The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) is exemplary of Postmodernist architecture. Postmodernism developed as a movement during the late 1970's, out of a reassurgence in architectural history programs in university faculties and as a reaction against the minimalism and lack of ornamentation of Modernism, a style made popular by the German school the Bauhaus (1919-1933) and De Stijl the Dutch artistic movement founded in 1917. Postmodernism continues to influence present day architecture, drawing influences from and referencing historical architectural styles.
Completed in 1995, the SFMOMA building was designed by the Swiss architect Mario Botta (b.1943). In the architectural field, Botta is regarded as an artisan of brick and stone. His ideas about architecture are heavily influenced by his former teacher, Italian Architect, Carlo Scarpa and through his brief employment in the architectural practices of the French architect Le Corbusier and American architect Louis Kahn.
SFMOMA is a typical example of Mario Botta's architecture. It's form is monumental and monolithic. The five storey, heavy looking structure, is framed in steel with a stepped and patterned brick façade and a central turret faced in black and white stone. The turret houses a full height central atrium court, with an expansive circular skylight, which floods the ground floor entry with natural light.
Unlike the quintessential dark and segmented museum, the entry court is a highly activated space, full of the bustle of visitors and acting as the central point of circulation through the building. The architect has described the atrium space as "the center of spatial gravity for the entire museum." Gallery spaces are protected from direct light, yet always linked to spaces such as stairs or corridors, that bring in natural light and allow views to the surrounding cityscape.
View up towards the fifth floor atrium truss walkway (Photo by Vanessa Couzens)
The 225,000-square-foot museum consists of 65,000 square feet of galleries including the 14,400-square-foot Rooftop Garden. Visitors spiral up the levels of the building to the fifth level where they traverse a dramatic steel truss bridge over the atrium to reach the light filled museum café, which views on one side across the cityscape and on the opposite side, across the sculpture court. While eating art inspired cakes decorated to match a Mondrian painting, or shaped to match the Ellsworth Kelly sculpture in the adjoining garden, French sculptor Louise Bourgeois' spider-like pieces called ‘The Nest' (1994) perch between the tables, as if ready to snatch your leftovers!
SFMOMA is a building that imbues a sense of wellbeing on it's visitors. The success of the building as a museum can be attested to by current plans to expand. Norwegian architectural firm, Snohetta have been commissioned to design extensions that will house approximately 100,000 square feet of additional gallery and public space as well as approximately 60,000 square feet of support space, including larger and more advanced conservation facilities and an expanded library. Full schematic plans are expected to be completed before the end of the year.
SFMOMA rooftop sculpture garden, café treats - art never tasted so good! (Photo by Vanessa Couzens)