Photography Interpretive Gallery


Second Story, part of SapientRazorfish

Practice Area


San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

Project Vision

“Photography is one of the foundations on which this house is built. We want to set it up as the equal of painting here,” said SFMOMA Director Neal Benezra. SFMOMA has been photography’s longtime champion, and with the addition of its massive Pritzker Center, it is now home to the largest space permanently dedicated to photography in any art museum in the United States.

As part of its massive three-year renovation, SFMOMA wanted to do more than just display its works—it wanted to contextualize them and bring them to life to give visitors fresh perspective on the photographs we see and take every day. The museum designated the 1,500-square-foot area between the main photo galleries and the new Sightglass coffee bar as the ideal space for an array of interpretive media. But, it was also the perfect place for visitors to relax, grab a snack, and take a break from browsing the collection.

SFMOMA expected some visitors to be hungry for more insight into its photographs, but it also expected others to be just, well, hungry. It was the Second Story design team’s job to not only design and develop a suite of interactives but also to build out the transitional space to cater to lounging, coffee-drinking, croissant-nibbling, socializing and gathering, all in equal measure. It was a tall order (pun intended), but the Second Story team rose to the challenge of the Photography Interpretive Gallery.

As an interpretive space, the gallery fires on all cylinders. Interactive installations with imaginative interfaces are driven by camera-inspired controls, reminding museumgoers that they are more than mere bystanders in an era where many of us have powerful cameras in our pockets.

The experiences invite visitors to rethink what they know about photography and to look more closely at culturally significant pieces and processes to better understand their impact on the medium and on our world. Visitors learn, for example, about photography’s influence on the creation of Yosemite National Park.

They can watch Liz Deschenes describe the laborious process of producing her camera-less photograms and reconsider their own roles as photo creators by constructing a surprising selfie using the contents of their pockets. Those searching for more perspective on the meaning of photography find it in the space.

Those looking to the gallery for a moment of respite also find it. The design team arranged seating into centralized islands for socializing and lounging and produced minimal digital interfaces that are compelling up close, interesting from afar and unobtrusive in the periphery. The Second Story team selected materials for the interactive consoles that would hold up to coffee spills and croissant crumbs. Cleanly designed to complement to Snøhetta’s stunning architecture, the warm and inviting space lets visitors flow through, socialize, relax and enjoy their lattes comfortably.

Since the expanded museum reopened in May 2016, the Photography Interpretive Gallery has been used exactly as intended. While some visitors dive deeply into the content, devouring the stories of SFMOMA’s greatest photographic works, others feel welcome to just sit, sip and watch people use the interactives—or even ignore the technology altogether. The space has become, in our client’s words, “the clubhouse of the museum.”

Project Details
The beauty is in the details here: the subtle lines of an interactive kiosk, the tactile knob to browse images, the super-restrained typography. This space provides a place for contemplation, where the photographs can assert their presence without shouting.
Juror 1
'The clubhouse of the museum' was created by members of a collaborative industrial design, media and graphics team to have visitors join in. Black and white interactive media stations and screens reside amongst comfortable chairs fostering dialogue about SFMoMA’s fine photography collection.
Juror 2
Design Team

Norman Lau (creative lead), Don Davies (technical lead), Donald Richardson (technical lead), Martha Almy (production lead), Matt Arnold (senior engineering specialist), Nora Bauman (senior content strategist), David Brewer (senior backend systems specialist), Chris Carlson (senior technologist), Chris DeWan (design director), Alyssa Glass (senior content strategist), Philippe Laulheret (technologist), Swanny Mouton (art director), Adam Paikowsky (technologist), Vanessa Patchett (A/V producer), Jeremy Rotsztain (senior technologist), Sarah Schulte (senior designer), Jordan Tull (senior environmental designer), Jinu Yang (senior art director)

Design Firm

Second Story, part of SapientRazorfish

Project Area

1,500 sq ft


Adobe Labs (digital experience design), Snøhetta (architecture), BBI (A/V Integration)


David Bertman Designs (Fabrication)