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MoMA Unveils Its Glassy Redesign, Will Raze Folk Art Museum

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Followers of MoMA's long-awaited expansion plans have some reprieve. Yesterday starchitects Diller, Scofidio + Renfro released three renderings and details that further illuminate the museum's future aesthetic (glassy) and layout (large). The plans also reveal that the contemporary art powerhouse will, in fact, raze the American Folk Art Museum, a 53rd Street neighbor with a Tod Williams Billie Tsien-designed bronze facade that architects, preservationists, archicritics, and other vocal supporters fought to save after the modern art powerhouse bought it up in 2011 and announced its plans to demolish last year. Advocates remained hopeful that MoMA would not tear down what one critic called a post-9/11 "Midtown icon"—a grassroots campaign even got DS+R and officials to consider how to incorporate it—but MoMA director Glenn D. Lowry said yesterday that a teardown was the only option.

The former museum is set to house a 15,500-square-foot "Art Bay" with exhibition and performance space above. As part of the entire renovation, which totals 100,500 square feet, MoMA will build a retractable glass wall, more new gallery space, and open its entire first floor, sculpture garden included, free to the public via a new entrance. The lobby will also get enlarged. Construction will begin this spring or summer with the goal to finish in 2018 or 2019. A price tag for the overhaul wasn't announced.

The Journal clearly lays out the details of what will rise in the ill-fated museum's spot at 43 West 53rd Street: "At street level, pedestrians will encounter a three-story-high exhibition space fronted by a glass wall that can slide upward to make the space completely open to the sidewalk, inviting visitors into a ticket-free area that serves as a new entry point for the museum. As an alternative, the floor of this space can be raised one story to allow people to walk from the sidewalk down stairs to a below-ground performance area. The top of this new structure would be occupied by a two-story-high art gallery that can be converted into a black-box theater for performance-art events."

Tod Williams Billie Tsien issued an official response to the move, which expressed dismay that MoMA could not find a way to incorporate their edifice, which only opened in 2001: "This action represents a missed opportunity to find new life and purpose for a building that is meaningful to so many. ... Demolishing this human‐scaled, uniquely crafted building is a loss to the city of New York in terms of respecting the size, diversity and texture of buildings in a midtown neighborhood that is at risk of becoming increasingly homogenized."

MoMA and DS+R, for their parts, defended their decision.

"The plans approved today are the result of a recommendation from the architects after a diligent and thoughtful six-month study and design process that explored all options for the site," said Lowry. "The analysis that we undertook was lengthy and rigorous, and ultimately led us to the determination that creating a new building on the site of the former American Folk Art Museum is the only way to achieve a fully integrated campus." Architects tried to reconcile the misaligned floors (off-kilter with the levels of MoMA's existing space) as well as considered putting a connecting bridge between the former folk art museum and Jean Nouvel's resurrected Tower Verre, which will rise to its west and have several floors of galleries at its base. (Confused? The Times has a helpful full-block map.) But alas. "It's not for lack of trying that we find ourselves at the same pass," principal Elizabeth Diller told the NYT. "We can't find a way to save the building."

Of course, archicritics (who united, atypically, against the demolition plans last year, "in no-uncertain terms called the decision unnecessary, wrong, and even philistine") have weighed in this time around. For one, Paul Goldberger over at Vanity Fair called the move "a fatal mistake." NY Mag's Justin Davidson, though, believes DS+R would have saved the structure if they could:

The architects who are designing this destructive expansion ... understand perfectly what they're doing, and it causes them genuine grief. They tried all sorts of contortions to fit the quirky little thing into the juggernaut that is MoMA, and I accept their claim that if they couldn't do it, nobody could. The connective tissue between one structure and the next would have created disfiguring scars, the mechanical apparatus on top would have occluded the lovely skylights, and the idiosyncratic staircase would have to have been amputated in any case. By the time the architects were done tinkering with their old friends' creation, it would have been so bastardized that there was little point in keeping the remains. In an architectural version of the battlefield paradox, DS+R would have had to destroy the building in order to save it. Judging from the flurry of reaction and heated discussion under the Twitter hashtag #FolkMoMA—mostly outcries, but some resignation to the folk art museum's fate, and others trying to see past that injustice to assess DS+R's overall design—the debate is far from over even as this difficult final decision has been handed down. The Times story on the subject, for example, has attracted 109 comments, and that's just the beginning. For those who are interested, there is tons of further reading on the topic.
· Ambitious Redesign of MoMA Doesn't Spare a Notable Neighbor [NYT]
· Razing Williams and Tsien's folk art museum building is "only option" says MoMa director [Dezeen]
· Davidson: MoMA Reveals Its Expansion Plans—and the Fate of the American Folk Art Museum [Vulture]
· MoMA to demolish Folk Art Museum building despite acclaimed design, critics' rage [NYDN]
· MoMA to Raze Folk Art Museum Building [WSJ]
· Expanding the Museum of Modern Art Footprint, But at a Price [Architect Magazine via Archinect]
· Tod Williams and Billie Tsien Respond to DS+R Plan to Tear Down Folk Art Building at MoMA [Architect's Newspaper]
· All American Folk Art Museum coverage [Curbed]
· All MoMA coverage [Curbed]