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SFMOMA Rooftop Garden

An Oasis for Art

A competition-winning design for a new rooftop sculpture garden employs subtly bold moves to mediate between museum and the cityscape.

Maintaining Focus

Contemporary museum architecture often calls attention to itself. From the outset, JENSEN decided to instead focus on opening the museum to the city physically and metaphorically. The design conceived the garden, which sits atop an adjacent parking garage, as a gallery without a ceiling. A bridge from the SFMOMA building proper establishes the garden as an extension of the museum’s exhibition space, and a café pavilion invites the community to linger.

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Open It Up

Inside the museum’s top floor, JENSEN removed the entire back wall to open a panoramic window that displays the outdoor sculpture garden like a landscape painting. The café pavilion’s large sliding glass panels open fully to the garden, further merging museum and city.

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Chill Factor

Outside, lichen-covered lava-stone walls add to the serene atmosphere. The upper stories of nearby buildings peek out over the walls, but the garden feels like an oasis for art. It’s embedded in downtown San Francisco, yet stands apart from it. The addition of a full-service restaurant to this space during SFMOMA’s recent Snøhetta-designed expansion hasn’t changed the atmosphere. This outdoor space remains a popular urban refuge, ideal for contemplating art and relaxing with friends.

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Mind the Gap

Bridging the lightweight steel frame structure of SFMOMA with the heavy concrete parking garage was one of the more complex elements of the project. In a seismic event the buildings would move in different ways and the design needed to allow for that. The solution maintains an 11-inch gap between the two buildings. The only connecting element, the bridge to the garden, cantilevers from the museum’s structure and comes to rest on garage side. Where the two structures meet, Teflon slip pads allow the concrete garage to move independently beneath the bridge. Most visitors aren’t aware of this inventive structural solution — the result of careful, seamless detailing.

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San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
San Francisco


2011 AIA National Honor Award for Architecture
2010 Chicago Athenaeum, American Architecture Award
2010 AIA San Francisco, Honor Award
2009 AIA California Council, Merit Award
2009 California Construction Magazine Best of Year, 
Merit Award


Wallpaper City Guide: San Francisco, Phaidon, 2012
AIA 2010-2012 Designs for the New Decade, Design Media Publishing, 2012
Architect, “Review: SFMOMA Sculpture Garden,” May 2011
San Francisco Chronicle, “Architects Honor Bay Area buildings,” Jan 25, 2011
Architect, “Sculpture Garden Bridge,” November 2009
San Francisco Magazine, “Shape 
Shifting,” September 2009
Competitions, “SFMOMA Sculpture Garden,” Summer 2009
Art in America, “A Breath of Fresh Art,” June/July 2009
The New York Times Magazine, “Museum of Modern Eats,” May 31, 2009
The Architect’s Newspaper, “Let Them Eat Art,” May 27, 2009
ARTnews, “Avant Gardens,” April 2009
New York Times, “Taking a Step-by-Step Approach to Growth,” March 16, 2009
United Hemispheres Magazine, “Raise The Roof,” March 2009
New Garden Design: Inspiring Private Paradise, Zahid Sardar, Gibbs Smith, 2008
The Architect’s Newspaper, “Up on 
the Roof,” April 30, 2008
San Francisco Chronicle, “SFMOMA picks firm to design roof garden,” May 13, 2006


Project Leads
Jensen Architects / Jensen & Macy Architects:
Mark Jensen
Dean Orr
Steven Huegli
Project Team
Gretchen Krebs
Orit Goldstein-Mayer,
Sonia Hernandez


Forell/Elsessor Engineers
Mechanical, Electrical & Plumbing
Guttmann & Blaevoet
Charles M. Salter Associates
Auerbach Pollock Friedlander
Horton Lees Brogden Lighting Design
Edgett Williams Consulting
Food Service
The Marshall Group
Simpson Gumpertz & Heger
Martin M. Ron Associates


Vance Brown Builders


Richard Barnes
Bernard Andre
Henrik Kam
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