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Amid Criticism, Architect Defends MoMA Plan As 'Only Option'

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Emotions ran high during a Tuesday night presentation and panel discussion on MoMA's unpopular move to raze the 12-year-old American Folk Art Museum as part of their ongoing expansion plan (and its subsequent justification for its decision). The heated discussion, sponsored by the Architectural League of New York, the Municipal Art Society, and the American Institute of Architects in New York, centered around the disparity between form and function when it came to integrating the folk art museum into the ambitious plans for MoMA's new facilities and the alleged short-sightedness of MoMA's resolve to demolish. Despite all of the opposition, "I'm concerned by the speed with which this has happened," panelist Cathleen McGuigan, editor in chief of Architectural Record, said. "[MoMA director] Glenn Lowry says things might be torn down by June."

In an attempt to further convince the room that razing the American Folk Art Museum is the "only option," architect Elizabeth Diller of Diller Scofidio + Renfro, known for her work on the High Line, spoke in relative depth about the idiosyncrasy between floor heights throughout MoMA—with its many double-height galleries—and how that doesn't jive with the folk art museum's layout. She explained that the decision to tear down the museum was not made lightly, and that all options, including ramps bridging the folk art museum and MoMA, were considered. However, both Diller and MoMA feel that in order to join the two museums together, too much of what makes them architecturally significant would be lost.

Some of the panelists, though, didn't buy her rationalization. "The hope is that you would take your responsibility to the building as seriously as you take your responsibility to your discipline," said panelist and architectural advisor Karen Stein.

In rethinking the meaning of preservation, panelist Jorge Otero-Pailos, an associate professor at Columbia's architecture school, noted the distinct olfactory signature of the American Folk Art Museum, and how it could be integrated into the new MoMA space as another form of preservation. (Yes, that does mean making it smell musty like the old museum.) When Lowry later acknowledged that he took Otero-Pailos's odor-related suggestion seriously, the room audibly guffawed.

But the discussion did circle back to serious topics, and opposition continued to be clearly voiced throughout the evening. One zinger of particular note: "I'd expect Walmart to tear down the building if they owned it," fired Stein, the architectural advisor, "but I'd expect better from MoMA."
· MoMA Unveils Its Glassy Redesign, Will Raze Folk Art Museum [Curbed]
· 6 'Deeply Unsatisfying' Quotes From MoMA Expansion Architect [Curbed]
· Archicritic: MoMA, Like Extell, Aims To 'Gobble Up Property' [Curbed]
· All American Folk Art Museum coverage [Curbed]