SFMOMA: Identity and Placemaking

Practice Area


San Francisco Museum of Modern Art


Project Vision

The building identification provides a visual presence for the museum within the surrounding cityscape. Large-scale exterior signage was added to the two main entrances not just to increase visibility of the entrances, but to provide a visual link between the faces of two architecturally distinctive buildings with entrances on different streets. A warm red logo was installed on the new white façade on Howard Street and a white logo was placed on the existing warm red brick façade on Third Street. Both logos are the same size and are installed at the same hang line so that the two facades share visual continuity.

Inside, the use of the color palette allows the artwork to take center stage—and visitors to get lost in the art, not the building. A monotone set of cool grays is accompanied by an accent of warm red.

The merging of the existing and new spaces of the building created a condition in which two sets of elevators open along the same wall—the existing elevators accessing floors 1-5 and the new elevators accessing floors 2-7. To avoid wayfinding confusion, the two sets of elevators were painted distinct colors and named accordingly: the “Red Elevators” and the “Silver Elevators.” Large directories were applied directly to each set of doors to ensure visitors are aware of the range of floors accessed via the different elevators.

Wayfinding icons were developed specifically for the project. Using the custom SFMOMA typeface as a basis, the icon set includes a Family Restroom graphic comprising two males, a child, and two females. This graphic welcomes both traditional and non-traditional families and reinforces the values of the institution even within the functional spaces of the museum.

Acknowledgment of donors throughout the galleries was accomplished in a hierarchy comprising just two types: plaques mounted to door thresholds and pin-mount lettering applied to landing walls.

Project Details
Design Team

SOM Design TeamLonny Israel (lead designer), Dan Maxfield (designer), Brad Thomas (designer), Pauline Cheng (designer), Nathan Bluestone (designer), Nick Gerstner (project manager)SFMOMA Design TeamJennifer Sonderby (design and project lead), Bosco Hernandez (designer), James Provenza (designer), Mathieu Stemmelen (designer), Amy Yu Gray (designer), Carrie Taffle (lead project coordinator), Nicole Sorci (project coordinator)

Project Area

460,000 sq ft


Morris, Hargreaves, and McIntyre


Jonathan Hirabayashi Design, Barker Blue