MoMA Reconsiders Razing Neighbor


Friday, May 10, 2013

What do you do when your favorite museum of contemporary art and design decides to destroy one of your favorite examples of contemporary design?

New Yorkers have asked themselves that question after the Museum of Modern Art recently announced that it would be razing its slight Manhattan neighbor, the building housing the Museum of American Folk Art. The Folk Art building, erected just 12 years ago, is considered one of the finest new buildings in the city, a gem by the husband-and-wife team of Tod Williams and Billie Tsien. The building is “about the beauty of craft, it has almost a hand-tooled feel to it,” says New York Times architecture critic Michael Kimmelman. “It’s unlike other buildings on the street and around New York. That sense of variety and surprise is part of what makes a street a wonderful place.”

The public outcry against a venerable institution seems to have surprised the board of MoMA. “Cultural institutions and boards become hermetically sealed,” he tells Kurt Andersen. “They listen to each other, persuade themselves of their own plans, and lose touch with the public [they] supposedly serve.”

The dominant philosophy among cultural institutions now is that “expansion is necessary, good, inevitable.” Kimmelman says that focus on growth and revenue was, in this case, tempered by a very vocal public. “It is a lesson,” Kimmelman says, “that it’s useful to speak up against very powerful institutions. Once in while, you win.”

What do you think? Are America's great museums too obsessed with growth and size?  Tell us in a comment below.

Comments [8]

Oddly enough, I have been to the MoMA many times and never saw the envelope of a building. I do not agree with temporary, large scale, projects as they are a waste of material and energy. On the other hand the building is not inviting. The facade shields, covers, and protects. It resembles a residential building by an introverted designer who hates people but lives among them.

Perhaps just alter the facade.

May. 17 2013 11:43 AM
David from Studio 360

DD -- thanks for your comment. Please note though that MoMA announced it is going to review its decision to tear down the building. There weren't a lot of details available yet for Kurt to discuss with Mr. Kimmelman in our segment, but they appear to be responding to criticisms like yours.

May. 12 2013 06:40 PM
DD from Salt Lake City, UT

I just heard what MOMA is up to now, and felt a rush of anger and sadness wash over me. Demolishing that folk art building is a truly terrible idea. I now hate MOMA. I normally take one of my many young family members to NYC each summer from Utah and intentionally treat them to a week or so of cultural events/venues they have never seen before. I will now encourage everyone I know (which is many folks in Colorado, Montana, Wyoming, Washington, Oregon, California, and Hawaii, to boycott MOMA.

May. 12 2013 02:24 PM
Peter D

I'm certainly not in favor of tearing down buildings every 12 year.
However I don't remember anyone calling this building a "jewel box" when it was built. In general it was thought of as a building indifferent to the street and the work displayed within. Moma is not exactly known for great buildings either. Their last reconstruction turned a fairly user friendly facility into another traffic congested mall.
Of course they could use the "williams/tsien masterpiece" as an elaborate gift shop, but they fear no one would ente itr.

May. 12 2013 11:07 AM
Donnajeanne Ettkin from /Chattanooga, TN

It seems to me they often fall prey to their sense of their own self-importance, believing they "know best."

May. 11 2013 04:27 PM
Dan Shockley

Really good point about these boards. I think they also easily are pulled by a desire to do something grandiose to make them seem important, rather than merely fulfilling their fiduciary duties and honoring the natural mission of the institutions they are supposed to serve. Another terrible example of that is the damage caused to Cooper Union by its Board of Trustees and Predident. They made terrible decisions based on an unnecessary desire for expansion, and now are attempting to "fix" the bad financial situation by destroying the mission of Cooper Union. Search for Free Cooper Union to read more about that and how the students are fighting back to save their school for the future.

May. 11 2013 10:39 AM

do we never learn. just demolish it. drive a bulldozer into it 'by accident'. it is inevitable. there is no room in our society for intelligence. just money.

May. 11 2013 07:24 AM
ned cherry

empirical question: would the architect designated to design the replacement for the folk art museum give a twit about how his/her empty site became empty? i fear not. architects by and large are extremely apolitical, and could care less about the history of a potential building site. having worked with many well known architects over a long period of time, including marcel breuer, antoine predock, ricardo legoretta, walter gropius (the exception) philip johnson/richard foster and hugh stubbins, i have seen too many instances of ego over rationality. no architect should even consider designing a replacement for the williams/tsien masterpiece.end of discussion.

ned cherry/new mexico architect

May. 10 2013 12:13 PM

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