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American Society of Landscape Architects


July 2007 Issue

More Than a Manicure
Walter Hood’s design for the de Young Museum wraps together four landscape projects—not all of them equally realized.

By John Beardsley

More Than a Manicure Peg Skorpinski

There is much to admire in the combination of architecture, sculpture, and landscape at the new de Young Museum in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park.

There is the building itself, by Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron with Fong & Chan Architects of San Francisco, handsomely clad in perforated copper and featuring a torqued, polygonal tower with a clerestory window that yields fabulous 360-degree views of the city, the bay, and coastal mountains. There is the art, inside and out, the latter including intriguing environmental installations by sculptors James Turrell and Andy Goldsworthy. There is the new landscape around the museum, by Bay Area designer Walter Hood, ASLA, of Hood Design in Oakland, appealing and elegant—though marred in a few spots by problems of design detailing and maintenance. And there are the benefits for the larger landscape: The new building replaced the old de Young and the adjacent Asian Museum, and the latter moved downtown, creating two additional acres of open space for the park.

Hood describes his work at the de Young as “four projects in one, each with its own clients, infrastructure needs, and settings.” For the front of the museum, he designed an appropriately simple entry, responsive to the large, rectangular, civic space across the street known as the Concourse, in front of the new California Academy of Sciences designed by Renzo Piano. For the west end of the building, Hood created a relatively straightforward sculpture garden; to the east he devised a rather more fussy “garden of enchantment” identified as a space for children. Behind the museum, Hood preserved and enhanced a sylvan landscape that provides a transition from the museum gardens to the wilder and more established plantings of the park. The larger context was extremely powerful for Hood: Beyond the immediate clients and stakeholders in the project, he says he had to consider “San Franciscans themselves, with their memories, myths, and fantasies about the old museum and park.”

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