MoMA taps DS+R for expansion

MoMA taps DS+R for expansion

By: Scott Henson

Robin Pogrebin reports for The New York Times on the latest developments in MoMA’s expansion and the future of Williams & Tsien’s AFAM.

AFTER impassioned protests from prominent architects, preservationists and design critics, the Museum of Modern Art said on Thursday that it would reconsider its decision to demolish its next-door neighbor, the former home of the American Folk Art Museum, to make room for an expansion.

In a board meeting on Thursday morning, the directors were told that a board committee had selected the design firm Diller Scofidio & Renfro to handle the expansion and to help determine whether to keep any of the existing structure.

“We’re going to try to create the best building we can create,” Jerry I. Speyer, the real estate developer and MoMA chairman, said in an interview. “Whether we include Folk Art or not, as is, is an open question.”

That question, MoMA said, will be guided by the extension’s architects. “The principals of Diller Scofidio & Renfro have asked that they be given the time and latitude to carefully consider the entirety of the site, including the former American Folk Art Museum building, in devising an architectural solution to the inherent challenges of the project,” said Glenn D. Lowry, MoMA’s director, in a memo sent on Thursday to his trustees and staff. “We readily agreed to consider a range of options, and look forward to seeing their results.”

In a statement, the Diller firm, which was responsible for the redevelopment of Lincoln Center’s campus, said MoMA had granted its request for “the time and flexibility to explore a full range of programmatic, spatial and urban options.”

“These possibilities include, but are not limited to, integrating the former American Folk Art Museum building, designed by our friends and admired colleagues, Tod Williams and Billie Tsien,” the statement continued.

In its original announcement last month, MoMA officials said the former Folk Art building needed to be razed because its opaque facade did not fit in with the glass aesthetic of the rest of the museum, and because the floors would not align.

One person involved in the plans, who was not authorized to comment and therefore spoke on condition of anonymity, said that MoMA was still likely to arrive at the same conclusion.

“Everybody likes the building, but it’s hard to keep it — the floors don’t line up,” the person said. “If I showed you the plans, you would say, ‘I don’t know how to do it.’ “

The Folk Art building, at 45 West 53rd Street, was well received when it opened in 2001, partly for its striking bronze facade and partly because it signaled the city’s recovery from Sept. 11. But the museum was also criticized as a cramped place in which to view art, because of its narrow galleries.

The MoMA expansion would consist of five buildings, including an 82-story residential tower just west of the folk museum. Designed by the French architect Jean Nouvel, the high-rise is being developed by Hines, a Houston company, and will also include exhibition space for the museum.

The museum’s initial decision to raze the building stirred dismay from its architects, Mr. Williams and Ms. Tsien. “I do think it’s a one-of-a-kind building and I’m sorry that it couldn’t become part of MoMA’s collection,” Ms. Tsien said in an interview at the time.

Ms. Tsien and Mr. Williams were traveling in Egypt on Thursday and unavailable for comment.

Many prominent architects joined the outcry, including Richard Meier, Thom Mayne, Steven Holl, Hugh Hardy and Robert A. M. Stern. They added their names to a letter written by the Architectural League of New York, a nonprofit organization, and signed by members of its board of directors.

“The Museum of Modern Art — the first museum with a permanent curatorial department of architecture and design — should provide more information about why it considers it necessary to tear down this significant work of contemporary architecture,” the letter said. “The public has a substantial and legitimate interest in this decision, and the Museum of Modern Art has not yet offered a compelling justification for the cultural and environmental waste of destroying this much-admired, highly distinctive 12-year-old building.”

Many architecture critics also objected. “If a commercial developer were to tear down a small, idiosyncratic and beautifully wrought museum in order to put up a deluxe glass box, it would be attacked as a venal and philistine act,” wrote Justin Davidson in New York magazine. “When a fellow museum does the same thing, it’s even worse — it’s a form of betrayal.”

MoMA’s 2004 renovation, designed by the Japanese architect Yoshio Taniguchi, increased the museum’s gallery space, but the museum said it still needs more room for exhibitions.

The expansion is expected to give the museum about 10,000 square feet of additional gallery space at the former folk art site and about 40,000 in the Nouvel building. The Modern wants its second, fourth and fifth floors to line up with those in the other two buildings. (The second-floor galleries are double height.)

The content of these new galleries and the cost of the project are still to be determined, MoMA has said.

The folk art museum had hoped the location next to MoMA would help stimulate its growth. But it struggled and ended up selling the property to MoMA to pay off $32 million it borrowed to finance an expansion. The folk art museum now operates at a smaller site on Lincoln Square, at West 66th Street.

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