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San Francisco's Color Icon


By Jill Pilaroscia

More items for Color + Design

This post from Colour Studio features one of our favorite San Francisco icons.
In this aerial view, we can see buildings of varying architectural styles nestled on a block. One building in particular stands out as a color icon: the San Francisco Contemporary Jewish Museum!
SF  Contemporary Jewish Museum
© BitterBredt

Colorful angles distinguish the museum from its older neighbors.

The museum, whose tag line is "connecting art, people and ideas," explores the history, art, and spirituality of the Jewish community today.

The building is tucked among the footprints of giant skyscrapers, malls, hotels and historic St. Patrick's Catholic Church.

The museum, designed by Daniel Libeskind, melds the historical 1907 brick building (originally, the Jessie Street power substation) with a dark blue stainless-steel addition completed in 2008.

This visual juxtaposition of new and old, steel and brick, earth tone and metallic finish might have been jarring, but this building feels whole when taken in context with its contemporary glass and steel surroundings.

SF Contemporary Jewish Museum
© Bruce Damont

Libeskind's design spans a century, melding a 1907 brick structure with a 2008 stainless-steel addition.

The shape of the extension, using the architect's characteristic angular shapes, is clad in metal tiles. The form was inspired by the Hebrew letters chet and yud, both used to spell L’Chaim ("to life!").

The prominent solid color of the extension is as important as the shapes themselves. The opalescent blue colors selected are often associated with depth and stability, wide night skies, and still ocean waters.

SF  Contemporary Jewish Museum
© Mark Darley

The opalescent blue is subtly calming, urging passersby to slow down.

The color, which has been shown to slow our metabolisms, heart rates, and produce an overall calming effect, seems glacial—like a solid block of cooled tempers emanating tranquil cold into the hyperactive city life surrounding it.

And this is part of what makes this museum a color icon. This building is a clear example that color should never be thought of as mere decoration, chosen purely by personal preference.

SF Contemporary Jewish Museum
© BitterBredt

The museum's unique color and design broadcast meaning to the community.

Color, if carefully and thoughtfully chosen, broadcasts meaning to those in the vicinity of the building.

A combination of the extension association with a call "To Life!" and the deep blue color can easily be seen as a political or social statement, a call for compromise, levelheadedness, or forethought.

In a heated world, the San Francisco Contemporary Jewish Museum asks its visitors to take a deep breath, and not let things get out of hand.

Color has the power to change us, our bodies and our minds—and here is a community using color for peace.



Jill Pilaroscia

“Life in Color” is co-authored by architectural color consultant Jill Pilaroscia (pictured), BFA, and creative writer Allison Serrell. Pilaroscia’s firm, Colour Studio Inc., is based in San Francisco. A fully accredited member of the International Association of Color Consultants, Pilaroscia writes and lectures widely on the art and science of color.



Tagged categories: Aesthetics; Architecture; Color; Colour Studio Inc.; Design; Museums

Comment from Peggy Golden, (11/11/2013, 8:18 AM)

nice article and pictures - Thanks

Comment from Marcia Walter, (11/13/2013, 12:46 PM)

Thank you, Jill ~ Inspiring concept!

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