Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

San Francisco, California

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Construction of New de Young Museum in San Francisco Scheduled to Begin in 2001 and Be Completed by 2006


The design for the new de Young museum in Golden Gate Park was presented for the first time in early June, 1999 at the quarterly public meeting of the trustees of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. Harry Parker, director of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, described the planning process - involving the public, museum leadership and the City - for developing a design to better serve the museum's audiences throughout the Bay Area.

"The charge to the architecture firm was to create a new home for the de Young museum which would be integrated with its park location, totally accessible to all citizens, a safe and beautiful setting for the City's art collections and include extensive educational public resources," he said. The resulting design by Herzog & de Meuron, presented by firm partner Pierre de Meuron, seamlessly integrates the museum with the park. It also provides an open and light-filled environment that enhances the direct experience of art. Some highlights of the new de Young include the following:

"This is the most accessible museum I have ever seen," said Parker. "Even before you actually enter the building, the collections surround you and you begin interacting with the art. This design physically reflects a truly open and engaging museum experience."

Dede Wilsey, president of the Museum Board of Trustees, announced contributions from individuals of $80 million to date. "This incredible campaign represents an unprecedented cultural investment made by committed individuals for the people of San Francisco. It is testimony to the strong support for a dynamic new museum in the park for the City's arts collections and art education for future generations," she said. The funds raised thus far represent nearly two-thirds the total cost of $135 million.

The design of the de Young's new home is the direct result of public input at multiple workshops held over the past several years. Museum visitors offered ideas and insight into what constitutes an ideal museum experience. These included not only enhancing access and education resources, but design ideas as well. The architects used the input as a foundation for their design of the new museum.

The new de Young reflects a vision of the museum as a place of enrichment and enjoyment for all of the people of San Francisco and visitors to the region. Parker outlined several education initiatives made possible with this new building, including more classroom space, a children's gallery, a teacher's resource center and collection study areas. Additionally, significant "user-friendly" public service areas are incorporated; these include orientation and information areas, more restrooms and sitting areas, wheelchair-accessibility, a café and checkrooms for families and school groups.

The architects have paid meticulous attention to the environmental splendors of the building's setting-windows and open spaces integrate the museum with nature and allow the park to flow in, around and through it. The new building will also utilize exterior building materials and colors that are synergistic with its environment. De Meuron described it as an ongoing "dialogue between the inside (the collections, galleries) and the outside (the park, the City, the World)."

The new building uses less ground space yet doubles the interior space of the current de Young due to the creation, and more efficient use, of underground space. The current de Young building is actually eight buildings built over the course of 50 years and was never conceived as a unified space.

In the new de Young, the permanent collection will be arranged more cohesively, with increased exhibition space and the ability to accommodate new acquisitions. The new building includes an outdoor sculpture garden for the de Young's growing sculpture collection and increased temporary exhibition space providing more flexibility in installing exhibitions and room for visitors to enjoy popular shows.

Rebuilding the seismically unsafe de Young is urgent. After the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989, the Federal Commission on Arts and Humanities refused to indemnify exhibitions and important art objects lent from abroad due to seismic vulnerability.

Consequently, the de Young is no longer eligible for federal insurance, making it impossible to mount blockbuster exhibitions. This was a dire setback for the public, since it is the only museum in San Francisco able to host such major international shows as Treasures of Tutankhamun, The Dead Sea Scrolls, and Teotihuacan. Most recently, the exhibit Impressionists in Winter was shifted to the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, where space allowance and attendance capacity, is much lower than at the de Young.

Construction of the new de Young is scheduled to begin sometime in late 2001 and be completed by 2006. While the new building is under construction, the de Young will use the former space of the Asian Art Museum for temporary exhibitions once the Asian moves to its new Civic Center location at the end of 2001.

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This page was originally published in 1999 in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information.

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