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The New San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is a Heavyweight

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Photos by <a href="">Patricia Chang</a>
Photos by Patricia Chang

When the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art closed its doors in 2013 to build a new addition onto the rear of its building, most of the attention was on the size of the project. After all, the expansion designed by Norwegian architecture firm Snøhetta adds 235,000 square feet, with the fourth floor alone sporting almost as much space as the entirety of the original Mario Botta-designed building. But when members of the press were invited to see the almost (but not quite) completed museum on October 21, a lot of attention was paid to making the new building seem almost dainty—or as dainty as a 10-story, fiberglass-encased monolith can be, anyway.

Despite being twice as tall, the addition actually weighs less than the original Botta structure thanks to the lightweight materials used in its making, and only a single, easily overlooked line on the floor indicates where the old building and the new join together. Architect Craig Dykers referred to the union as "seamless," although he was in fact standing over the actual seam at the time.

Dykers emphasized the building's numerous large windows, sources of natural light, outdoor terraces, and open spaces. The connection to the outdoors is emphasized to the point that the floor around a public entrance mimics the appearance of the asphalt outside. The bulky staircase underneath the Botta building's signature cylinder skylight has been removed so that visitors will now have a clear line of sight through the entire first floor. The new galleries cover up as much infrastructure as possible. Rather than visible vents, air circulates via thin gaps at the top of certain walls. Electrical outlets, wiring, and fire sprinklers have been hidden from sight. You could call it an invisible museum.

Right now the rooms and corridors resemble a sort of Zen labyrinth of white walls, hardwood floors, and narrow staircases, complemented by occasional walkways and windows. Of course, when the museum finally reopens on May 14 of next year, those blank spaces will be filled with art. Wednesday was "moving in" day for the curatorial team, the first time when the new building was finished enough to allow them to begin the work of filling its many rooms.

Right now the only art in residence (unless you count the vertical garden, an outside wall covered in 16,000 plants) is the 200-ton, 13-foot high Richard Serra sculpture Sequence, so large that the ground-floor gallery housing it had to be partially built around it. (Bob Fisher, son of GAP-founders Don and Doris Fisher, who donated Sequence to the museum along with the rest of their 1,100-plus piece collection, said that his parents loved the gigantic steel sculpture so much that the Fisher kids called it their "fourth brother.")

SFMOMA still has some growing pains before it reopens: The lighting is being adjusted, the exterior of the Snøhetta building needs to be cleaned of the grime left behind when December's surprise rainstorms washed debris down from the roof, and a fifth floor space is choked with supplies and construction equipment while, amusingly, a sign at the door informs you that the gallery is closed and suggests you enjoy the café instead.

But museum bigwigs are already looking past the next six months of building and scrubbing and making plans for the future, even down to how the collection is going to be managed 100 years from now. It's a lightweight building, but it's already engendering heavy thinking. - Adam Brinklow

· SFMOMA Expansion Update: Massive Destruction Edition [Curbed SF]
· Watch Two Years of the New SFMOMA Rising in Just 6 Seconds [Curbed SF]
· A Look Inside the New SFMOMA Set to Open May 14, 2016 [Curbed SF]
· Watch SFMOMA Crews Just Casually Slide Around Parts of Richard Serra's 214-Ton Sculpture [Curbed SF]
· Twitter-Stalking the Rise of Snøhetta's Big SFMØMA Expansion [Curbed SF]
· San Francisco Museum of Modern Art [Official Site]


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