Metal Architecture Home

Museums, Libraries and Cultural Centers

Complex Geometry

Recently completed, the Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco, is one of the last pieces in the revitalization and transformation of the once decaying Yerba Buena district in downtown San Francisco. The 63,000 square-foot (5,853-m2), $47.5 million museum building integrates modern materials and complex forms with the old Jesse Street Power Station, a national historic landmark designed by Willis Polk in 1907 during the "City Beautiful" movement.

In July, the Contemporary Jewish Museum earned national recognition in the 2010 Innovative Design in Engineering and Architecture with Structural Steel awards program (IDEAS2), conducted annually by American Institute of Steel Construction, Chicago. The project recognized outstanding achievements in engineering and architecture on structural steel projects around the country. The museum was a recipient of a national award in the category of projects $15 million to $75 million, making it one of only seven projects around the country to receive the national honor.

Each project is judged on its use of structural steel, with an emphasis on creative solutions to project requirements; design innovation; aesthetic and visual impact of the project; innovative use of architecturally exposed structural steel; technical or architectural advances in the use of steel; the use of innovative design and construction methods; and sustainable design.

"Overall, [the building shows] excellent execution of the idea, in aesthetics as well as technology," said Tudor Van Hampton, Chicago Bureau Chief, Engineering News Record (ENR), and a judge in the competition. "Tons of curb appeal."

The building's contemporary form was inspired by the Hebrew phrase I'chaim (to life!), which led to highly complex geometry and a very irregular structure. Given the complicated geometry, structural steel was the most appropriate and cost-effective framing system for the building. In addition, the building is located in an area of high seismic activity; so the use of steel braced frames provide resistance to earthquake loads. Structural engineers built a 3-D computer model of the building in order to perform detailed response spectrum dynamic analyses.

The general contractor and the steel detailing, fabrication and construction team were brought on board early in the design phase, allowing for creative and practical solutions and close collaboration. This led to a project that was successfully completed within time and budget with only minor changes. The museum opened to wide acclaim in June 2008.

The 12 IDEAS2 winners for 2010 were chosen from nearly 100 submissions received by architectural and engineering firms throughout the U.S. Each submission was reviewed and award winners were selected by a nationally recognized panel of design and construction industry professionals.

Roger E. Ferch, P.E. president of AISC, said, "The entire Contemporary Jewish Museum project team has shown how structural steel can be used to create structures that combine beauty and practicality. The result is a museum that serves the public extremely well, while providing an example of what can be achieved when designing and constructing projects with steel."

Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco

Architect: Studio Daniel Libeskind, New York
Architect of record: WRNS Studio, San Francisco
Structural engineer: OLMM Consulting Engineers, Oakland, Calif.
Steel erector: Olson Steel, San Leandro, Calif.
General contractor: Plant Construction Co., San Francisco
Project manager: KPM Consulting, Berkeley, Calif.
Consultant: ARUP, San Francisco