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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The result is a work of site-specific art. "Tradition and nature had to be foremost. The white box would not be the solution," said Jacques Herzog, quoted by Diana Ketcham in her new book, The de Young in the 21st Century. The building's long, curved roofline is balanced on one side by a tall, twisting tower, with an observation deck floating above the city like a treehouse. In keeping with the park setting, the main entrance is understated rather than grandly formal. Following a meandering fissure chiseled into Yorkshire stone by Andy Goldsworthy, you're led by what first appears to be a random crack into a soaring courtyard. Huge hewn boulders offer a kind of prehistoric seating, a reflection upon temporality, upheaval―and the role of earthquakes in prompting great new works of architecture.

Once inside, you don't turn your back on the park. Designer and University of California, Berkeley, professor 33914 Hood created glass-enclosed gardens that slice into the building. And throughout the museum's three interwoven wings, windows and glassed-in bridges look out to the landscape. "We intentionally created these bottleneck areas that force people to relate to the outside and to look into the glassed-in gardens," explains project architect Ascan Mergenthaler.

 "I was unprepared for the impact of these long, glancing views," says Harry S. Parker III, director of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. "I looked up from Wilsey Court through a vertical window and caught a glimpse of an early American chair, which seemed to be floating. Even being so familiar with the art, it's changing all my perceptions."

 

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