It turns out the simple wooden benches that sit quietly within SFMOMA’s pristine spaces have become an Instagram hit, with gallery-goers posing for the camera while seated in front of their favourite works of art, whether it be a scribble painting by Cy Twombly or massive portraits by Chuck Close.
The new museum extension by Snøhetta has quickly become San Francisco’s must-see cultural destination since opening in June. It is also a game-changer for the South of Market neighbourhood, which has been undergoing a slow gentrification over the past few decades. (Azure contributing editor, and San Francisco resident, Andrew Braithwaite has reviewed the project in our September issue.)
The bold exterior is defined by wavy polymer cladding that makes it seem as though the 10-storey building has been tightly wrapped in Saran. Inside, the museum is more subtle, letting the art take centre stage within white-walled galleries.
To furnish the pristine spaces, the goal was to find seating that could blend in with the maple flooring. The benches, 95 in total, were designed by Miguel Brovhn, who runs a small studio in Vancouver. It is by far the biggest commission he has worked on since starting his business in 2009. The initial contact arrived via email, when Studios Architecture, in charge of choosing the interior furnishings for the project, came across his work online.
“They had already looked at many options,” say Brovhn. “For them, customization was a huge issue. They wanted benches that would work inside and out, and that could vary in length. I mentioned we were developing a metal version and immediately sent them a sample.” The gesture ended up clinching the deal.
The barely-there benches are more like church pews, with a 30-degree angle cut at both end planks, giving it a lean profile. SFMOMA commissioned 23 aluminum powder-coated benches for exterior spaces, and 80 planar wood benches, with eco-leather upholstery by Anzea, for the main galleries. Brovhn is now selling the pieces online and through Living Space in Vancouver.