SFMOMA's new Snøhetta-designed stair from the Third Street entrance, with previous atrium art installation by Sol LeWitt.

SFMOMA's new Snøhetta-designed stair from the Third Street entrance, with previous atrium art installation by Sol LeWitt.

Credit: Rendering by Steelblue/Courtesy of SFMOMA


The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) released renderings of Snøhetta's design for a grand staircase that will connect the institution's existing building to its 235,000-square foot expansion.

The museum—currently closed for construction—is expected to reopen in 2016. The project, designed by New York- and Oslo-based Snøhetta with local firm EHDD, expands upon the museum's existing Mario Botta building, which was completed in 1995. The staircase depicted in the renderings released Thursday, which will be located in the atrium of the Botta-designed building and lead to the galleries in the new Snøhetta expansion, is designed as a melding of the two structures.

  • Side view of SFMOMA's new Snøhetta-designed stair.

    Credit: Rendering by Steelblue/Courtesy of SFMOMA

    Side view of SFMOMA's new Snøhetta-designed stair.

"We have imagined a stair that feels at home in Botta's atrium, yet introduces the visitor to the language of the new spaces, creating a powerful overlap moment between the two worlds," said Snøhetta principal architect Craig Dykers, AIA, in an SFMOMA press release. "It bridges the current and future buildings and extends the existing design vocabulary while foreshadowing that of the new Snøhetta addition. Most importantly, the new stair serves the next stage in the trajectory of the museum, which is about reaching out, embracing a wider public, and becoming more extroverted."

The wood, glass, and terrazzo staircase design links the Haas Atrium at the existing Third Street entrance, to the new Art Court, which will house museum admissions. The design also calls for additional seating in the atrium.

Situated underneath Botta's iconic oculus, this staircase design is markedly different from the one it's replacing. As John King reported in The San Francisco Chronicle in 2011, "The dark granite staircase, which Botta called in his e-mail a 'striking architectural element,' is a compact vertical counterpoint to an atrium otherwise defined by vast space and curves." King wrote on Thursday that the old SFMOMA "had no space more potent than the atrium's cave-like stairway, clad in bands of dark granite, climbing four levels and filling much of the skylit interior piazza."

Botta's staircase.

Botta's staircase.

Credit: Richard Barnes


"In 2011, when we first shared with Botta the need to replace the stair in order for the building to function, he met the news with gracious understanding," said Ruth Berson, SFMOMA deputy director of curatorial affairs and staff lead on the museum's expansion project, in the press release. "There was never a question about necessity, given anticipated increases in attendance."

Google Maps image of the SFMOMA expansion site and the Botta-designed building on San Francisco's Third Street.

Google Maps image of the SFMOMA expansion site and the Botta-designed building on San Francisco's Third Street.

Credit: Google