De Young Museum Landscape- Impressions

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 onstruction, 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 form.

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.

For More:
-The Hybrid Spaces of Walter Hood
Pruned Blog- “The Peacemaker”