Architecture Class Allowed Student to Follow Curiosity

photo of Angelika Joseph, undergrad student who wrote SFMOMA essay
photo SFMOMA showing 1995 building and additon
SFMOMA with 2016 addition rising behind and above 1995 building.
Photo credit: Jon McNeal/ Snøhetta

As she was nearing graduation, Angelika Joseph (B.A., psychology, history minor, ’19) took a contemporary architectural history class. It was the first art or art history course she’d ever taken. Her class research paper on the renovation of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art won a Norma J. Lang Prize for Undergraduate Information Research from the UC Davis Library.

“Botta to Snøhetta: Cultural Changes between the 1990s and 2010s” explores how the renovation and expansion of the SFMOMA, completed in 2016, reflects demographic shifts in the city during the past 20 years. The SFMOMA renovation by the architectural and design firm Snøhetta added to a 1995 building designed by Mario Botta.

“While the buildings share the same location and purpose, they couldn’t be more different,” Joseph wrote. “The Botta building was large, dense and decidedly present. The Snøhetta is light and wavy, elevating above its neighbors yet remarkably easy to miss. These buildings hold the tale of two cities, with an old, still developing cultural hot spot countering an overdeveloped anchor for global internet tech companies. When examined in the lens of the economic shift between the 1990s and 2010s, the rationale becomes clear. Modern capitalists no longer wish to appear powerful and grand.”

Motivated by a dislike of the renovation

The paper grew out of Joseph’s personal interaction with the museum. Growing up in Berkeley, she often visited the museum and was working near the museum after the renovation was completed.

“I’d walk by every day and didn’t understand or like the redesign,” Joseph said.

The original building’s distinctive brick façade, large atrium and oculus at the top remain intact, with the undulating, light-colored addition rising behind and above it. An iconic floating staircase through the atrium is gone. The expansion doubled the size of the museum, tripled gallery space, and added outdoor areas showcasing large sculptures.

When she proposed a paper about the renovation to Professor Simon Sadler, who also had misgivings about the museum makeover, he was enthusiastic.  

Drawing on architecture, art, economics, sociology

Joseph examined the redesign from many perspectives, especially the tech industry’s huge impact on the city. Along with resources on architecture, art, design and museums, she also drew on sociology, economics, and critiques of capitalism and class.

“I was able to look for answers in every direction,” she said. “Part of the process was really being encouraged to dive down rabbit holes and go in different directions with it. It was the most fun I’ve had in my academic career.”

Learn about other winners from the College of Letters and Science: Julia Betchart (B.A., history, '19) and Megan West (B.A., English, '19).