Named for San Francisco newspaperman M. H. de Young, this building is a completely reworked redesign from the original museum, which opened in 1895 as an outgrowth of the California International Exposition of 1894. After the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989 which completely ravaged the original building's structure, the de Young board began working to fund a restructuring of the building, and the resulting winner of the competition for its redesign in the late 1990's was acclaimed Swiss architects, Jacques Herzog & Pierre de Meuron.
Herzog & de Meuron developed the idea of a variably perforated screen exterior which would mirror the green foliage and forestry of the surrounding Golden Gate Park, San Francisco's central park. The architects worked with Zahner whose engineers and software specialists developed a system which would allow unique perforation and patterned dimples, variably sized and placed thoughout the exterior. This included over 8000 unique panels whose collective whole formed the pattern of light through trees - literally. This was the first iteration of the Zahner Interpretive Relational Algorithmic Process, or the ZIRA™ Process.
At the time, this mosaic algorithmic process was emerging, but was undeveloped in the use of perforated and embossed metal. Zahner assembled a team of software developers and engineers to assist in this technological advancement.
The architects came up with a photo taken pointed up through the trees, and in several parts of the museum, light filters through the perforated system of holes, revealing shadows similar in shape and form to those of actual trees.