances were made to enhance the visitor experience, while also being mindful of the uniqueness of the collection and its unique holdings.  Another goal was to meet LEED expectations and expanding the museums education programs.  After the SnOhetta was selected as the architect a collaborative conversation took place between Craig Dykers and Mario Bota.  Bota stated that “I had my moment with the building, now it is SnoHetta’s turn………I will withhold my opinions until after it is finished.”
Craig Dykers, Principal of SnOhetta Architects, continued the discussion with the “SnOhetta Response”. Craig reiterated the importance of the institutional history to the design process and added that architects were not selected based off of a proposed design. It was a selection process based on the architects knowledge of the SFMOMA. The building is surrounded by six to seven streets with turn of the century buildings.  Based on the design priorities, SnOhetta wished to activate these areas with new entrances and to add a public collection space with an open area for free public access.  This new “art court” will also serve as a transition space between neighborhood and the building.  It was important to the design team to balance the traditional and new buildings that surround the SFMOMA.  Machines and daylighting systems were integrated into the design to protect and enhance the museum collection.  The facades of the new building were modeled off of the quality of light and rippling water that is unique to San Francisco.  With each step in the design process, SnOhetta remained mindful of the priorities and guiding principles to establish continuity to the overall design.
Jill Sterett, SFMOMA staff member and Director of  Collections and Conservation, discussed the use of “Collections as a Directive” in the design process.  Jill explained that the team took cues from the Public, Education, and San Francisco itself in order to inform their decisions. The artists and the relationships that they keep with them are the center of the SFMOMA.  It was important that the new offsite storage facility is a dynamic space. The new space will have capacity for collection study, research, photography, carpentry, packing/crating, and big sculpture conservation.  These stipulations required the team to reframe the question of how to activate the collection in two different spaces.  The expansion/new building will be divided into storage, public space, conservation, and staff areas.  The lower levels will hold the support and collection areas-this is conceived as a dynamic storage area and not static.  It will be viewed as a n operating set of suites.  Throughout the new zones, the initiatives and priorities will act as directives for accomplishing the project goals.
Sam Anderson, Principal of Samuel Anderson Architects, wrapped up the discussion with “Engagement of Specialized Areas Integrated into the Overall Plan”.  Sam added that the mechanical systems had to respond to the climate and the program.  It was important that these strategies were specifically designed for each circumstance. With such dynamic spaces, it became a question of how to fit multiple and growing functions into one program design.  The permanent photography collection will be stored on-site, but the lower levels of the building will also serve as transient art storage.  In addition to addressing the on-site storage needs, it was important to plan for areas for staging and mounting.  In response to the climatic considerations, it was a priority to address the potential for seismic activity.  The solution for the concerns had to also be functional within the program of the building.  Each individual off-stage space was is therefore integrated with the next, for instance the conservation labs are integrated through a vertical visual connection.
In all aspects of the design, it was important to maintain collaboration between the architects, designers, and museum staff in order to address the clearly identified priorities and guiding principles of the museum.  As the work progresses towards a completion goal of 2016, the two year preparation and planning period was integral to the success of the SFMOMA expansion.