Feast Your Eyes On SF MoMA's Modern Architecture Print Series

Architect-turned-artist Michael Murphy celebrates a less-well-known archetype of San Francisco design, and the result is nothing short of magnificent.

Image By Michael Murphy / SFMoMA "This is an earlier version of the orange print. It may have sold out already - it was running low, so I changed the color scheme and did another run." 

Michael Murphy didn't set out to force Victorians to share the spotlight, but: surprise! That's what he's doing.

A (South) San Francisco boy by birth, Murphy grew up with a kid's eye view of the city. And as kids will, he didn't necessarily gravitate toward the conventional view of what makes this city unique. Victorian architecture is nice and all, but when you're a kid, your imagination is likely to be more fired-up by things that look like rockets, robots and moon colonies. You know: like Sutro Tower, quarter-powered binoculars at tourist sites, and sleek, sturdy white boxes. 

He left the state to college, then returned for a graduate degree in architecture. Over the next 15 years or so, he traveled the globe, living in London and Ireland and helping to design a wide variety of useful and beautiful buildings. 

Upon his return in 2008, the job market was – shall we say – suddenly very challenging. For fun, he began sketching the buildings he held so dear, and that had been emphasized so strongly in architecture school. Which led to a show at AIA, which was seen by two buyers from the SF MoMA gift shop, which led to this series

"Of course Victorian architecture is beautiful," he says. "But there is modern stuff here, too – a lot of it – and there are aspects of it that are quite specific to here." For instance, "There was one thing I hadn't noticed until I came back here: There's such an inside-outside connection. The Bay Area has these open-air corridors, going up some stairs into the house; there's an extended period of transition, as you enter then house, when you're inside, yet still outside." He cites Eichlers as a great example, but certainly not the only one: "He took the ancient idea of an atrium, and made it fresh and new, and they are fantastic spaces."

This series of images captures the boundless confidence of the midcentury period. "There is an illustrator from New York named David Klein, and in the '50s and '60s he did these travel posters for TWA." Their styles are different, Murphy says, but he took inspiration from "the sprit of these posters – so optimistic and fun. It's a nod to the period, which is what you're talking about when you talk about modernism." You may notice Klein's airplane zooming through the sky in many of Murphy's prints – a playful homage.

Though it seems like he must have worked from photos, Murphy starts with sketches (sometimes followed up with trips to Google Street View to confirm dimensions or details). Then he drafts them with a CAD program, "as I would for any architectural project," and has them produced on Somerset Velvet using archival inks. Each is a limited, signed, numbered run. So, you know. Better order your favorite before they sell out for the holidays.


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