Denver Art Museum

Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco

Two American museums designed by one world-famous architect have evoked two very different reactions from visitors and critics alike.

The Denver Art Museum and San Francisco’s Contemporary Jewish Museum were both designed by Daniel Libeskind. They are part of a trend of ambitious museum architecture projects — the American Association of Museums reports that the amount of money spent on museum construction has gone up five times in the past 15 years.

Both Libeskind museums are seen as architectural standouts. But in buildings designed to showcase art, can form impede function?

The new addition to the Denver Art Museum stands out from the more traditional boxy buildings around it. Its gray, titanium walls meet at odd angles and reflect back the light of the Colorado sky. It looks a bit like a piece of a distant mountain broke off and landed in downtown Denver.

Libeskind says he conceived it as a “dialogue” between the 21st-century culture of downtown Denver and the surrounding Rocky Mountains…

Hundreds of miles away, the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco — another Libeskind-designed building — received a very different reception…

t’s not immediately apparent, but the forms are pieces of Hebrew letters. They cut through the building and spell l’chaim or “to life.” Libeskind says he wanted the design to be an homage to the past and to the survival of the Jewish tradition.

“You discover the old and the new in a constant conversation with each other,” Libeskind says. “I think that is also part of the Jewish tradition. To do new, but always in conversation with an age-old history.”


Laura Sydell