San Francisco's New de Young
"Normally in a high-rise situation you have to have a fire-egress stair, enclosed and pressurized," says architect David Fong. But the building's unique breathable skin allowed otherwise. The architects demonstrated to the satisfaction of the fire marshal that, "with all that penetration and perforation, we can evacuate smoke easily and safely."
In a scenic city like San Francisco, it's worth skipping the elevator. "As you're coming down the tower you have this sense of being on the outside, getting the breezes in your face as you walk down. It's a pretty unique experience that you wouldn't get with a glazed system," Lopes said.
Blending with the Park
That blend of in and out, the flow between landscape, facade, and interior is something Fong finds most pleasing about the building.
"It's more of a people oriented museum... you don't have to go through any grand staircase to walk in. You kind of just flow right in. and once you're in, we incorporate landscape [by Walter Hood] inside with these deep courtyards that penetrate into the heart of the museum." The courtyards serve both to bring the park into the museum and to assist with wayfinding.
In an urban setting it's sometimes expedient to crowd all the unattractive necessaries on the roof — HVAC equipment, pipe vents, exhaust. But the de Young's profile is just as sleek up top as it is below. The copper continues unmarred by utilities, with cut-out parallelograms marking the interior courtyards.
In a 21st-century building, electronic communications are critical. However, the copper facade serves as very effective blocking for most wireless signals. This became a major challenge for Shen Milsom & Wilke, the telecommunications designer. As a result of their analysis, the museum was fitted with about 50 percent more wireless access points than a typical modern building would have. To conform to the museum's spare interiors and fine surfaces, many were concealed in the ceiling or display vitrines.
Initially, the building design had vocal critics, including architects who objected to the tower's height and proposed wood exterior. The de Young designers adapted by reducing the tower's height by one floor and switching to the distinctive metal cladding.
But even the early critics applauded the fact that — by inclusion of a below-ground floor and consolidation of several buildings added since 1919 — the new footprint is 37 percent smaller than that of the pre-Loma Prieta museum. So as the copper skin eventually ages to verdigris, it will be matched by more of the park's own green.
However, the slit-enforced perspective and the overhang had been planned from the beginning. "It was very much part of Herzog's idea to really focus the view at that level," Lopes says. While the glass allows excellent visibility, the overhang serves both to frame the view and shield against excessive solar heat gain.
Even from a distance, the perforations give the tower a gauzy appearance through which the stairs are visible. The architects were able to achieve that effect by negotiations with the fire marshal. They were given permission to try something different than code usually calls for — a sealed, air-tight passage. Walling the stairs would have dramatically changed the appearance, and glazing in the stairs would have been prohibitively expensive.
Lisa Ashmore is a freelance writer based in Atlanta and former managing editor of the monthly architectural journal, DesignIntelligence.
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