Lighting Culinary Art at SFMOMA

When an iconic San Francisco museum, a talented San Francisco design firm and an award-winning San Francisco chef came calling, Boyd Lighting jumped at the opportunity to build custom lighting for the city they have called home since 1921. 

May 2016 marked the grand reopening of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) after a three-year closure, during which time the iconic space was transformed by renowned architecture firm Snøhetta. (Learn more about the expansion project here.) To meet the museum’s mission of making the art for our time a vital and meaningful part of public life, the new SFMOMA is an outward-looking and engaging gathering space complete with free art-filled public spaces and a trendsetting new restaurant called In Situ.

This is where the story begins.

A Restaurant Named In Situ

At In Situ, award winning chef Corey Lee acts as a curator by rotating dishes from 80 global chefs through the menu like artworks in a gallery. By commingling the idea of food as art, Lee believes In Situ can help SFMOMA's mission. “I see this project as an extension of the museum’s larger mission—to present great works worldwide and make them accessible for greater public engagement,” he said in a SFMOMA press release. (Read the full press release here.)

In Situ will build appreciation for culinary traditions and hopefully encourage dialogue about our relationships to food, not unlike the way SFMOMA collects and cares for important works of art.
— Corey Lee | SFMOMA Press Release

Art Meets Food Meets Lighting

So, how does one convey the idea that art doesn't just hang from the wall but can also reside on the plate? The answer came from San Francisco architectural design firm Aidlin Darling Design. By emphasizing visibility and accessibility from the street, and designing a comfortable, simple and open environment, they created a space where art, design, food and community come together.

According to SFMOMA, In Situ was “designed to engage all of the senses with an emphasis on acoustics and tactility [and] is inhabited by carefully considered "artifacts" in the form of lighting, art, furniture and a wood ceiling canopy, all with the intent of drawing contrast between the rough and the refined.” (Read the full article here.)

Interior Design magazine describes the restaurant's interior as a “gallery-esque setting, sophisticated but simultaneously a tad rough around the edges” where “slender pendant fixtures in blackened steel, gilded on the inside, help to spotlight the [main] mural.” (Read the full article here.)

Boyd Illuminates Culinary Art

Boyd Lighting has designed and manufactured light fixtures for countless San Francisco icons, like the Castro Theater and War Memorial Opera House, as well as other commercial jobs, like Wynn Las Vegas and Victoria’s Secret. Adding SFMOMA to the Boyd's portfolio was an honor.

Take a peek at some of Boyd's other commercial projects.

After working with Aidlin Darling Design earlier in 2016 to create the architectural T-Light Pendant, Boyd was excited to work with the firm again on a custom pendant for In Situ. In an homage to The Lightening Field by Walter de Maria, 25 steel tubes manufactured by Boyd Lighting hang in a grid over Lee’s rotating global cuisines. Like the overall design of the space, the custom lighting was simultaneously sophisticated (the interior of the tubes are gold leafed) and a tad rough around the edges (the exterior gunmetal finish was created just for this fixture). Boyd’s expert engineering resulted in a lighting effect that not only highlights the culinary art below, but also the floral mural on the wall thanks to a 45 degree angle in the tip of the tubes, whose small diameter is only large enough to hold a small LED.

Dave Darling told Architectural Record magazine “The idea was to create a raw shell, with a mediating layer, and a few carefully placed elements." (Read the full article.) 

The Honors

The fixtures may look simple, but combined with the other thoughtful interiors, the result is pretty cool – scratch that - modern, just like Boyd Lighting, Aidlin Darling Design, Chef Corey Lee, Snøhetta and SFMOMA itself. The players are already receiving awards:

  • Wood Design & Building Awards - Honor Award
  • Society of America Registered Architects - Interior Architecture Honor Award
  • Architects Newspaper Design Awards - Best Of Design Award for Retail / Hospitality
  • Interior Design Magazine Best of Year Awards - Best Of Year
  • Eater Award - 2016 Chef of the Year to Chef Corey Lee  

With this much award-winning talent involved, we can’t wait to see where In Situ and SFMOMA take the people of San Francisco and all who visit her.

The food becomes the final art in the space.
— Dave Darling, told to Architectural Record magazine