On May 10 the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art will open its $24 million rooftop sculpture garden, which adds 14,400 square feet of exhibition space for newly acquired or rarely seen large-scale works. The San Francisco-based firm Jensen Architects received the commission as the result of a 2006 design competition. Construction took about one year. The garden’s opening comes on top of another ambitious maneuver: the museum’s April 2 announcement of a plan to double its exhibition space to accommodate its growing collections, exhibitions, and educational programming.
The garden space is a series of indoor/outdoor areas where patrons can mingle with works by Alexander Calder, Barnett Newman, and Louise Bourgeois, among others. Mark Jensen, a principal in the firm, was the lead architect for the project.
Created on the eighth floor of a parking garage, the garden connects to the fifth floor of the museum’s main building through the use of a 110-foot-long bridge. The bridge is something of a technical feat: It is basically a hanging walkway suspended by beams that are hidden above the ceiling.
Another point of entry is through an overlook. With a glass wall framed by black-painted flashings and copings used elsewhere in the museum’s exterior, this 1,000-square-foot room acts as a transitional space, leading from enclosed exhibition spaces to a wide-open view of the two outdoor gardens that flank an enclosed pavilion and the South of Market skyline.
Jensen chose materials and a palette that would let the art shine while having a quiet dignity of its own. Walls of dark grey lavastone move from the garden areas into the pavilion, as do concrete floors that were chosen because they could be used to bolt down large works—like Ellsworth Kelly’s 18-foot-tall slab of steel—and easily repaired. Inside the 2,000-square-foot pavilion, Jensen used a traditional flooring material—the narrow slats of tongue-and-groove European white oak—on one wall, which frames a Blue Bottle Coffee Bar. The oak was also used to cover a sliding wall that can close off the bar when necessary.
The pavilion also boasts a wall of 13-foot Fleetwood sliding doors, as tall as the surrounding garden walls, that can open up to the elements, and a ceiling of Barrisol, a stretched fabric that creates a luminous glow. Four shades of wheat-colored ceramic tiles from the legendary Health Ceramics Studio in Sausalito line the bathrooms and a service hallway.
"We wanted to keep the space as free and open as possible," said Jensen. "To be simple enough in its design and spacial qualities to let other things happen there, so it's not only sculpture, but different mediums, multimedia events, and gatherings. It's open to the sky but also open to interpretation in terms of how the museum wants to use it."