Daniel Libeskind visits his Jewish Museum

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Daniel Libeskind visits his Jewish Museum Powered By Docstoc
					Daniel Libeskind visits his Jewish
Museum
John King

Tuesday, May 27, 2008




Celebrity architects do their best to be omniscient, never suggesting that any detail of a
building catches them by surprise.

But when Daniel Libeskind was in San Francisco to kick off the final countdown to the
June 8 opening of his Contemporary Jewish Museum, he had a confession: the restored
1907 power station that serves as the shell for the museum looks better than he expected.

"When it was dirty you didn't see how stunning and subtle the terra cotta was," Libeskind
said, beaming, referring to the absurdly ornate window frames and doorways of the wall
facing Mission Street. "It's a fascinating insight into San Francisco back then."

The substation was designed by Willis Polk, one of the city's most creative architects of
yore, and Libeskind is right: It's an opulent treat. The window details gleam, accented by
the shadows cast from decorative columns, and the original entrances put on a show, one
with an oversize arch, the other with a veritable riot of cherubs.

The craziest thing of all is that the substation - which now bulges on the west with
Libeskind's blue-steel-clad addition - spent most of its life hidden in a now-gone
alleyway, sandwiched by larger buildings on all sides. That's a tight contrast to its new
exposure on Jessie Square, the new plaza that will serve as the museum's courtyard.

"It's almost as if it were meant to be," Libeskind grinned.

On the fly

So you think you want to be a star architect?

Libeskind and his wife, Nina, flew to San Francisco on Wednesday on a 7 a.m. flight
from their home city, New York. They arrived at 10:30 a.m., hopped into a waiting town
car, quickly checked on the museum's progress and then walked two blocks to the
Commonwealth Club of California, where Libeskind gave a lunchtime talk (sans notes)
to a crowd of 200 people.

After downtime to eat and check in with the office, he was back at the museum to lead a
4 p.m. tour. That was followed by a change of clothes and an early evening soiree with
major museum donors before bedtime at the adjacent Four Seasons Hotel - albeit with a
4:30 a.m. wake-up call for a flight to Paris, where's he's a finalist in a competition to
design a tower in that city's La Defense district.

Whew. On the other hand, think of the frequent-flier miles.

More green space

Meanwhile, construction crews are racing to finish the aforementioned Jessie Square - a
plaza of nearly an acre that will sit on the north side of Mission Street across from Yerba
Buena Gardens.

Back when the Mexican Museum was planning its own museum for the block, this was to
be zócalo-style town square, all straight lines and paving and palm trees. But when plans
for a freestanding Mexican cultural facility were abandoned last year, so was the formal
square.

The new look takes its cues from Yerba Buena Gardens, weaving grass and shrubs and a
fountain through a landscape that transforms the 8-foot elevation difference between the
sidewalk and the Contemporary Jewish Museum into a stairs-free gradual slope. The one
big splash of green is on the west edge, part of a new entrance for historic St. Patrick's
Church.

"We wanted to keep things as low and clean as possible," said Glenn Rescalvo of Handel
Architects, which designed the plaza with assistance from landscape architect Cliff Lowe.
There's also an emphasis on craftsmanship; the benches, for instance, are made from 4-
inch-thick slabs of reclaimed mahogany.

And now the big question: When the museum officially opens to the public at 11 a.m.
June 8 - yes, the first day is free to all - will the throngs be greeted by the chain-link fence
that now encircles the plaza?

"We're shooting for all the work to be done by June 1," said project manager Betsy
Swenerton of Plant Construction, which also built the museum. "There might still be a
few minor punch-list items, but we're right on track."

SFMOMA spaces out

If you're in the neighborhood checking out progress between now and opening day, stop
by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
On display in the second floor galleries is "Cut: Revealing the Section," an exhibition
showing how architects look at space. Instead of one-dimensional plans that depict the
layout of a building from above, drawings and models concentrate on vertical slices of
real and imagined structures.

Smartly, SFMOMA design curator Henry Urbach kept the exhibition to a manageable
size, so that casual visitors can absorb a way of seeing that's different from looking at a
photograph or studying a map.

The most conceptual work in the show isn't from an architect; it's Peter Wegner's
"Guillotine of Sunlight, Guillotine of Shade" - 1.4 million pieces of notepaper stacked
edgewise to form a wall through the gallery that marks the procession of red to yellow to
blue. Strange as this sounds, the result is mesmerizing: part depiction of space, part color-
saturated op art.

If it's pure architecture you want - and actual buildings! - two local landmarks take a bow.
The Castro Theatre is shown through the detailed interior drawings by architect Timothy
Pflueger. There also are four early pencil sketches of SFMOMA by Mario Botta from
when the renowned Swiss architect still had trees wrapped around the skylight.

The show closes June 8.
Daniel Libeskind, in town from New York, has a close look at his Contemporary Jewish
Museum, which is scheduled to open June 8. Libeskind's blue-steel-clad addition is in the
background. Chronicle photo by Frederic Larson
Timothy Pflueger's 1921 ink drawings of his Castro Theatre design are included in an
architectural exhibition at SFMOMA. Image courtesy of the San Francisco Museum of
Art
Daniel Libeskind, in town from New York, has a close look at his Contemporary Jewish
Museum, which is scheduled to open June 8. Chronicle photo by Frederic Larson
Daniel Libeskind is the architect of the new Contemporary Jewish Museum. Chronicle
photo by Frederic Larson
The 1907 power station - which now bulges on the west with Libeskind's blue-steel-clad
addition - spent most of its life hidden in a now-gone alleyway, sandwiched by larger
buildings on all sides. Chronicle photo by Frederic Larson
The 1907 power station - which now bulges on the west with Libeskind's blue-steel-clad
addition - spent most of its life hidden in a now-gone alleyway, sandwiched by larger
buildings on all sides. Chronicle photo by Frederic Larson

				
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