polis: a collective blog about cities worldwide

A Textured Critique: San Francisco’s De Young Museum

by Hector Fernando Burga

How does one judge the value of a building and distinguish between good and bad architecture?

Critique involves the claim of authoritative knowledge. The language of the architectural plan, section, technical detail, and master plan are key guides. Yet they ultimately uphold the role of cognoscenti in framing the experience.

San Francisco’s De Young Museum offers an exception. The interplay between material, textures, and spaces transcends the boundaries dividing critics from the public. Beyond the architects' intention to provide a unique space to experience art, what remains in my memory are the details that define the building. Rock, dirt, grass, copper, and wood offer an inventory of textures. The encounter with surface outweighs the opinions of experts.

The possibility of a textured critique, one perhaps more democratic and public in scope, starts with the simple movement of the hand over the surface. It continues with a glance over two juxtaposed forms meeting in unexpected harmony on the same wall. It concludes with the surprise of cracks and grains running over objects later recognized as benches and doors.

Texture provides a text for everyday visitors at the De Young museum. Beyond the abstraction of architectural space and its representations, it opens an immediate sensory channel between the non-expert and the work of art.

Credits: Composite photo of De Young Museum textures, by Hector Fernando Burga.

+ share