San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) Gets New LED Lighting

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) took careful steps to create new lighting schemes throughout the facility.
The new lighting was part of a $305-million expansion that vastly increased its size and amenities and tripled existing exhibition space.

Modern Art Haven on the West Coast

The museum opened back in January 1935 on Van Ness Avenue. In a first for the West Coast, the facility is devoted entirely to 20th-century art, and SFMOMA is dedicated to presenting modern and contemporary art as a vital and meaningful part of public life. The museum is famous for curating unmatched collections, creating exciting exhibitions, and developing engaging public programs.

In September 1994, the museum closed its original location and reopened in a new facility that Swiss architect Mario Botta, in January 1995 created to mark the museum’s 60th anniversary.

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SFMOMA Planned Expansion in 2009

Again, with an eye on the future, the museum announced plans for expansion in 2009, and the museum embarked upon an important capital campaign to fund the construction of a new addition to the Botta building that weaves the museum into the urban landscape like it never had before.

The Norwegian and American architecture firm Snøhetta designed the $305-million project, which broke ground in 2013 and opened in May 2016. While the museum was closed for three years for construction, crews built a new, 235,000-sqaure-foot building that added to the existing 225,000-square-foot facility, bringing total space to 460,000 square feet. The new building includes 45,000 square feet of additional gallery space, as well as public and support areas, an expanded library, and larger and more advanced conservation facilities.

Once completed, the expansion offered nearly six times as much public space as the museum had previously, giving SFMOMA a place to show an expanded collection of modern and contemporary art along with the new Doris and Donald Fisher Collection of contemporary art, among other installations.

Today, the SFMOMA collection features over 33,000 works of painting, photography, sculpture, architecture, design, and media arts displayed throughout 170,000 square feet (16,000 m2) of exhibition space. The new addition makes the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art one of the largest in the United States overall, and also one of the biggest in the world for contemporary and modern art.

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), renovation and addition, Architect: Snohetta

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), renovation and addition, Architect: Snohetta

New LED Lighting Supported the SFMOMA Expansion

Lighting served an integral role in the museum’s expansion. The SFMOMA expansion’s unique architectural features including carefully cut apertures, bulges, tapers, facade texture, and material finishes are emphasized with dynamic LED lighting that is tuned to respond to the changing ambient environment of the facade.

The lighting quality in the galleries involves the lights giving the visitor a sense of place and invigoration in the over 170,000 square feet of exhibition space. The museum tailored the ceiling form and the lighting in each gallery to respond to each collection.

Snøhetta collaborated with New York-based Arup, to create the new addition’s lighting scheme. Arup is known for its total-design philosophy of bringing together architecture, engineering and an ever-expanding roster of specialties. Designing the expansion’s lighting system served an integral part of Arup’s role in the project.

“Each floor has a distinct lighting design tailored to the collection showcased in that area. Each floor incorporates a bespoke ambient and object lighting solution in order to meet the museum’s high sustainability, flexibility, and qualitative criteria,” said Star Davis, lighting designer for Arup.

Davis cites the seventh floor with its loft-like Mimi and Peter Haas Galleries as a standout example. These galleries feature an 8,800-square-foot exhibition area for a rotating selection of contemporary art. Postcard-worthy city views from an adjacent outdoor terrace frame the area.

“We wanted to create a more industrial, less-finished atmosphere on the seventh floor to complement the contemporary art,” said Davis. “The gallery has a raw, studio-like aesthetic and needs to be flexible as the requirements for future exhibitions are rather unpredictable. We designed the lighting with infrastructure to support this dynamic space.”

SFMOMA Lighting Solution Required Collaboration of Two Lighting Manufacturers

Davis said that at the time, no off-the-shelf lighting solution existed that could satisfy the performance, aesthetic and the technical infrastructure requirements that the museum needed in the gallery. Two different lighting manufacturers had to collaborate in order to meet all the goals. Bartco Lighting in Huntington Beach, California, created a custom-made LED fixture, with a soft diffusing lens that provides high CRI ambient illumination. And, another company developed a custom extrusion to house track, raceway and unistrut infrastructure for the entire assembly.

The Bartco mocked up and tested the fixture numerous times during the design phase. Bartco designed a two-foot custom housing that recessed into the lower channel of the unitrack system. The fixture met the design’s goal of giving fixture the feeling of a solid glowing object that has excellent light quality, and absolutely no dots.

Bartco milled a custom solid acrylic lens into the perfect light diffusing treatment that protrudes just a bit beneath the track. Then, the company blended next generation high efficacy LEDs to within 2 MacAdam ellipses at 3200K with CRI exceeding 90. Bartco combined these modules with a dimming driver, to complete the specialized lighting solution.

“We were very pleased with the quality of light and appearance of the fixtures!” Davis said. “They feature a solid acrylic diffuser with specialized custom lenses that puts the emphasis on the art. These lights provide a soft ambient which completes the aesthetic of the space. The art is what matters. The lighting helps make it stand out.”

The lighting system can adjust to the changing needs of each exhibit on the seventh floor, allowing the museum patrons to enjoy the contemporary artwork.