Published: July 2, 2002
SAN FRANCISCO, CALIF. – The Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, having long outgrown its home of thirty-five years in Golden Gate Park, will open its new, expanded facility at the city’s Civic Center on Thursday, January 23, 2003, at 10 am.
The date coincides with the celebration of the Lunar New Year, the traditional start of the year for many Asian cultures and an auspicious season symbolizing new beginnings. The grand opening culminates an eight-year, $160.5 million public/private partnership to create a new home for the museum and its world-renowned collection of Asian art through the rehabilitation and adaptive reuse of the city’s former Main Library, a 1917 Beaux Arts-style building.
Architect Gae Aulenti, best known for converting a derelict Paris train station into the celebrated Musée d’Orsay, conceived the transformation of the historic building into the new Asian Art Museum. The museum’s new quarters-featuring nearly forty thousand square feet of gallery display space as well as expanded educational services, state-of-the-art storage and conservation facilities, and more-will allow the museum to better fulfill its mission of leading a diverse global audience in discovering the unique material, aesthetic, and intellectual achievements of Asian art and culture.
“We are delighted to once again share the Asian Art Museum with the citizens of the Bay Area and the world,” said museum director Emily Sano. “Our new facilities will allow us to expand our offerings to provide a truly unique experience. Not only will we have the treasured collection our constituents have always loved, but we will have more of it on view. In addition, we will provide new interpretative programs to enhance the visitor’s connection to the art.”
“San Francisco is excited to welcome the new Asian Art Museum to the revitalized Civic Center neighborhood, the cultural, political, and social heart of this city,” said San Francisco Mayor Willie L. Brown. “The museum is a dynamic new element and represents another jewel in Civic Center’s crown.”
To date, more than $151 million of the $160.5 million capital campaign has been secured, including $52 million in public bonds. The single largest private gift, $15 million, came from Korean-born Silicon Valley entrepreneur Chong-Moon Lee. In recognition of Mr. Lee’s generosity, the new building will be officially recognized as the Asian Art Museum-Chong-Moon Lee Center for Asian Art and Culture.
Architect Gae Aulenti’s effort not only revitalizes the historic building-originally designed by George Kelham-but also creates an exciting new space in which to showcase the museum’s renowned collection. Seismically retrofitted to withstand an 8.3 earthquake, the building will feature many of the distinctive elements of the original structure while incorporating several innovative attributes to facilitate the building’s new purpose as a museum.
The rehabilitation of the structure leaves its Beaux Arts exterior essentially unchanged. The conceptual design retains the historically significant architectural spaces and details of the interior, including the entrance, majestic staircase, loggia and grand hall, vaulted ceilings, travertine and faux travertine finishes, skylights, inscriptions, molded plasters, light fixtures and stone floors-all returned to their original luster.
Aulenti’s design comes into full view on the museum’s ground floor. The historic entrance opens onto a newly created interior court-an expansive public space brightened by natural light from two banks of skylights-which serves as the museum’s lobby and primary gathering spot for tours, school groups, and other visitors. This floor will also house eighty-five hundred square feet of special exhibition galleries, three multipurpose classrooms, and a drop-in Education Resource Center to support the museum’s highly regarded public programs. A striking two-story escalator, which extends 115 feet from the rear of the court through a glass-enclosed curtain along the outside of the building, acts as a dramatic means for escorting visitors to the galleries on the second and third levels. The ground floor also incorporates visitor amenities such as the 1,700-square-foot museum store and a café featuring an outdoor dining terrace overlooking the Fulton Street mall.
The second and third floors will house nearly twenty-five hundred works from the museum’s highly regarded collection-more than double the amount of objects that were on view at the museum’s former Golden Gate Park facility. Spread over twenty-nine thousand square feet in thirty-three separate galleries, the treasures on view-colorful paintings, ancient stone and bronze sculptures, intricately carved jades, delicate ceramics, embroidered textiles, and much more-will be complemented by state-of-the-art interpretive displays and programs, offering visitors a comprehensive introduction to all the major cultures of Asia.
The overseeing of the design of the new Asian Art Museum is a joint venture of Hellmuth, Obata & Kassabaum (HOK), LDA Architects, and Robert Wong Architect in association with Gae Aulenti, FAIA. Dott. Aulenti specializes in the adaptive reuse of historic structures as museum spaces (Musée d’Orsay, Paris; Palazzo Grassi, Venice). HOK, an international design firm with offices worldwide, brings to the project substantial experience in historic rehabilitation. The joint venture LEM/DPR is serving as the construction manager.
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