In an effort to “build the right museum,” officials with the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and Snøhetta, the architectural firm leading expansion plans, have unveiled sweeping and dramatic changes for the planned new wing of the museum, scheduled for a 2016 opening.

But as amazing as the architecture and design is, SFMOMA Executive Director Neil Benezra said there is more to expansion than meets the eye.

“We are trying to expand the impact we have on the community,” he said. “We want to involve kids, we want to involve school programs, we want to reach the community. This is not just about the galleries.”

Benezra said along with the expansion plans, the new Transbay Terminal and new housing and retail projects in the area will make this a hub for locals and tourists alike in the South of Market neighborhood.

Snøhetta, which is working with EHDD Architecture of San Francisco on the expansion project, has grand designs for the new wing.

“This is a place where architecture and function will be married together,” said Craig Dykers with Snøhetta. “We will have new access points. And we also want visitors to be able to see the art from the moment they walk in, to see the art from eye-level and also from above and below.”

Dykers said among the things they are looking to do is “rise the mass of the building off the ground.” New entrances will make the museum accessible from all directions. But that left Dykers and his team with a quandry. “We wanted to give everyone the same experience when they came in, no matter which access point it was from,” he said. “So we have a central gathering place planned, which will not only help with circulation of people throughout the museum, but also as a public entry point to all of the galleries.”

New proposed staircase

The design will integrate the current Mario Botta-designed building with the new Snøhetta expansion into one seamless facility. Gone will be the original three-story staircase from the Botta atrium. Among the additions will be two outdoor terraces and a new sculpture garden. And the galleries will all be on the lower floors as the project designers want to “bring the art closer to the ground level.”

Dykers said one of the most important inclusions in the expansion project is its focus on education. “There will be a dedicated entry for students on Minna Street. Like every other aspect of the building, students will be able to have the same experience that other visitors have by going from the lobby to the new educational hub. There will also be places throughout the museum for educational purposes. We want to give students the same experiences and not have them feel out of place when they come to the museum.”

Perhaps the most visually appealing aspect of the new building will be its exterior, which will be built with a crafted concrete. Visitors will be able to see almost a ripple effect on certain walls which will depend on the sunlight and time of day you visit.

Ripple Tile Exterior

The 235,000-square-foot expansion is scheduled for a Summer of 2013 groundbreaking during which the current museum will be closed for an unspecified time. But Benezra said they will take much of the artwork and displays on a traveling tour of the city, further building that community bond.

Officials are currently at 79 percent of the capital campaign goal and have raised that goal from $480 million to $555 million.