Towering triumph

With the stunning de Young Museum, San Francisco gains a brilliant work of modern architecture ― and some welcome attention.

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Now, San Francisco is hoping that the museum will be what the Getty Center was for Los Angeles: a piece of architecture appealing enough to entice visitors and powerful enough to show the entire world that its city is a cultural force to be reckoned with.

"This wasn't about my personal taste," says Dede Wilsey, president of the board of trustees of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. "I might not hire them to design my house, but this is a museum for the 21st century."

Wilsey, formidable socialite and philanthropist, is as responsible as anyone for what San Francisco has achieved. The story began in 1989, when the original museum fell victim to the Loma Prieta earthquake. After two failed bond issues, Wilsey took matters into her own hands, eventually raising $188 million in private funds―and exerting a strong influence over the museum's next incarnation. With private backing rather than public funding, the firm Herzog & de Meuron (of Minneapolis's Walker Art Center and London's Tate Modern fame) was able to work free from the "design by committee" constraints that typically result in bland structures that anger (and excite) no one.

 

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