Alexandra Lange
Architecture & design critic

A Tale of Two Lobbies

The Botta building lobby. Photo by Patricia Chang.

How do you enter the new San Francisco Museum of Modern Art? The obvious answer is, through the old San Francisco Museum of Modern Art: Mario Botta’s 1995 building, a symmetrical, postmodern palace of textured brick, striped marble columns, and a central sliced cylinder which creates an oculus supported by four attenuated columns. It is iconic in the truest sense of the word (one of the museum’s cafés sells a tiny cake in its image). That entrance, while low and dark, is off the neo-modernist public space Yerba Buena Gardens. There’s a path through the gardens—located in the city’s South of Market district—that leads to the museum, but its asymmetrical stripe doesn’t quite line up with the one down the museum’s face. In a foreshadowing of things to come, design fights with itself.

Those in search of novelty should enter off Howard Street, where the base of Snøhetta’s $305 million, 235,000-square-foot expansion touches down with a high glass podium, the better to showcase Richard Serra’s double figure-eight-shaped Sequence (2006). The long, narrow addition is pressed to the west side of its site, applied to the back of the old building, leaving an open-air pedestrian walkway along its side, with access to the museum’s parking garage and tiny Natoma Street.