Prior to the launch of the Akiko Yamazaki & Jerry Yang Pavilion at the Asian Art Museum, we reflect on how the project came into being


Given the emphasis on hybrid digital-physical programming sparked by the pandemic, it’s appropriate that our new expansion for the Asian Art Museum should launch with the ultimate hybrid exhibition: Continuity, an immersive experience by the Tokyo-based international art collective, teamLab. After over a year of comparative sensory deprivation, visitors are invited to step into a digital ecosystem of dynamic imagery: blooming flowers and chasing crows, darting fish and ephemeral butterflies – forms borrowed from the iconography of the museum’s collection and evolving in response to the presence of the human body in space.


teamLab, Exhibition view of “teamLab: Continuity,” 2021, Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, California © teamLab, courtesy Pace Gallery


With 8,500 square feet of continuous gallery space — the largest column-free gallery in San Francisco — the pavilion empowers the museum with unparalleled flexibility to stage large-scale installations and technologically innovative exhibitions. That said, the pavilion wasn’t always part of the picture. In fact, when we first started working with the museum, our original intention was to only redesign the existing collection galleries.



What started as a simple gallery redesign project became a comprehensive transformation of the museum as a whole, updating facilities and applying Acupuncture Architecture to defragment spaces and improve circulation throughout the building. It might seem like a leap to transition from a gallery redesign project to a full-scale rethinking of flow throughout the museum, but the project illuminates an often overlooked aspect of an architect’s role: before the design of a building, there is the collaborative architecture of the project scope itself, sounding out the latent possibilities of a brief and working closely with the client to clarify key priorities.



The project to design the pavilion is a test case for reaching beyond the limited scope of a problem to achieve holistic impact. That approach also informed the design ethos of the pavilion itself, which actively opens the museum to its surrounding urban context. From the corner of McAllister and Hyde Street in Civic Center, you’ll see Jas Charanjiva’s mural Don’t Mess With Me located on the roof terrace, Chanel Miller’s triptych I was, I am, I will be is revealed through the faceted windows of the Wilbur Gallery, and Jenifer K. Wofford’s mural, Pattern Recognition, is installed on the street level art wall. The pavilion extends the museum’s presence on the street and provides the original Beaux Arts façade with another side to its personality – a façade rippling with textured geometric terracotta tiles and intriguing open sightlines.



To solve a difficult problem, it’s often advisable to invert the question. Instead focusing solely on shoehorning the collection galleries into shape, we looked to the surrounding spaces to see how they could serve as support. It all comes down to continuity: we started by asking how the experience of the galleries could be improved, and then continued asking the question of the entire museum and its spatial context. The answer, for both the part and the whole, had to do with flow, openness, and flexibility, resulting in an energized, adaptable structure continuous with its context.

In this sense, teamLab’s Continuity might be understood as a microcosm of the pavilion in which its housed – or is it a model of the expanding mind? Either way, the museum invites all of us to step inside and open our eyes.



Click here to reserve tickets for the opening weekend of teamLab: Continuity Friday, July 23rd.


Article by Matilda Bathurst
July 16th, 2021
Acupuncture Architecture,  Education,  Exhibition Design,  Museums,  Programming
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