Golden Gate Art

Honored as San Francisco’s Best Overall Outstanding Architectural Design 2006 by California Construction magazine, the accolades for the de Young Museum just keep coming. Rutherford & Chekene won the Structural Engineers Association of Northern California’s Excellence in Structural Engineering Award for the design. The Associated General Contractors of California awarded Swinerton Builders its prestigious Constructor Award in the Innovation in Construction Techniques and Materials category.

Cupertino Electric Inc. of San Francisco (CEI), the lead electrical contractor, used up to 70 IBEW Local 6 inside wiremen and several five- to seven-crewmember teams. The project required installing the power infrastructure, lighting system and nearly 30 miles of raceway woven throughout the building for the myriad security, telecommunications and audiovisual devices.

Impressive credentials

Founded in 1895—just after the California Midwinter International Exposition of 1894—the museum was set in the city’s expansive Golden Gate Park and is named after one of its most passionate original supporters, Michael Harry de Young, publisher of the San Francisco Chronicle. It became a repository of American art of all periods and of the traditional arts, costumes and textiles of Africa, Oceania and the Americas. While the museum survived the 1989 San Francisco Bay Area Loma Prieta earthquake, it was severely damaged, limiting its possibilities to attract prestigious traveling exhibitions. That same year, the board of trustees decided to build a new structure in the same place.

Construction of the new, 293,000-square-foot museum began in June 2002 and was completed in October 2005. It offers twice the exhibit space of the building it replaced, while returning two acres of the park to open space by reducing the building’s footprint by 37 percent. Its copper-clad exterior, composed of more than 7,000 embossed, textured and perforated panels, will oxidize to blend in with acres of surrounding gardens.

The de Young was creatively designed with state-of-the-art seismic engineering and a custom under-floor mechanical system by Pritzker Prize-winning architects Herzog & de Meuron of Basel, Switzerland, local San Francisco architects Fong & Chan, structural engineers Rutherford & Chekene and MEP Engineers Ove Arup. It is designed to both withstand major seismic loads and to showcase and protect the fine art collections of the owner, The Corporation of Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Multimillion-dollar electrical package

During the 40-month project, Swinerton Builders was the general contractor. CEI’s $14-million electrical package included work on the architecturally sensitive galleries in the three-level main structure, a 295-seat auditorium, an interactive children’s gallery and museum family room, a 5,000-square-foot bilevel retail store, a full-service cafe and catering center, state-of-the-art restoration and conservation center, administration area, carpentry shop, art storage area and a twisting nine-story post-tension tower that houses educational classrooms as well as a library tower and an observation floor that permits visitors a 360-degree view of the city.

“It’s a world-class museum. The biggest challenge was that each area was unique unto itself,” said Adam Spillane, executive project manager, CEI. “It challenged the installation techniques of our field crews who had to be flexible with the design and be able to be productive at the same time. It was an extremely difficult project for us, but the end result is an impressive building, which itself is a work of art.”

Aesthetic considerations affected almost every aspect of the project. To minimize the quantity of wall devices, acid-washed bronze Walker floor boxes were installed beneath the main lobby’s Italian porphyry stone floors and the wood floors in all the gallery areas. Before the topping slab for the stone floors or the sleepers for the wood floors were put in, CEI installed a massive spider web of conduit interconnecting all the floor boxes or telecommunications areas underneath the floors.

To protect the art, temperature control within the building is crucial. The mechanical system has to operate within plus or minus 3 degrees of both temperature and humidity. An early upfront construction effort involved getting the mechanical system into place to ensure that when the art and the 60,000 square feet of Sydney Blue Australian hardwood flooring (for the galleries) was brought in, everything would be ready. The building was acclimatized and controlled to prevent warping, expansion or contraction of the flooring and to protect the art. Under the leadership of CEI’s project superintendent, Kevin Wolfe, and infrastructure general foreman, Jim O’Shea, PG&E power and the building HVAC systems were online six months after main construction commenced.

Seismic specifications

CEI was challenged also by the building’s seismic requirements. The steel and concrete structure of the main museum features a base isolation system. The building rests on 4-foot-round seismic isolators, ball bearings and gliding frictionless plates, and it doesn’t touch the ground but is connected to it through dozens of isolation columns. Since this allows the building to move up to 3 feet horizontally in any direction, the mechanical and electrical systems had to have tremendous flexibility.

CEI needed flexible conduit in the 8 feet of isolation space under the building in order to permit the sway. CEI worked it out through early coordination with Ove Arup, the MEP engineer. Rutherford & Chekene provided the structural engineering, specifications and constraints and closely monitored the installation by CEI and all trades to ensure the seismic criteria were maintained.

CEI installed a VESDA monitoring system as the primary fire/life safety system in the gallery areas; the company installed 18 VESDA detection systems comprising quarter-inch copper tubing and 220 ports, so the systems would continuously sample the gallery areas for smoke, gas and other hazards.

Diversified Fire Products designed an integrated system using an Edwards Signaling & Security Systems fire alarm that provides up to 20 minutes advance notice and was aesthetically designed, using quarter-inch copper ports that blend seamlessly into ceilings.

The post-tension nine-story tower, which was isolated from the main building for seismic considerations, also challenged CEI. While only having a footprint of about 2,000 square feet, the tower articulates as it rises and had to be in compliance with all the high-rise structural, smoke and fire alarm evacuation codes. Due to the small footprint, CEI and other subcontractors faced a high-density work environment; on the electrical side, it involved power infrastructures, lighting, window shades, telecommunications, security elements and audiovisual infrastructures.

The architectural highlight of the electrical installation, however, was the totally custom architectural lighting and lighting control system. Due to its complexity, CEI chose Lynn Cass as a dedicated lighting/lighting control project manager responsible for all vendor coordination, releases and the submittal process. The most complicated part of the lighting system was development with Lightolier of a custom 2-inch-wide fixture, a lighting slot system, the primary light source in all galleries and the main lobby. This system took a year from the concept developed by Herzog and de Meuron and Ove Arup to final design, UL approval and fabrication.

Mike Chin, CEI lighting general foreman, and his team of 30 wiremen installed more than 11,000 feet of multiple rows of the slot system that not only incorporates fluorescent fixtures (277V), for general lighting, and track heads (120V), to light the art. The slot system also provides the return air for the mechanical systems, which had specific requirements for how much air had to be exhausted through the fixture into the plenum space above. Where function dictated, the fluorescent fixtures had dimming ballasts. Where they were used for normal lighting, they were lensed, and where they were used for emergency lighting, they were not.

“It is one fixture type that has many different iterations and combinations,” said Lynn Cass, project manager, CEI. “It is run in long, linear rows, some using 2-foot fixtures and others 4-foot fluorescent fixtures, and in multiple ceiling materials. The fixture housings were also different colors, depending on the ceiling type. Lightolier had to work out many details to allow the slot system to work in various mountings, ceiling types and ceiling slopes, and [Lightolier] also designed a custom junction box for the slot system.”

Because of the variations, Cass had to separately order all the components, mounting hardware and accessories required for each row, a process that took weeks of close collaboration with Lightolier.

“I’ve designed fixtures before, but I’ve never worked on anything quite as complex with all the permutations and combinations as well as the extreme detail we went through with the architect and the owner in fine tuning the concept. It was a terrific collaborative effort.”

Lightolier’s Colleen Pastore echoed the sentiment.

“The beauty of the system and layout was the integration with the architecture, and the very clean simplicity of it. It was very much a team effort between all involved,” said Pastore, vice president, Specification Sales, Western U.S., Lightolier.

“Our design team, led by Horst Bernhardt, Bud Praire and Ray Campeau, worked closely with Joan Esposito, manager of the Variant Strategic Business Unit at the Lightolier factory in Fall River; with CEI; [with] the architects and engineers; and with Bill Huggins, the lighting designer at the museum, who had very particular requirements regarding the lighting for the galleries and had a great deal of input in terms of functionality of the system. During construction, Jayne Barlow, an architect from Herzog and de Meuron, worked hard to keep the ceiling both organized and completely devoid of clutter. I am very proud of the spectacular result.”

 The CEI lighting team installed 12 additional dead custom fixture types and more than 2,000 light fixtures within the main building. The remaining portion consisted of 26 fixture types and 500 in-ground, bollard and pole-mounted fixtures.

Comprehensive site lighting package

Then there were the lighting control systems. The main building lighting now is controlled by four separate systems: Lutron Grafik Eye in the administration area, Lutron GP dimming system in the temporary exhibit and main lobby, ETC Theatrical Dimming in the auditorium/lecture hall and Watt Stopper central lighting/motorized shade control throughout the building. The programmable switching lighting control system is daisy-chained, permitting the adjustment of any fixture from one of eight lighting control panels and the security office. CEI installed pipe, wire and head-end programming.

“It was an immensely complicated project overall, and the electrical was no exception, so CEI had to manage many different systems, state-of-the-art custom lighting control, dimming and state-of-the-art security systems. There was quite a bit of ‘never been done before’ items,” said Mike Strong, project manager, Swinerton Builders. “We can attest to the challenges in development of the Lightolier custom fixture that was installed in all the public spaces. There were miles and miles of conduit under the building, and they had to deal with that as well. It was an incredibly challenging project that is now highly regarded.”

CASEY, author of “Kids Inventing! A Handbook for Young Inventors” and “Women Invent! Two Centuries of Discoveries that have Changed Our World,” can be reached at or






About the Author

Susan Casey

Freelance Writer
Susan Casey, author of "Women Heroes of the American Revolution," "Kids Inventing! A Handbook for Young Inventors," and "Women Invent! Two Centuries of Discoveries that have Changed Our World," can be reached at or www.susancaseybooks...

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