S.F.Museum Job Goes to Swiss Architect

Times Design Critic

One of the more coveted architectural assignments in recent years, the design of a new San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, has gone to Swiss architect Mario Botta.

In a surprise announcement Wednesday, the museum said it was canceling its widely publicized architectural competition for the new building and going with the 45-year-old Botta.

Botta, along with the firms of Hammond Beeby & Babka of Chicago, and Frank O. Gehry & Associates of Los Angeles, had been selected through interviews two months ago as a finalist. Semifinalists had included Charles Moore and Tadao Ando.

Interest in the competition had been stirred by the differing styles of the finalists. Though Botta has described himself as a modernist with a touch of monumentality, his buildings are marked by a singular sensitivity to their settings, prompting a labeling as a contextualist.


In contrast, Beeby is considered a classicist, whose work is characterized by typological studies of institutional paradigms, and Gehry an intuitive designer of architecture as sculpture.

According to the museum’s initial announcement, the three finalists were to prepare specific design proposals for the building on a 1-acre site south of Market Street downtown, to be presented late this fall to the institution’s architect selection and advisory committees.

That taxing and costly process was to begin Wednesday with a meeting between the architects and the committee members. However, after the committees had toured some projects of the finalists in preparation for that meeting, museum director John Lane said they decided to scrap the competition.

“The enthusiasm for Botta was so great that it was clear that it would be unlikely a competition would alter the initial impressions of the committees,” he said.


“What we were looking for in a museum design--a strong image, exciting and stylish public spaces, beautifully proportioned and naturally lit galleries and an urban sensibility--all came together when we saw Botta’s work in Lugano, Switzerland, so we decided, ‘Why go any further?’ ”

The museum will be Botta’s first building commission in the United States and is projected to be a 150,000- to 175,000-square-foot structure, estimated to cost $70 million, including an operating endowment.

The space is double that of the present museum housed awkwardly on the third and fourth floors of the Beaux-Arts styled Veterans Building in the Civic Center.

In comparison, Los Angeles’ new Museum of Contemporary Art downtown is about 100,000 square feet, and cost $23 million to build.


Construction of the San Francisco facility is expected to begin in 1991, with completion in 1993.