Major museums have always had to walk a fine line between self-restraint — to let the art within shine — and being showpieces in their own right. The expansion of SFMOMA is certainly no exception. Driven by the tremendous growth of both its collection and its audience over the past two decades, SFMOMA embarked on an extensive remaking of its existing structure. The new and improved building doubles the museum's size and significantly enhances its gallery, education, and free-to-access public spaces. The international architecture and design firm Snohetta won the right to tackle the challenge. The firm's stunning design, developed in collaboration with SFMOMA, joins the museum's existing building with a new 235,000-square-foot, 10-story addition that allows it to share more of its renowned collection with a wider public. The expanded building is also more deeply integrated into its dynamic urban surroundings.
Architecture is often an additive process, where many parts are built up into a single whole. The team at Snohetta saw this challenge a little differently. Their vision was closer to the idea of excavation, starting with the whole and then carving away to create public terraces and skylights. The building is highly texturized on one side, almost as though it was etched with tools, and polished smooth on the others as if it's been pulled from a quarry and placed in the middle of the city. The vision of the architect was to create a facade that represents the rippling waters of the San Francisco waterfront that reflect the temperamental maritime climate of the city: water, wind and fog. The effect is artful—adding a stunning new facade to an already beautiful museum.
When it came to the challenge of fabricating the signature architectural feature of the SFMOMA expansion, the solution came from outside the building industry. More than 1,400 rippling facade panels adorn the northeast side of the museum's new addition, but the complexity of their shapes and the fact that each panel is unique ruled out traditional construction methods. Adding to the challenge was Snohetta's desire to have the look and texture of cast concrete, which, due to its weight, would have added significant reinforcement costs. Custom fabrication shop Kreysler & Associates (veterans of public art and a little film called Return of the Jedi) took up the production and material challenges.
Using digital design technology, Kreysler pushed the boundaries of traditional construction methods, fabricating the geometrically complex panels exactly as envisioned by the architects. Even better, the efficient use of materials and local production (the shop is located fewer than 40 miles from the museum) supported SFMOMA's commitment to a reduced environmental impact. Kreysler used fiber-reinforced plastic (FRP) instead of concrete to create the largest architectural application of the material in the United States — reducing the weight by one million pounds. The FRP panels were manufactured by molding together thin layers of reinforcement and an aggregate that includes sand quarried from Monterey Bay. These were mounted to standard curtain wall panels, providing the precision and quality control of factory assembly and the desired weatherproofing and thermal performance. Each panel is curved in two directions, which gives the facade inherent strength. If the panels were flat, it would make the facade flimsy — but with the double curvature, the panels provide added stability. Critical to the overall construction schedule, this solution sealed the building from the elements in a fraction of the time. Nearly indestructible, the sandblasted panels mimic concrete in look and feel but resist moisture absorption, so even on the foggiest San Francisco days, SFMOMA's new extension remains luminous.
Every aspect of the expansion has been designed with sustainability in mind. Like the material used to insulate from extreme temperature changes, to lighting control systems, to the panel molds which doubled as shipping containers to transport the panels to the building site. The SFMOMA expansion project exemplifies how digital fabrication techniques typically used in manufacturing can be applied to architectural construction, with environmentally friendly results.
In addition to our exhibit, Employee Communications Specialist, Benjamin Shaw, recently gazed at the building from nearby. He shared his pictures with Autodesk Gallery Ambassadors.
Thanks, Ben! Also thanks to Associate Creative Director, Matt Tierney, and Senior Program Manager for Strategic Solutions, Nancy White, for passages that appear in this blog article.
The Autodesk Gallery in San Francisco is open to the public on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm. There is a guided tour on Wednesdays at 12:30 pm and a self-guided audio tour available anytime. Exhibits described in the audio tour are marked with a placard and the exhibit number on the audio tour page.
Admission is free. Visit us.
The museum facade is alive in the lab.