SFMOMA Rooftop Sculpture Garden

San Francisco, CA

An elegant urban oasis where art and nature converge.

CMG joined Jensen Architects to develop a competition-winning design for SFMOMA's outdoor sculpture collection. 

The 16,000 square foot sculpture garden is designed as an integral part of the sequence of the museum galleries. The back wall of the museum’s top floor is removed and the garden is brought into the museum via the panoramic opening. Cantilevered over the garden, the visitor experiences the garden while remaining within the museum. Visitors access the garden from a glass-walled bridge, which lands inside a glassy pavilion within the garden.

The garden is conceived as an outdoor gallery and a space to experience nature's beauty. The design is simple and sophisticated, with highly crafted, minimalist elements. Three elegant tree/wall/bench ensembles create anchor points in the space and attract people to gather, socialize, and contemplate the art. As a simple container, the garden walls hold the art and frame the dramatic San Francisco skyline, allowing the changing weather and light to animate the sculptures. 

Nature enters this garden in a subtle and fragile form as lichen, pioneering the cracks and craters of the lava stone walls. Lichen is both slow and resilient – a thin layer that paints the natural world with amazing colors, patterns, and textures, yet it's slow and fragile growth makes it void in most urban spaces. As a sort of "pre-garden", the lichen is a symbiotic relationship between two kingdoms: algae (Protista), and Fungus, which converts bare rock to soil and is the beginning of ecological succession. There are over 1200 species of lichen in California, but they are conspicuously absent from downtown San Francisco. Working with a lichenologist, CMG developed a methodology for creating what we believe is the world's first lichen garden.

The rooftop sculpture garden has been preserved and integrated into the SFMOMA expansion, and will reopen with the museum in 2017.