Postmodern Architecture: SFMOMA By Mario Botta

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Pomo Summer season: Mario Botta’s monumental San Francisco Museum of Present day Artwork was the architect’s first building in the US, but was frostily acquired by critics. Now undergoing a main extension project led by design and style firm Snøhetta, the building is the subsequent in our summer series on Postmodernism .

When Mario Botta set out to design a new house for the San Francisco Museum of Contemporary Art in 1988, his aim was to create a landmark creating with “iconic strength”.

Photograph by Henrik Kam, courtesy of SFMOMA Photograph by Henrik Kam, courtesy of SFMOMA

The two admired and panned, the constructing opened in 1995 in the city’s South of Market place (SoMa) neighbourhood, a blighted region on the verge of a major building boom. The museum (SFMOMA) had been located in the upper ranges of the Beaux Arts-design San Francisco War Memorial and Executing Arts Center given that 1935, and it desired a distinctive new house when it picked Botta in 1988. The Swiss-Italian architect beat out many notable architects for the commission, which includes Frank Gehry, Tadao Ando and Charles Moore.

SFMOMA_Mario-Botta_press-office_dezeen_sq Photograph by Henrik Kam, courtesy of SFMOMA

At the time, Botta had acquired prominence in Europe. Born in Mendrisio, Switzerland, he studied at the Liceo Artistico in Milan and the University of Architecture in Venice, and had worked with Le Corbusier and Louis Kahn. Considering that founding his practice in 1970, he had created mainly homes and churches. These featured sturdy geometric types, masonry facades, and hints of historicism.

Photograph by Henrik Kam, courtesy of SFMOMA Photograph by Henrik Kam, courtesy of SFMOMA

The SFMOMA undertaking came with substantial expectations. It required to establish a visual identity for a museum that didn’t have 1, and it necessary to do so in a district characterised by dilapidated buildings. At 225,000 square feet (twenty,900 square metres), it was slated to be the greatest creating in the American West focused to present day art, and the second greatest in the nation, behind New York’s Museum of Modern day Art.


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Furthermore, it was Botta’s very first US creating, and it was becoming constructed in the heart of a significant American city. “The creating has great significance to me,” Botta, 72, told Dezeen. “The architect aspires to construct in a city as the artist aspires to exhibit his performs in a museum.”

Photograph by Henrik Kam, courtesy of SFMOMA Photograph by Henrik Kam, courtesy of SFMOMA

The creating was to be constructed on the web site of a former parking good deal. An Artwork Deco tower dating to the 1920s and created by architect Timothy Pflueger sat behind it. Inside of years, Yerba Buena Gardens, a massive public park, would open across the street, and a number of towers and cultural buildings would begin to rise in the neighbourhood. Close by, the Financial District was already speckled with international-type skyscrapers manufactured of glass and steel.

“The museum had to turn out to be a landmark, to have iconic strength,” mentioned Botta. His solution was to produce a developing with basic kinds, clear geometry and solid massing – a piece of architecture that would be distinguishable from the “abstract language of downtown buildings,” he explained.

Photograph by Pino Musi, courtesy of Mario Botta Architetto Photograph by Pino Musi, courtesy of Mario Botta Architetto

Functioning with local architects HOK, Botta conceived a 5-storey museum composed of stacked boxes clad in numerous treatments of red brick. On the street-facing elevation, the orthogonal volumes step upward, offering the creating a wedding cake-like visual appeal.

Emerging from the centre is a circular turret wrapped in zebra-like bands of black and white stone. The best of the cylinder is sliced off at an angle and sheathed in glass, resulting in a giant oculus that brings in normal light although also gesturing towards the city. Botta describes the oculus as a “kind of eye” that puts the building’s interior in get in touch with with the outside.

Photograph by Richard Barnes, courtesy of SFMOMA Photograph by Richard Barnes, courtesy of SFMOMA

Within, the diagonal skylight funnels light into an atrium with a grand nevertheless compact staircase. Galleries, a library, cafe, and auditorium are organised around the atrium, which was meant to act as a lively European-type piazza. The material palette consists of wood and granite, providing the space a warm and eclectic come to feel.


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Botta is now generally listed among the best Postmodern architects, even though his operate can be challenging to categorise. Critic Paul Golderberger, in a 1986 story about Botta in the New York Occasions, wrote: “His perform does not invite simple classification – it is absolutely modern day, but it eschews the slickness and the sleekness of so a lot late Modernism. His materials is masonry, not glass or steel, and he employs it to generate buildings that are firm, self-assured essays in geometry.”

Photograph by Robert Canfield, courtesy of Mario Botta Architetto Photograph by Robert Canfield, courtesy of Mario Botta Architetto

British critic Charles Jencks, in his seminal 1980 guide The Language of Postmodern Architecture, singled out Botta as a leading exponent of “Postmodern Classicism”. Botta himself eschews such labels.

While not overtly Postmodern, the SFMOMA developing undoubtedly has several Postmodern aspects: geometric varieties, hefty massing and pre-industrial resources such as brick, wood and stone, stated Mitchell Schwarzer, an architectural historian and professor at the California College of the Arts. “Whereas Modernist buildings had a weightless high quality, the Botta creating is really hefty,” he mentioned. “That solidity is a reaction towards Modernism.”

Photograph by Pino Musi, courtesy of Mario Botta Architetto Photograph by Pino Musi, courtesy of Mario Botta Architetto

“I prefer to think of it as submit-Classical, in the sense that I feel that architecture must not relate to variations,” explained Botta. “It should be a testimony of the ‘territory of memory’ by signifies of a contemporary language.”

The Botta constructing was an crucial contribution to San Francisco’s cityscape, although it was the final of its kind. “It marked an finish to the Postmodern period and the starting of Neo-Modernism, which has actually dominated San Francisco considering that then,” Schwarzer stated.

Photograph by Cesar Rubio, courtesy of SFMOM Photograph by Cesar Rubio, courtesy of SFMOMA

At the time of its completion, the creating was amongst the most anticipated of the 12 months in the US. Critics from across the country travelled to see it, and most of them delivered unfavourable reviews. “I am unsettled by the museum’s air of flawless composure and by the stilted picture of modernity that it tasks,” wrote New York Instances critic Herbert Muschamp. Blair Kamin, critic for the Chicago Tribune, expressed that the “layout is remarkably standoffish – much more an intimidating fortress than an enticing people’s palace.” Pilar Viladas, creating for the Los Angeles Instances, lauded the museum’s galleries, but stated the lobby and exterior “appear to pursue a various agenda: that of bamboozling site visitors with an extravaganza of glitz”.

John King, today’s architecture and urban design critic for the San Francisco Chronicle, informed Dezeen that the commission was supposed to launch Botta’s profession in the US. “Alternatively, the tide rapidly went out,” he explained.

Photograph by Pino Musi, courtesy of Mario Botta Architetto Photograph by Pino Musi, courtesy of Mario Botta Architetto

The building’s virtues have turn out to be a lot more obvious, nevertheless, as SoMa has evolved. When Botta received the commission, the spot was largely “a barren landscape” that people never visited. These days, it serves as an architectural anchor in the vibrant district, now dotted with higher-rise buildings. “It is gotten far better as the neighbourhood has gotten better,” explained King. “The huge, easy moves – the brick, the elemental strokes of granite, the single slice of oculus – they function properly with the surrounding towers.”


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SFMOMA has since additional a rooftop backyard to the building, made by local architect Mark Jensen. The area, finished in 2009, features a glazed pavilion and two open-air terraces, along with a glass-enclosed bridge that connects the room to the fifth-floor galleries.

Photograph by Henrik Kam, courtesy of SFMOMA Photograph by Henrik Kam, courtesy of SFMOMA

And in the spring of 2016, it will open a sizeable addition created by Snøhetta. The Norwegian company, picked by a committee of museum and neighborhood leaders, was on a shortlist that also incorporated Adjaye Associates, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, and Foster + Partners.

Encompassing 235,000 square feet (21,800 square metres), the new constructing will practically triple the museum’s exhibition space. Wedged into a comparatively narrow web site behind the Botta building, the ten-storey, steel framework will have a textured facade manufactured of fibreglass-reinforced polymer. At ground degree, glazing will offer views into art galleries and will engage pedestrians passing by the museum, explained Craig Dykers, a founding companion at Snøhetta.

Snøhetta's extension to SFMOMA. Image courtesy of MIR and Snøhetta Snøhetta’s extension to SFMOMA. Picture courtesy of MIR and Snøhetta

“We desired to produce a developing that opened towards the city, that was inviting to guests of diverse walks of daily life, and adapted to the shifting environment of the SoMa district,” Dykers told Dezeen. He noted that the spot is more and more underneath pressure from commercial interests. “Industrial buildings are tall and vertical. In contrast, our building is as minimal and horizontal as it can be,” he said.

The new addition recognises the Botta developing in several methods, explained Dykers. It sits in between the reduced-slung museum and the Pflueger-designed Artwork Deco tower, acting as a visual connector. The rippling pattern on its facade references the varied therapies of brick on the Botta building, and its white colour matches the white granite that wraps the circular turret.

The facade of Snøhetta's extension to SFMOMA. Image courtesy of MIR and SnøhettaThe facade of Snøhetta’s extension to SFMOMA. Picture courtesy of MIR and Snøhetta

Dykers mentioned creating a companion for the Botta developing was never ever viewed as problematic. “It is like obtaining a dance companion,” he stated. “You don’t want to be specifically like them, as you are going to step on each other’s feet all the time. A very good dance spouse is a person who has their very own persona and can move freely collectively with you.”

Men and women typically complain about the Botta creating, but they don’t consider into account the complete story, he additional. “I feel about its historical past, about what it attempted to do and in which it came from,” he explained.

The Howard Entrance to Snøhetta's extension to SFMOMA. Image courtesy of MIR and SnøhettaThe Howard Entrance to Snøhetta’s extension to SFMOMA. Image courtesy of MIR and Snøhetta

The creating created an identifiable image for SFMOMA and triggered advancement in a lifeless neighbourhood. “It produced this kind of an massive influence simply because of its massiveness,” explained Dykers. “It is a main ingredient as to why SoMa is as vibrant as it is nowadays. It was a meteorite landing on the website. It did what it necessary to do.”

Plus, he thinks the galleries are productive. “I find numerous contemporary museums cluttered and challenging to manage,” he stated. “Botta’s galleries are extremely simple. The work feels calm and cozy. I’m not distracted.”

Dykers extra that he spent ample time in the Botta museum conducting research prior to developing the addition. In one day, he saw seven couples kissing in the galleries. “They were probably on dates,” he explained. “The point is, they felt excellent about the place they were. Element of that is because of the intimacy and simplicity of Botta’s galleries.”

The sculpture terrace of Snøhetta's extension to SFMOMA. Image courtesy of MIR and SnøhettaThe sculpture terrace of Snøhetta’s extension to SFMOMA. Image courtesy of MIR and Snøhetta

Botta isn’t as generous in his compliments. When asked about Snøhetta’s addition, he explained it does not honour his original design intent for the museum. “The building, as I conceived it, in contrast itself both with the sky or with the top of the skyscraper dating back to the 1930s at its back. Now the expansion looks like a mute wall, an enlarged wardrobe,” he told Dezeen. “My impressions simply come from the pictures I saw in newspapers. I hope the achieved perform will be far better and demonstrate me wrong.”

Dezeen

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