The Asian Art Museum

The proposed $25 million expansion of San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum at 200 Larkin Street has been rendered and the plans are about to be presented to San Francisco’s Architectural Review Committee for feedback prior to seeking the city’s approval to proceed.

Asian Art Museum Expansion Rendering

Designed by architect Kulapat Yantrasast of wHY, the new “exhibition pavilion” expansion at the eastern edge of the property, fronting onto Hyde Street, includes a one-story addition, with a new roof terrace and canopy structure, to be built atop the museum’s existing conservation studio which was built in 1998 in anticipation of a future vertical expansion.

An ornamental façade screen of extruded aluminum components would wrap the expansion and most of the structure below, with a proposed matte finish and champagne color to complement the building’s limestone façade.

Asian Art Museum Expansion Plan Rendering

Access to the new roof terrace would be primarily accessed from Samsung Hall by way of a new doorway within an existing window opening on the east wall, and would be used for both outdoor sculpture exhibits and as a flexible open-air dining or events area.

Asian Art Museum Expansion Plan Rendering: Terrace

The façade screen would rise over the terrace from the north to form a perforated canopy structure over the terrace which would terminate at the base of the Gae Aulenti-era glass walkway and a possible outdoor bar.

Asian Art Museum Expansion Plan Rendering: Terrace Night

Owned by the City and occupied by the Asian Art Museum via a long-term lease, the 200 Larkin Street building, which is a contributing resource to the Civic Center Landmark District, was constructed as the city’s Main Library in 1916, designed in a neoclassical Beaux Arts style by architect George A. Kelham, with alterations in 1996 by architect Gae Aulenti as part of the building’s conversion to museum space.

Comments from Plugged-In Readers

  1. Posted by Stop Driving

    Larry Ellison offered to donate his collection to this museum, but they declined because they didn’t want the bulk of their collection to be associated with a white man. Ever since I learned this, I’ve written off this museum entirely as a racist institution unworthy of my patronage.

    • Posted by SFrentier

      This has been going on for centuries…wealthy white men buying “exotic” treasures and artifacts of far away cultures. Larry’s no different than European nobility of yesteryear who did the same. I’m sure a lot of the stuff at the museum now comes from white collectors.

    • Posted by Geno

      They can’t hate him too much. They had a show in 2013 with part of his collection.

    • Posted by SFJohn

      the majority of their original collection came from a white guy – Avery Brundage

    • Posted by soccermom

      This story strike me as apocryphal, is there a reliable reference source?

      Also, Larry Ellison is a titanic jerk. There could be other reasons besides his racial background to turn down his ‘help.’

    • Posted by Buddhanasty

      Ummm, the Asian Art Museum owes its existence to Avery Brundage, a white man. The reason they declined Ellison’s collection is because it’s a pretty crap collection, not worthy of museum space or resources.

    • Posted by SFdude

      @Stop Driving where did you hear this? Do you have a source we can share? It seems very unlikely this is true.

      • Posted by DontMakeAssUmptions

        Read the story posted by Alberto Rossi below… makes sense to me. Pretty sure if a wealthy benefactor that wanted to donate (and have his/her name) on the Contemporary Jewish Museum had a German last name, given the alternative (same amount of money, one of Jewish heritage), the musem would lean towards the alternative as well… no harm no foul.

  2. Posted by SFrentier

    Plus that museum needs to seriously step up its game in exhibiting contemporary Asian Art.

    • Posted by Hunter


    • Posted by Frisco

      That is one of the primary goals of this expansion: a flexible, large, modern space to exhibit contemporary art shows.

  3. Posted by MyOddCommentHandle

    you think that’s a tough nut, Bill Cosby is said to have the greatest collection of African art outside of Africa. wait until his estate gets auctioned off. woof.

  4. Posted by alberto rossi

    It is a tale told by Willie Brown, full of sound and fury, signifying who knows what. See namelink. Larry wanted it named after him, in exchange for $15 million.

    • Posted by BTinSF

      Chong-Moon Lee gave them $15 million in 1997 to get HIS name on it. If that was Larry’s offer he was too late and even if he offered a lot more itv would have been gauche, not to say possibly in violation of a contract, to take the money and chisel Mr. Lee off the front of the building.

      • Posted by alberto rossi

        Willie isn’t clear, but I understood the tale to be that Larry’s offer came before Chong-Moon Lee stepped up.

      • Posted by primeminister

        Just like his Warriors attempted purchase.

  5. Posted by grrr

    My friends call it the Chinese, Japanese and Indian Museum since other Asian counties are barely represented.

    • Posted by sfcommie

      Are your friends Koreans by any chance? Other countries were reasonably represented last time I checked. If they seem bare, that’s probably because Chinese and Indians are overrepresented, thanks to being two of the four ancient civilizations with lots of important relics.

      No idea why Japanese got overrepresented. Maybe because they have lots of relics intact too, thanks to being an islands nation spared of foreign pillage over the years.

      Koreans, on the other hand, have virtually have nothing left. They were run over by Chinese, Mongols and Japanese in ancient times, and what’s left were destroyed by the Korean War.

      • Posted by grrr

        Almost nothing from the Philippines. Given the size of the Filipino community here, it seems a glaring omission.

      • Posted by BTinSF

        As was said, the heart of the collection came from Avery Brundage and his attraction was mainly for Chinese and Japanese art. What I’m not sure about is where the extensive number of Indian pieces came from. But it’s a Korean, Chong-Moon Lee, whose name is on the front of the building.

    • Posted by SFrentier

      I think they have great southeast Asian Art as well. The chams sandstone sculptures and the pottery and ceramics in particular. They have a votive tablet from Myanmar/Burma that I also managed to acquire for my collection during one of my forays to the region.

      • Posted by BobInSF

        When the Doris Duke Foundation a few years ago was trying to disperse her large collection of Southeast Asian art, they concluded that the two best museums in the country with collections and curatorial staff were our Asian Art Museum and the Walters in Baltimore. The two museums shared the best of her collection. And several years earlier Thomas Hoving, longtime director of the Met, said that the Khmer Shiva/Parvati couple were among the 10 best sculptures in the world.

  6. Posted by Alai

    Oh, good. It looks unfinished as it exists today.

    I guess it’s cliche around here to say “build it higher”, but this does seem like a spot which could be built higher, at least to eight stories or so, without any real negatives.

    • Posted by Notcom

      And it’ll still look unfinished when – if? – this is built, since it doesn’t make even a trivial effort to match the (sic) “neoclassical Beaux Arts style” of the rest of the building (not to mention the rest of the Civic Center).

      Eight stories…Why? I’d maybe barter something to get rid of that inane projecting walkway, but eight unneeded floors isn’t it.

    • Posted by BTinSF

      The addition should probably be the height of the existing structure and they could use the additional space. Personally, I LIKE the projecting walkway and am glad they are keeping it. But what I really HATE is the assumption by every San Franciscan that their personal taste should matter to the design of every new building constructed. I’d say if you’ve got at least $10 million to contribute to building this addition, you should get a say in the design. Otherwise, no.

  7. Posted by unlivable city

    I love that Museum because 1) its got a wonderful core collection and 2) it is in the place the DeYoung was in in 1988. It needs a dragon lady quake like DDW to kick behinds and stretch it into world-class. Tt has that potential and the simple question re: this design is: “is this design up to the task of making the most pan-asian of American cities also the home of the best pan-asian art museum on the planet. The potential is crying out for a pivotal person to carry that torch.

    • Posted by SFrentier

      DeYoung? You’re mistaken. That used to be SF’s main public library.

      • Posted by Sierrajeff

        He means it metaphorically. i.e., the Loma Prieta quake caused the de Young not only to build a new building, but “kick it into a higher gear” and start becoming a world-class museum.

    • Posted by Sierrajeff

      I think an even better comparison is to what SF MOMA just completed – I was really concerned about the addition being an eyesore or ruining the 1990s original, but the fact is they work great together, and the SF MOMA addition has gotten rave reviews from around the globe – even the east coast-centric NY Times had to give SF MOMA its due.

      Compared to that achievement, this one-story, not-quite-bird’s nest [Beijing arena] addition is very underwhelming.

      • Posted by wiger toods

        Hard for the SFMOMA addition to be an eyesore to what was already an eyesore. Just sayin… (personal tastes)

  8. Posted by Conifer

    The problem started when the city decided that a great beaux-arts building should be used for an Asian art museum. The main library should have remained a part of the library system, perhaps for Special Collections. The interior was butchered. The superb Asian collection of Avery Brundage deserved a new building designed by a great Asian-American or Asian architect, of which there was and is no shortage.

    • Posted by soccermom

      Does race define the ability of an architect?

      • Posted by Notcom

        Of course not: getting a fawning mention in the Times’ “Style” section defines a great architect.

    • Posted by Hunter

      Agreed, it’s a weird interior space and screwed up the grandeur of the old library. Plus the new library layout is awful, and the opposite of a temple to books—feels more like a government office building.

      • Posted by SFrentier

        And the main floor bathrooms? cccrrreeepppyyyy!

  9. Posted by Zugamenzio Farnsworth

    The back side looks “ultra casual” at the moment…practically a brown metal garden shed in plain view, in addition to turquoise, buff yellow, original facade; it’s almost like a contest to toss in as many finishes and colors as humanly possible. This being a major civic work I feel it could have looked better, from the get-go. The new deal doesn’t make the overall look any worse, but is a bit of an aesthetic fly-ball: “Mame Dennis” garden party sort of feel.

    • Posted by Sierrajeff

      Yikes, Auntie Mame would never throw a party this slap-dash and pedestrian!

      Agree that this addition is an underwhelming add, such a contrast to what SF MOMA just completed.

  10. Posted by John

    Interesting they should render it surrounded by scaffolding like that. I wonder what it will look like when they remove the construction materials…

  11. Posted by alberto rossi

    $25 mil doesn’t buy much these days.

  12. Posted by jeffry136

    This building could be much better. Does not address the reality of the existing architecture by either finishing or transforming the missing corner. Nor is it architecturally strong enough to stand on its own as a new building. Check out this other Asian Art Center just completed on the opposite coast at the Ringling Museum.

  13. Posted by wiger toods

    The prespectives in the renderings are noticeably off. Makes the design feel amateurish. Also, what’s with the super-graphic wall remaining at ground level in the final design?

  14. Posted by citicritter

    while Gae Aulenti’s earlier design is fairly regrettable, regarding this design, just have to ask, wHY??

  15. Posted by Mark

    Were Williams/Tsien considered for this?

  16. Posted by jamesjr

    Thanks for sharing that link, jeffry136. Something like that would be awesome for our Asian.

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