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Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco, California by Daniel Libeskind
August 8th, 2011 by Sanjay Gangal
Article source: Daniel Libeskind
With the opening of its new building in June 2008, the Contemporary Jewish Museum (CJM) ushered in a new chapter in its 20-plus year history of engaging audiences and artists in exploring contemporary perspectives on Jewish culture, history, art and ideas. The new facility is a lively center where people of all ages and backgrounds can gather to appreciate art, share diverse perspectives, and engage in hands-on activities. Inspired by the Hebrew phrase “l’chaim” (to life), the building is a physical embodiment of the CJM’s mission to bring together tradition and innovation in an exploration of the relevance of Jewish values and traditions in the 21st century. The new 63,000-square-foot facility, located on Mission Street between 3rd & 4th Streets in downtown San Francisco, enables the Museum to present an expanded array of engaging programming including art exhibitions, live music, film screenings, lectures and discussions, and educational activities for audiences of all ages and backgrounds.
The design of The Contemporary Jewish Museum (CJM) in San Francisco provides a space for exhibitions, a place for activities and a symbol dedicated to the revitalization of Jewish life in San Francisco and beyond. Such a building, rooted in the Jewish imagination, and opening itself to the diverse contemporary currents of life, is a fundamental contribution to the Yerba Buena renaissance.
“The challenge, significance and potential of this site and the program of the CJM are themselves part of the cultural process symbolizing the foundation of a new and innovative Jewish institution in San Francisco – an institution which will deal with continuity and identity. This relation is revealed by the struggle to make space in this delicate location.”
“The site of the CJM is an abandoned power station from the turn of the century. The building of the CJM will provide access to new spaces for new programs through the imposing Polk facade of the substation. The new spaces will be incorporated within the old structure and will articulate a close relationship to the new Millennium Tower and the pedestrian connector.”
“The atmosphere of the old power station is carefully retained, while at the same time providing wholly new program and circulation spaces for the CJM. The visitor is made aware of the old parameters of the power station, the walls where batteries and equipment were once lodged, the skylights and the structure. In contrast and complement to this experience of history, the visitor will also experience the reconfigured spatial form of the new extension. History does not come to an end but opens to the future; history is a dynamic ground.”
“The site, a complex urban locus, provides the necessary pressure for the emergence of a unique form and energy. The CJM will make visible the relationship between the new and the old, of tradition and innovation. It will transform the physical energy associated with the legacy of the power station to the power of human communication and imagination. The building, though small in comparison to the context, will become a steel-clad jewel like a beacon glowing of the future.”
“The CJM building is based on the Hebrew word “L’Chai’m,” which means “To Life.” The two Hebrew letters of Chai, with all their symbolic, mathematical and emblematic structure, are literally the life source and the form of the Museum. In the Jewish tradition, letters are not mere signs but are substantial participants in the story they create. Thus the spatiality of Chai – a fundamental emblem of Jewish life – will be experienced as a full dynamic movement responding to the many levels of interpretation this word possesses.”
“The entire building is a penetration of Chai/life into the Talmudic page structure where the margins and commentaries are as important as what is commented upon. No place in the finished Museum is unconnected to the whole, forming an organic structure of space and function. The entire Museum is a matrix calling forth interpretation by the visitor.”
“The building brings together the activities of the Jewish Museum, the fullness of the senses and emotions by weaving the themes of exhibition, education and knowledge for both Jews and non-Jews alike. It is the celebration of Jewish imagination and unity within the context of an evolving and developing history.”
“The new building is based on the unprecedented spaces created by the Chai – the Chet, which provides an overall continuity for the core exhibition and the Yud, located on the pedestrian connector which gives a new identity to the power station. Together, these letters and their meaning constitute a special emblem for the ongoing development of the Yerba Buena area.”
“The Jewish experience presented in this discourse of forms will engage both the Jewish and non-Jewish public with the image of a newly emerging Jewish-American identity. It will deal with issues of imagination, creativity, vitality and access. The spaces and their programs will delve into the depths of Jewish spirit and celebrate the discovery and relevance of Jewish culture for all.”
“Visitors enter through the old, grandiose entrance of the power station. The entire ground level lobby with its restaurant, cafe and shop, reveals a dramatic view of the power station skylights and the Chai, the southern wing where the museum visit begins. An illuminated stair rises from the lobby through the southern edge of the Chet, crosses the central point of the Yud, and emerges into the northern wing of the Chet. The multi-purpose theatre, temporary exhibitions, educational services and administration spaces are integrated throughout the scheme.”
“Just as the fundamental concept of the new Contemporary Jewish Museum of San Francisco is L’Chai’m, so does the building seek to contribute a powerful new structure, traversing the substation, to the exciting Yerba Buena development. The discovery of the richness of Jewish culture will become an enduring magnet offering the public the opportunity to share a universal heritage.”
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