The new De Young Museum in Golden Gate Park is a bold new addition to a park that
is slowly reinventing itself. The De Young takes its place with the renovated Conservatory of
Flowers and new sustainable model Academy of Sciences Building under construction, to
make the face of the new Golden Gate Park. The De Young is the new crown jewel
of the park, with its copper clad facades and controversial architectural
Looking at the landscape setting of the new De Young is a bit of mixed bag.
Berkeley professor of Landscape Architecture Walter Hood sets the landscape as an understated
collaborating piece to the architecture that is the true focus of the new
museum. In some regard this is to be commended. The wild hills of poppies and
ferns along the rear of the museum blend well with the feel of a wild and
bohemian (under-maintained) Golden Gate Park.
Hood confirms this impression: “In a way the building [the new de Young
Museum] is so loud that no matter what you do in the landscape it’s not going to
be as loud as the building. At first I thought the landscape has to be its own
thing, but there’s just no way it can be. It’s not large enough; it’s working at
this in-between scale, in between the park and the building. How do you make
this landscape an in-between space?” [Pruned Blog]
There are interesting detail elements: stained black wood mulch, chips and
chunks of black stone mulch, a fence constructed of twigs and leaves. Inside the
museum is an intriguing fractured bluestone entry (by Andy Goldsworthy), and a sculpture garden (with
installation from light artist James Terrell) under the large cantilever of the museum
that projects to the west.
Yet, somehow the grounds of the new museum do not live up to the
architecture. Part of this may be remedied with time and growth. The landscape
and sculpture gardens do not have the same dynamic interaction, quality, and
balance of a museum like the Getty. This is hardly a fair comparison from a
monetary or spatial standpoint. Still, it seems the landscape could have been
used to better effect.
The sculpture garden seems too small, plant selection in places seems to be
struggling (Kafir lily, Camellia, and Ferns among others), and the landscape
area and fountain to the east side are much more pleasing in plan view from the
museum’s tower than they are on the ground.
In a park clearly showing its age and slowly being reborn, it will be
interesting to see how the new addition of the De Young landscape matures and
ages. Will it become like Union Square- a garish collaboration of materials with
little usability and durability. Or, will it mature into a graceful backdrop to
the slow patina of the new museum it seeks to dress- time will tell.