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Maritime Museum, San Francisco

Part 2 Project 2000
Leigh Brown
University of Huddersfield Huddersfield UK
The museum plays a crucial role in the master plan for Fisherman's Wharf, using the radial axis from Coit Tower that generates the angles for many of the city's Piers. Introducing another axis, using the historical Pier 45 to create an arrow projecting into the city, leading to a Tower in Memorial Square, the museum symbolically re-unites those lost at sea with San Francisco.
The preservation of the exhibits (a Submarine, a Merchant Ship, various aircraft and a working model Submarine) is a key function which, with the maritime heritage of California, has influenced the form. This combination creates the appropriate spirit for translating the military experience into an understandable medium. The materials and construction reflect this through the tectonic principles of structure and detail, which define the expression of the gallery spaces. The earthquake-proof structure is isolated to expose the bulkhead construction that echoes maritime architecture. Energy is obtained from wind generators, photovoltaics and wave power. Controlled natural light and ventilation protect the exhibits and dramatise the space.
As a Museum Building of the 21st Century it has an important role in forming the identity of the city. The development is an attraction itself, which serves to enhance the exhibits enclosed in a manner that draws together contextual issues of place and time.

Leigh Brown


The Design Thesis by Leigh Brown is for a Maritime Museum at Pier 39 in San Francisco. The design places the Maritime Museum on a peninsular orientated on the axis of Coit Tower. A number of historic military exhibits (cruiser, submarine, aircraft) are grouped within the building or placed in the water nearby. The aim is to produce a building which is clearly a museum but which creates an appropriate spirit for the military heritage of California. This balance is expressed in the character of the spaces and the means of construction employed.
The museum is steel framed, creating an enclosure of light and shade which captures the ambience of the military nautical landscape. Construction is highly engineered and refined with 'steeliness' as a recurring theme. Elements are framed, some parts use monocoque techniques, whilst others push at the limits of constructive potential. The results are gallery spaces which are dramatic and fresh in themselves, making the development a visitor attraction irrespective of the objects on exhibition.
A key aspect of the design was how the building looked from the water (it is passed frequently by water buses on route to Oakland and Alcatraz), from the air (it is on the flight path to San Francisco Airport) and from the land. Each view is carefully considered, as is the need to create a building which humanises and de-mystifies the military experience.
Tectonic principles of structure and detail allow the building to contrast with the stone, brick and timber construction of the historic waterfront of San Francisco. The design deliberately evokes the repertoire of European late modernism (Renzo Piano, Nicholas Grimshaw) as a measured rebuff to popular American architecture (Gehry, Venturi, Meier).

2000
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