Rage against the machine

Wednesday 17 Apr 2013

Plans to demolish American Folk Art Museum because it ‘doesn't fit with the museum’s plans...and MoMA’s glass aesthetic'

The news this week that the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) plans to demolish the building that formerly housed the American Folk Art Museum designed by Tod Williams + Bille Tsien to grow its galleries is a blow to modern architecture. Sadly, New York will lose a signature work of architecture that has no equal in the city.

Built in 2011, the small and sculptural building with its bronze, puzzle-like facade is an icon of modern architecture and a building that has been honored with countless design awards, including the Best Building in the World Award, given it by the Royal Institute of British Architects’ (RIBA) World Architecture magazine.

What’s most shocking about it all is that the building’s fatal blow will dealt not by someone who doesn’t know any better, as is often the case when modern buildings are razed, but by an institution whose very mission it is to champion modern art and architecture and educate others of its value.

MoMA purchased the building not long after the American Folk Art Museum moved out because with mounting debt it could not afford to keep the building it commissioned. MoMA officials told the New York Times it decided to demolish the building because it ‘doesn’t fit with the museum’s plans and because its opaque facade is not in keeping with MoMA’s glass aesthetic.

MoMA director, Glenn Lowry added that the building’s setbacks and floor plates do not match those of MoMA’s properties, which would make it difficult to have a seamless connection between the two buildings. But Lowry’s statement is at best opinion, as the building has not been properly studied by an architect to see if and how it could be integrated into MoMA’s facilities. In my opinion deserves at least that!

Suggestions for reusing the building include making it a home for the museum’s Department of Architecture and Design. It was Lowry who broke the news of the building’s demise to its designers, Tod William and Billie Tsien, paying them a visit at their studio. ‘We are really disappointed’, Tsein told the Times, who likened this and other buildings created by the practice to their ‘children’. Architects outraged by the decision are calling for a temporary stay of demolition for the building so the matter can be further studied and a better solution sought.

Writing about the situation in an article subtitled The Six Ironies of a Bad Decision, Cathleen McQuigan, the Editor of Architectural Record magazine reminded us that Williams and Tsien were among the architects that MoMA tapped for its expansion project, which was ultimately designed by Taniguchi. Another architect tapped for that commission was Rem Koolhaas, who in submitting his design for the expansion project labeled the drawings ‘MoMA Inc.’

Perhaps Koolhaas got it right!

Sharon McHugh
US Correspondent

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