Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Striking new San Francisco museum (2 of 4)

De Young Museum, Golden Gate Park
San Francisco
17th-20th century American art and art of the native Americans, Asia and the Pacific

Part 2 of 4
Observation Deck
The tower portion of the de Young Museum seems to twist away from the rest of the building until it aligns with the grid of the surrounding neighborhood. The new tower space is entirely devoted to education, making it the largest such dedicated space in any American museum, according to a museum flyer.

The tower also is a reference to the tower of the original de Young museum. The original building, which opened to the public in 1919, was damaged beyond repair in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.

Wow. The view from the ninth-floor observation deck is not for those prone to vertigo. Step from the elevator and turn right, and the polished hardwood floor seems to lead you straight off the building’s edge. Floor-to-ceiling glass panels are interrupted only by black seams about every three feet.

I have no problem with heights, but my stomach lurched a tiny bit with the first impact of the view. The punctuated copper sheeting starts just above eye level, hanging out about two feet from the glass. It feels sheltering, not obstructive.

On a clear day, you can see the towers of the Golden Gate Bridge behind a forested hill that is part of the Presidio, with the Marin Headlands beyond. Golden Gate Park extends to the ocean. Across a plaza, beyond a bandshell, a new building for the California Academy of the Sciences is under construction. I also identified Twin Peaks, the highest point in San Francisco, and the iconic TransAmerican pyramid.

One of the supporting walls in the center of the room, part of the elevator shaft, bears a 10 X 12-foot satellite photo of the museum site, with that eerie precision delineating every structure and street. The shift in perspective, from the windows to the wall, is startling, like suddenly standing on your head, as your brain tries to translate from the 3-D view beyond the glass to the 2-D aerial view.

Update, 1/28/07: To see more exterior photos and a review of the de Young building, here's an article by Canadian architect and writer Witold Rybczynski at Slate.com.

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