Contemporary Jewish Museum

San Francisco, California, USA


Studio Libeskind designed this new museum in the heart of downtown San Francisco as an ode to dialogue, inserting its angled, glowing blue steel-clad structure within a historic red brick power plant from the 19th century.

The building design is based on the two Hebrew letters spelling “L’Chaim,” which means “To Life.” Following the Jewish tradition, according to which letters are not mere signs, but substantial participants in the story they create, the ‘chet’ provides an overall continuity for the exhibition and educational spaces, and the ‘yud,’ with its 36 windows, serves as special exhibition, performance and event space.

The forms of the addition are clad in luminous blue steel panels, finished in a unique cross-hatching surface that helps to diffuse and soften the reflection of light off the stainless steel. The panels change color depending on the time of day, the weather, and the viewer’s position, creating a dynamic, living surface.

The 2,500-square-foot grand lobby is a dynamic entryway that transforms into a forum for special programs; the dramatic contrast between the old and new is evident.  Spanning its length is a wall upon which the letters ‘‘PaRDeS’ have been embedded and illuminated to refer to the Kabbalistic practice of discovering four distinct levels of meaning within religious writings.  The museum’s philosophy—and its architecture—likewise embraces the idea of multiple interpretations and layers of meaning in life and art.

The project was completed in 2008.



2009 – Outstanding Project Award from the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE),
2008 – Building of America Award by Real Estate Construction and Review, USA