Handicapping the SFMOMA Expansion

SFMOMA announced today its short list for the museum’s highly anticipated expansion. The four finalists are Adjaye Associates, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Foster + Partners, and Snøhetta. An impressive list, but architectural issues are famously fraught in San Francisco. So I emailed a friend in the Bay Area and asked him to do a little Oscar handicapping for me. Here’s his early line on the impending selection:

I have not studied Adjaye’s work. And I am not sure he has enough of a track record for the board to be comfortable, but he is hot and new. Diller Scofidio now have some big, well-received buildings under their belt. I think they are a favorite. Norman Foster is a fine architect, but not exactly edgy. This will appeal to the trustees, but not to the advisers. Snøhetta is a kind of a dark horse: not so well-known but a great portfolio. However, most of their buildings have space around them. This is a tight urban condition. I would have thought that the board would favor someone who could sell and that certainly is Renzo Piano. He was the safe choice. But his absence suggests that for the time being the architectural advisers/advocates are leading the charge. Despite the city’s left-wing political reputation, it remains conservative in terms of design. We have the DeYoung because no city money went into it and that board (surprisingly) was more daring. The Thom Mayne building was commissioned by GSA and they didn’t have to really deal with the city. The SFMOMA Board, however, has Republicans like Charles Schwab, Art Gensler, and the late Don Fisher. The existing Botta building is understood to be a mediocre solution. I would bet the trustees would go for Foster. The design types for Diller Scofidio or Adjaye…and Snohetta might be a kind of compromise?

Photo: Richard Barnes/courtesy SFMOMA

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