|de Young Museum Architects Receive Award
for Accessible Design
Fong + Chan Architects honored for San Francisco museum
The Paralyzed Veterans of America presented its 2006 Barrier-Free Access Award to Fong & Chan Architects (FCA) to recognize the accessibility of the de Young Museum in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. Nuno Lopes, FCA’s project manager for the $135-million project, says the key to designing for accessibility is to go beyond the physical standards already prescribed by code to become aware of the human element of design and to consider the entire user experience.
The need for a new campus for the de Young—the original museum was devastatingly compromised by the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake—allowed the design team to think anew about how to present the city’s treasured art collections publicly. In 1999, Prizker Prize recipients Herzog and de Meuron developed an initial concept for the new de Young, with principal architects FCA. The design team worked with the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, city officials, and the Access Advisors of the Fine Arts Museum to flesh out critical accessibility issues for the new facility. The new critically acclaimed museum opened in October 2005.
“Herzog & de Meuron brought ideas and concepts to the table; our challenge was to develop them into workable sound solutions while maintaining their original design intent,” says David Fong, AIA, principal of Fong and Chan Architects. “We were given the unique opportunity to shape the landscape of Golden Gate Park with perhaps its most treasured institution, a reality that was with us through each phase of the project and influenced every decision we made.”
Master planning for accessibility
Early in the design process, the Access Advisors of the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco distributed more than 1,200 questionnaires to members of the disability community. Lopes and Fong say they felt it was imperative to create a universal design that suits all museum visitors, particularly the elderly and families with children. They had these ideas in mind from the very beginning, starting with the 400-car underground parking garage that offers a direct connection into the building.
PVA and the museum’s organizers agree the design team went above and beyond to implement accessible features within the de Young. Deborah Frieden, project director for the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, says, “We recognized early that the building was large and on a very large site. This meant that a single point of entry would require visitors—with disabilities or not—to walk very long distances just to enter. Herzog & de Meuron took this to heart and proposed four entry points to reduce travel distance.” The four entry points all have smooth transitions from exterior to interior paving/flooring materials. The museum’s 100,000 square feet of floor plates are navigable thanks to the slip-resistant hard flooring surfaces of Italian Porphyry stone and “Sydney Blue” hardwood.
Easily understood, navigated floor plan
PVA notes the overall floor plan is easily understood in terms of pedestrian flow. Contrast for signage and stairs further enhances wayfinding and safety, the architects say, particularly helpful for targeting visual acuity difficulties in an aging population.
Chiu Lin Tse-Chan, FAIA, FCA principal, says, “The concept of interconnecting several free flowing cultural pavilions through a series of linked hallways created exciting and dynamic spaces; conversely it created particularly complex geometries. One of our greatest challenges was to translate these complex geometries into a set of structured two-dimensional drawings that could be readily understood and built.” Fong notes that the seamless transitions are exemplified in the plates that connect two independent buildings. “The threshold is minute,” Fong says of the tricky space.
Hood’s paving materials range from stone to asphalt, all firm ground surfaces that allow for easy wheelchair maneuverability in the Barbaro Osher Sculpture Garden, the “Garden of Enchantment” children’s sculpture garden, entry plaza, and court. The entry plaza contains accessible benches and accompanying wheelchair spaces. Green courtyards of ferns and eucalyptus reach deep into the museum. “This illustrates both the architects’ and landscape architect’s desire to connect the built structure to the surrounding natural environment of Golden Gate Park,” PVA notes. The landscaping is kept low and simple to help with visual orientation.
Lopes advises architects to learn who the building users are going to be and be fully aware of the full spectrum of disabilities, including individuals who have limited mobility or other impairments. He also notes that the number of people “using our buildings who are elderly” is going to require architects to think about designing for an aging population. “You have to have those things in mind at the beginning,” he says.
The disability community has made great progress to ensure that physical needs are met through code development, Lopes says. Where architects can step in, he says, is to go beyond the code to create a better user experience for all.
Audio tours of the de Young Museum with The San Francisco Chronicle’s Kenneth Baker (Part 1) and John King (Part 2). Listen now
Previous winners of the Barrier-Free America Award include:
“PVA salutes everyone involved with the rebuilding of the de Young Museum, particularly its transformation into a highly accessible center of culture,” said PVA National President Randy L. Pleva Sr. The organization presented the award to the Fong + Chan May 25.