Get SF Weekly Newsletters

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Tourism for Locals Contemporary Jewish Museum's Daniel Libeskind Cube Goes Outside the Box

Posted By on Thu, Nov 6, 2014 at 2:33 PM

  • Juan De Anda/ SF Weekly

If we were asked to describe the architecture of San Francisco in one word, the best response would have to be eclectic. Yet, even with the juxtaposition of old and new found in a city that is constantly under construction, you can find the harmonious fusion between the modern and the traditional. And no building exemplifies this more than the Daniel Libeskind designed Contemporary Jewish Museum (CJM) and its cerulean blue yud cube.

Libeskind, an internationally renowned architect who designed the official September 11 memorial (Memorial Foundations) on the site of Ground Zero, built San Francisco's completed the CMJ cube piece in 2008. The brick portion of the 63,000 square foot museum, which occupies and extends the 1907 Jessie Street Power Substation, was designed by Willis Polk (the mastermind behind the Hallidie Building). 

The museum’s tilted, dark-blue stainless-steel cube slices into the old substation’s brick, putting the contrast of new and old front-and-center. The design preserves the defining features of Polk’s old building, including the brick façade and skylights. But the addition of 21st century elements weren't simply done for the stark contrast — the CJM’s design is based on the Hebrew expression “L’Chaim,” which means “To Life.”  According to the Polish architect, the of building's intersections were meant to channel Hebrew calligraphy:

Following the Jewish tradition, according to which letters are not mere signs, but substantial participants in the story they create, the two Hebrew letters of the chai — chet and yud — with all their symbolic, mathematical, and emblematic nuance, determined the form of the new museum. The building is based on unprecedented spaces created by theses two letter forms of the chai. The chet provides an overall continuity for the exhibition and educational spaces, and the yud, with its 36 windows, is located on the pedestrian connector

From an aerial perspective, the edifice forms the Hebrew characters for L'Chaim. Inside the cube is a white exhibition space that is illuminated by the light shining through the 36 diamond windows on the roof of the cube.

Moreover, the building's aesthetics have a metaphorical connection with the objectives of the institution. According to The New York Times, the CJM actively avoids anything that might seem too particular like in other identity museums, seeking instead to leap into cultural realms where Judaism is an element or influence. A quote from the article states, "The museum, like its audience, is interested in assimilation, even in the ways in which the larger culture assimilates Jewish ideas and associations." 

So like the museum's mission, the building's amalgamated architectural forms may be visually bright, but still manage to blend into the downtown skyline because the architectural cohesion, it's unique, gorgeous and wholly San Franciscan. And that is what it means to be a local — unique and varied, but united in our differences. 

If you haven't seen this space, we suggest you visit, and meander through the cube. 
  • Pin It

Tags: , , , ,

About The Author

Juan De Anda

Juan De Anda

Juan De Anda is a cultural correspondent with a concentration in tourism, literature, and lifestyle and has been writing for SF Weekly since 2013. As an avid traveler, he enjoys discovering destinations abroad as well as the never-ending hidden gems of San Francisco. #DondeAndaJuanDeAnda?


Comments are closed.

Popular Stories

  1. Most Popular Stories
  2. Stories You Missed

Like us on Facebook


  • clipping at Brava Theater Sept. 11
    Sub Pop recording artists 'clipping.' brought their brand of noise-driven experimental hip hop to the closing night of 2016's San Francisco Electronic Music Fest this past Sunday. The packed Brava Theater hosted an initially seated crowd that ended the night jumping and dancing against the front of the stage. The trio performed a set focused on their recently released Sci-Fi Horror concept album, 'Splendor & Misery', then delved into their dancier and more aggressive back catalogue, and recent single 'Wriggle'. Opening performances included local experimental electronic duo 'Tujurikkuja' and computer music artist 'Madalyn Merkey.'"