Tropolism Buildings: The De Young Museum of Art


The new de Young Museum of Art in San Francisco by Herzog and De Meuron is an experience of unfolding, revealing a range of unexpected and captivating spaces. The building cannot be understood by a single vantage point, but rather reveals itself as one moves through it. From a distance the de Young appears uniform wrapped in a continuous copper skin. The skin is punctured in an inconsistent texture, giving a clue to the complexity which lies within.


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Several large voids of light and garden (designed by Walter Hood) pierce through the museum down to the basement: the exterior is brought deep into the building. Just as the gardens of light and greenery are brought into the building, the individual is pushed to its edges, made possible by careful details, such as windows that have no frame at the base, overhangs that push one's view beyond the edge of the building, reflective glass which blurs the edge, and the punctured copper skin which reveals its permeability as blue sky pierces through the holes.


The torquing tower is a must-see from a distance, up-close, and inside. Once atop the tower, looking out over San Francisco in 360 degrees the volume of the building falls away such that for a moment it feels like you are hovering in mid-air.

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The roofscape of the museum below was an unexpected discovery, for gazing down at it made me think of patterns one might find viewing a faraway planet through a telescope. The diagram for the de Young Museum is incredibly clear, but what makes it really wonderful is that the diagram is carried out fully down to the details, thereby transcending the diagram and becoming an architectural experience.

One last note: be sure to see the Turrell installation bermed into the landscape in the sculpture garden.

Contributed by Travel Correspondant Barrett Feldman.


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