GLAMi nomination: “Building for Art” Immersive Audio Walk

nominated by: Stephanie Pau, SFMOMA, USA
institution: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
category: Exhibition Media or Experience

Figure 1: App users initiate the SFMOMA app’s “Sync” feature to listen to the Building for Art Immersive Walk in tandem. Photograph: Frankly, Green + Webb.
Figure 2: An app user peers inside of the fourth floor seismic gap window, which was specially installed to support the Building for Art Immersive Walk experience. Photograph: Frankly, Green + Webb

SFMOMA’s new mobile app combines indoor positioning with outstanding narrative content to create a range of immersive stories that reflect on and interact with the visitor’s surroundings. Development of innovative new audio content–over 20 hours of media at launch–has been essential to the mobile app’s success in allowing visitors to stay observant–keeping their heads up and devices in their pockets–and to be continually engaged with the art, the building, and each other. The app features a new breed of guided narratives that take visitors through the museum’s seven floors of galleries and public spaces, as well as onto the surrounding streets of San Francisco. These 15–45 minute Immersive Walks feature a range of fascinating and unexpected hosts, including high-wire walker Philippe Petit, Academy Award-winning documentarian Errol Morris, and comedians Martin Starr and Kumail Nanjiani from HBO’s “Silicon Valley”. Production values are akin to those of “This American Life” or “Radio Lab”, with richly layered soundtracks accompanying personal narratives.

Our submission in the Exhibition Media or Experience category is “Building for Art”, an Immersive Walk through all seven floors of the new SFMOMA, which reopened in May 2016 following the completion of a 235,000-square foot addition designed by the architecture firm Snøhetta. When launching the app and navigating to the “Immersive Walks” menu, visitors are greeted with the following description of the tour: “You came to see the art, and SFMOMA’s new building is designed to help you do that. Join Avery Trufelman, a producer with the popular design podcast ‘99% Invisible’, on a walking exploration of SFMOMA’s building, from 1995 to its newly expanded present. Together, you’ll climb hidden stairways, glimpse secret views, and meet a host of designers, artists, and thinkers along the way.”

Traditionally, museum audio tours have by default featured voices from within the institution – curators, scholars, and art historians. However, SFMOMA’s new audio content engages with a wide variety of artists, makers, thinkers, and community members from a range fields and perspectives. Featured voices on “Building for Art” include Craig Dykers (principal at Snøhetta), Mario Botta (architect of the original 1995 building), Peter Samis, Aaron Dorf, Lara Kaufman, Sam Brisette, Neda Mostafavi, Ruth Berson, Brice Marden, and Wayne Thiebaud.

At SFMOMA, we installed physical infrastructure that would foster magical encounters for app users. For example, in “Building for Art”, we installed windows that allowed visitors to peer into a “seismic gap” that joins the 1995 and 2016 buildings, and ran an electric bulb to light its otherwise pitch-black interior.

Please note that for the purposes of the award application I have submitted a 31-minute linear bounce. However, when experienced in situ, the duration will vary according to the app user’s walking pace.

Project Credits:

  • Executive Producer: Stephanie Pau with SFMOMA
  • Narrator: Avery Trufelman of “99% Invisible”
  • Other voices (in order of appearance): Craig Dykers, Mario Botta, Peter Samis, Aaron Dorf, Lara Kaufman, Sam Brisette, Neda Mostafavi, Ruth Berson, Brice Marden, Wayne Thiebaud (courtesy of KQED)
  • Scriptwriter and Producer: Marianne McCune with Detour
  • Executive Editors: Stephanie Pau and Jennifer Dunlop Fletcher with SFMOMA
  • Music: Seth Samuel
  • Sound Design: Andrew Roth