Two months ahead of schedule, SFMOMA today announced its selection of Snøhetta for the museum’s $250 million expansion, bringing to a finale the closely-watched competition for the landmark cultural project. The New York and Oslo-based firm, led by Craig Dykers and Kjetil Thorsen, won the commission over three equally accomplished contenders: Foster + Partners, Adjaye Associates, and Diller Scofidio + Renfro. The addition will be the firm’s first building on the West Coast.
Snøhetta is perhaps best known for its dramatic opera house in Oslo, which by the museum officials’ own accounts, was the building that sealed the deal for them. “The selection committee was particularly thrilled by the stunning spaces, sophisticated use of materials, and quality of light in Snøhetta’s Norwegian National Opera and Ballet in Oslo, which we feel is one of the great buildings worldwide to be designed and built in the last decade,” SFMOMA director Neal Benezra said in a statement. Snøhetta is also building the only above-ground structure on the memorial site at the World Trade Center, an entry pavilion that is currently under construction.
In an interview, Dykers gave AN a glimpse of what might be forthcoming in a design, speaking about the importance of opening up the museum to the street. “We see museums requiring more space for connecting to communities, in addition to spaces where people have visceral connections to art." Another aspiration for the firm, he added, is incorporating the landscape and natural light into the traditionally hermetic world of art museums. “We arbitrarily separate the urban context from the natural context," Dykers said. "Part of our thinking is that those two need not be so clearly segregated, and that one can be aware of the surroundings even in a densely packed urban landscape. San Francisco is one place where you are always aware of the natural environment—there’s the shifting topology, the seismic qualities, and even the fog.”
The trick will be getting those elements into a densely packed infill lot, shadowed by the hotel towers of the W and the St. Regis. The city recently signed off on a swap where the museum will build a new firehouse to replace one on Howard Street, giving the building a little more frontage on a main thoroughfare. In terms of size, the new addition will be about two-thirds the size of the existing 225,000-square-foot brick edifice, designed by Mario Botta in 1995. The addition is anticipated to open in 2015.