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The “de Young Museum” is a Fine Art museum in the bright and sunny San Fransisco, California, and it is located in the city’s Golden Gate Park. It is named after its founder and newspaperman M.H de Young.
The museum by the swiss architectural firm Herzog & de Meuron is a striking revival of a building which today only exists in memories and photographs. The original museum opened in 1895 and the bulky building started showing signs of damage a few years later where its concrete ornamentation was falling off the facades. This led to their complete removal in 1949, but the building itself did not last long after that due to facing significant structural damage after the Loma Prieta earthquake, of a moment magnitude of 6.9, in 1989. It was closed to the public in 2000 and the museum’s board commenced a process of planning and building a new establishment in the tradition of its founder that will also be a philanthropic gift for the people of the city.
The process led to the selection of a design by Herzog & Meuron, which was materialised and opened to the public in 2005. The new museum is artistically diverse and expresses the distinctiveness of cultures from around the world through its rich collection. According to the Art Newspaper, in April 2012, the museum is the sixth-most-visited museum in North America.
Historic elements such as the sphinxes and original palm trees have been either retained or restored. The only similarity between the old and the new museum is just the site. Herzog & de Meuron completely omitted the past and started fresh from the beginning, in search of something far greater. This strategy gave the museum a timeless feel, where its presence and only breaks the boundary of time and suggests that it has always been and always will be.
An inverted pyramid creates the form for the twisting tower that complements the new building, and acts as its symbol, giving the museum a distinctive characteristic as seen from a distance. It is a monument for the area just as the old one was. It also forms part of the museum collection acting as an outdoors a beautifully ornamented outdoors exhibit.
The functional landscape of the museum was carefully designed in order to bring the people closer to the environment through its gardens and terraces, and equally blend with together with the building and vice versa. Herzog and de Meuron have carefully chosen the materials for both the interior and exterior of the building, keeping in mind the connection with the natural environment. They achieved a merge of the building with its surrounding environment by using natural materials like copper, stone and wood.
The edifice is open and welcoming by having four different entrances, each one on a different side of it. Wood has been intensively used in the interior of the building to create a warm and pleasant atmosphere for the visitors while they guide their way through the different spaces. The line between interior and exterior is blurred by the views offered to the visitors by the tower and through the large ribbon windows.
Furthermore, the building’s most beautiful feature is its remarkable copper skin which covers the textured facade and roof, clearly visible from the 44 meter-high twisting tower. Copper is a material that gets oxidised through a long period of time and this oxidation results in the creation of the a thin green layer called patina. Due to this process, the building will fade into its natural surrounding in a few years.
Controversially, the use of 30,000 square meters of copper on this building is not particularly positive to the environment and categorises the building as unsustainable. This is because of the copper runoff, which is extremely harmful to the environment and health. Copper runoff is a chemical extracted from copper during the oxidation process, and, in this case, it harms the environment by going directly into the soil.
By: Andreas Leonidou
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