Deja Vu


Courtesy WRNS

Public dissent over Gluckman Mayner Architects’ modernist-style proposal for the Contemporary Art Museum of the Presidio (CAMP) recently convinced Donald and Doris Fisher, founders of the Gap, to change architects. Last week the Presidio Trust released designs by the project’s new architects (and former associate architects), WRNS, that call for less new construction, retain historic buildings that had been marked for demolition, and substantially reconfigure the art museum.

Two new buildings comprising the museum (and connected by an underground tunnel) will be relocated to sites that will soften the visual impact of new construction. The buildings have been designed to the scale of adjacent historic buildings on the parade ground known as the Main Post, and building materials have been selected to complement their palette.

One of the new museum buildings, located south of Morago Avenue, will be buried, with only about six feet of its two-story height above ground. This portion will have a flat roof, with a planted retaining wall facade and small staff entrance. The other new structure, a two-story gallery building, will have only one of those stories above ground (limited in height to 30 feet) and oriented to the Main Post grid. This gallery building will have a broad overhanging green roof with three low-pitched sections. The north facade will be transparent with vertical glazing characteristic of other Main Post historic buildings, and will face a plaza. Porches and deep roof overhangs will serve to reinforce a sense of historic continuity.

Nonetheless the most vocal opponent of the Gluckman Mayner project, the Presidio Historical Association, is still not pleased. In a press release dated February 27, association president Gary Widman said the group was “very distressed” by the Trust’s decision to still move ahead with “a massive contemporary art museum, large hotel and theater in the heart of the National Historic Landmark District on the Presidio’s Main Post.” He added, “The Trust has once again ignored the broad, nearly unanimous public opposition to its proposal.”

Meanwhile momentum still exists for the museum to be moved into the city of San Francisco itself, with Mayor Gavin Newsom, as well as the city’s Board of Supervisors, supporting the move.

Last summer, the Presidio Trust had recommended the Fishers’ plan to build a $150 million museum for their collections alongside the Main Post, to be designed by New York–based Gluckman Mayner. A hodgepodge of historic buildings now stand on the site, including brick barracks from the 1890s and a Mission-style officers’ club. The Gluckman Mayner proposal was a two-story shifted glass box designed to mirror the formal geometries of the Main Post and echo the white-columned arcades of nearby barracks with vertical white mullions.

Following prolonged debate about the impact of the new museum, the San Francisco Planning Commission declared that “the design of the proposed contemporary art museum and the associated landscape plan is too stark of a contrast to the buildings and spaces that would flank it.”

In December, Donald Fisher agreed to consider major alterations, including moving to a site about 100 yards away. As for putting much of the museum underground, a spokesperson for Gluckman Mayner noted, “Don said from the start that he wanted to build a museum because he never wanted his collection to be stashed in basement storage.” He also added that it was “a bit of a surprise” to hear that WRNS, formerly the associate architects on the Gluckman Mayner scheme, was now redesigning the project.

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