Building for the Future: A Work in Progress
The Museum of Modern Art is committed to being the most welcoming museum in New York, and to bringing art and people together more effectively than ever before. A major new building project will expand MoMA’s public spaces and galleries, allowing the Museum to reconceive the presentation of its collection and exhibitions and offer a more open, accessible, and engaging experience.
For the past six months, we have been working with the renowned architectural firm Diller Scofidio + Renfro to develop a plan to integrate the current building with two adjoining sites into which the Museum is expanding: three floors of a residential tower being developed by Hines, and the site of the former American Folk Art Museum. After a lengthy and rigorous analysis to determine if the former museum could be incorporated into the expansion, we have concluded that MoMA’s programmatic objectives could not be met without severely impacting the original American Folk Art Museum building. The degree to which the building would lose its identity, and the level of compromise to the MoMA program, made saving it infeasible. On the site, DS+R proposes flexible alternative spaces that provide access to art directly from the street.
So what does this building project mean for the MoMA community? MoMA will offer free admission to its entire ground floor—including The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden, an expanded and reorganized entrance hall, and a new glass-walled gallery for contemporary art and performance that opens directly onto 53rd Street. With 40,000 square feet of new galleries providing 30% more space for experiencing MoMA’s collection and exhibitions, we’ll be able to expand our programming, present recent acquisitions, and bring together works from all mediums in new and unexpected ways.
With reimagined and expanded spaces for its ever-changing exhibitions, performances, films, and educational programs, MoMA will provide an even more enlivening and participatory experience, a space for both contemplation and conversation. This vision will be fully realized over the coming years, and we will share more information here as our plans develop.
Great art museums not only contain exemplary works of art, they are also places where—in a single visit—surprise, learning, and reflection come together in a liberating set of experiences. They link contemplation and conversation, quiet and excitement. This is especially true for museums of modern and contemporary art that embrace today’s most daring artists while also providing contexts for understanding and enjoying this art. As The Museum of Modern Art looks to the future, it is committed to these dual responsibilities and to expanding and enhancing its galleries to better bring art and people together. Our goal is to provide visitors with the pleasure of finding their own meaning within a singularly inclusive constellation of 20th and 21st century artistic practices.
A walk through the Museum’s expanded and reconceived galleries, in combination with a wide range of interpretive programs, will offer engaging ways of linking the past to the present through exposure to radical ideas that bloomed in the late 19th century and continue to challenge conventional thinking today. The new Museum of Modern Art will be a place where you discover the most creative artists from around the world, revealing ideas that make you think and feel differently; a place where you can intimately study a collage, musical score, or video short, and also create your own; a place that encourages a sense of engagement with what is happening around the world, whether you are at the Museum, at home, or at work; a place where you can enjoy art at your own pace, alone or with family and friends; a place that is at once subversive and affirming; and a place that, with its changing exhibitions, performances, films, and educational programs, never feels the same.
Enlivening and participatory, the new MoMA will be a place for people of all ages and experiences to share their thoughts and questions with each other. It is a place for conversation, and a place for many stories.
To help realize this vision, we are working with Diller Scofidio + Renfro, a highly talented architectural firm in New York City. The architects are developing a comprehensive plan for the current building and for two additional sites adjacent to the western end of the Museum, into which we are expanding: three floors of a residential tower being developed by Hines, at 53 West 53 Street, and the site of the former American Folk Art Museum. The plans include new gallery space on three floors within the tower, and a new building on the site of the former museum. The complexity of the overall project, which must integrate these different locations and their varied spaces, presents major design challenges. The architects have been exploring the site holistically, with the goal of generating as many options as possible for achieving a thoughtfully resolved set of galleries and public spaces for the Museum. After a lengthy and rigorous analysis to determine if the former museum could be incorporated into the expansion, we have concluded that MoMA’s programmatic objectives could not be met without severely impacting the original American Folk Art Museum building. The degree to which the building would lose its identity, and the level of compromise to the MoMA program, made saving it infeasible. We asked Diller Scofidio + Renfro to make The Museum of Modern Art the most welcoming museum in New York; to build upon the sequence of galleries created by Yoshio Taniguchi in 2004—without replicating them—to maximize the variety of spaces for presenting our collection; and to ensure that the Museum is more directly woven into the dynamic urban fabric of midtown Manhattan. On the site of the former museum, DS+R proposes flexible alternative spaces that provide access to art directly from the street.
Imagine The Museum of Modern Art with its entire ground floor, including The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden, reconceived as an inviting space with free admission. An expanded and reorganized entrance hall, and a new flexible, double-height glass-walled gallery for contemporary art and performance—opening directly onto 53rd Street—will offer visitors myriad opportunities for unexpected encounters with both iconic sculptures from the past and artists in the process of making new work. These experiences will serve as an exciting introduction to the remarkable range of MoMA’s programs. In advance of these plans, the Museum will increase free public access to the Sculpture Garden later this year.
With 40,000 square feet of new galleries providing 30% more space for experiencing the collection, which has grown significantly in the past decade, the Museum’s programming will expand accordingly. In addition to iconic works in the Museum’s renowned collection of modern art, we will be able to show transformative acquisitions made in the last decade, drawing from entire collections including contemporary drawings, Fluxus, and Conceptual art, and the archives of Frank Lloyd Wright. Major recent acquisitions by renowned artists such as Matthew Barney, Louise Bourgeois, Marcel Broodthaers, Paul Chan, Lygia Clark, David Hammons, Rachel Harrison, Zoe Leonard, Steve McQueen, Bruce Nauman, Robert Rauschenberg, Gerhard Richter, Mira Schendel, Richard Serra, Sophie Taeuber-Arp, and Cy Twombly, among others, will join the work of many artists new to the collection, enabling MoMA to better share the expansive—and ever-expanding—story of modern and contemporary art. Works from all mediums, including architecture, design, drawings, film, media, painting, performance, photography, prints, and sculpture, will be brought together in carefully choreographed sequences that present the creative frictions and influences that spring from seeing all the disciplines together.
Our goal is to ensure the continued dynamism of the Museum’s unparalleled collection while making the Museum a more open, accessible, and engaging place, one where questions are prized and the diversity of ideas raised by modern and contemporary artists becomes a greater and more resonant part of people’s daily lives.
This vision will be fully realized over the coming years, and there is much work ahead of us. As the architectural and curatorial plans for the Museum’s expansion project develop, we will share more information here. I hope that you will join us as this remarkable transformation unfolds, and we look forward to hearing from you.
Glenn D. Lowry
The Museum of Modern Art has undergone several sweeping expansions since its founding in 1929. By contrast, we are in the planning stages of perhaps MoMA's most restrained and surgical transformation, yet one that represents a significant shift in the priorities of the institution.
Our work has been guided by several aspirations to make MoMA an even better museum. We believe the expansion should provide high-quality exhibition space that allows more of MoMA's greatest asset—its vast collection of modern and contemporary art—to be publicly accessible. The new exhibition spaces will enable the museum to move beyond the limitations of current medium-specific galleries and bring together works across disciplines, in keeping with contemporary artistic practices and evolving curatorial objectives. In addition, we want to create a better cultural interface with the city, bringing art closer to the street and allowing the museum to be more spontaneous, to improve visitor flow and enhance the museum experience for everyone.
The project’s complexity stems from the layered histories of the site and the necessary engagement with multiple new and existing buildings, the most sensitive being the former American Folk Art Museum building designed by Tod Williams and Billie Tsien. Although MoMA had announced the building’s demolition before we became involved in the expansion, we actively challenged the decision and asked for six months of time to find a viable reuse alternative. MoMA agreed on two conditions: that we resolve the physical connection to 34,000 square feet of new galleries in the adjacent Hines tower, and that we utilize the Folk Art building for MoMA's program.
Providing the best adaptation of the AFAM while limiting the physical impact to the building was a great challenge. The 40-foot-wide Folk Art building was conceived as a winding display with five different stairwells, multistory vertical voids, and partial floor plates totaling only 3,500 net square feet of single-height space above grade. We tried to preserve these character-defining features, but our various reuse schemes did not include enough usable surface area for new educational and curatorial programs—one of MoMA’s key conditions. In order to address this deficiency, the AFAM had to lose the central grand stair and skylight, which anchor the AFAM’s organization and its distinguishing stairs, voids, and customized details. Additionally, to accommodate basic circulation links to the Hines tower, the facade would have to be entirely dismounted and reattached to a new steel armature. In the end, after six months of lengthy and rigorous work, we could not fulfill the museum’s requirement for a functional use of the AFAM without depriving the building of its architectural identity.
As strong advocates of adaptive reuse, our studio has successfully realigned rich pieces of New York's built history with new programming and audiences, extending the relevance of both the High Line and large parts of Lincoln Center. Unfortunately, despite our best efforts to save the AFAM, we could not find a way to repurpose its very small and idiosyncratic spaces to meet the demands of the shifting program around it. While we were ultimately unable to reverse MoMA’s original decision to demolish the building, we are confident our study left no stone unturned and that it was carried out with the creative determination that such an important task deserves.
We presented our efforts for adaptive reuse of the AFAM building in greater detail at a forum co-hosted by the Architectural League, AIA, and Municipal Arts Society at the New York Society for Ethical Culture on January 28. A video of that discussion is available here.
We remain committed to the larger goal of improving MoMA for everyone. The overall plan will expand collections and temporary galleries on MoMA's second, fourth, and fifth floors and outfit them with state-of-the-art capabilities in all media. On the site of the former AFAM building, flexible spaces will serve new programming. This includes a street-level gallery devoted to experimental artwork, similar to MoMA’s former ground-floor Projects Gallery. This space can be used for exhibitions and performances as well as improvised events.
Finally, changes to the ground floor will make the museum less congested and more welcoming: a new circulation network will knit together the expansion spaces with the existing main lobby, the Lauder lobby, the Titus film theaters, and The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden to create a contiguous, free public realm that bridges street to street and art to the city.
Diller Scofidio + Renfro
On January 28, the Architectural League, the Municipal Art Society, and the American Institute of Architects New York Chapter hosted a public conversation on The Museum of Modern Art's plan for expansion and the demolition of the former American Folk Art Museum building. The event included an introduction to the project by Glenn D. Lowry, MoMA's Director, and Ann Temkin, MoMA's Marie-Josée and Henry Kravis Chief Curator of Painting and Sculpture, as well as a presentation on the plan by Elizabeth Diller, principal architect of Diller Scofidio + Renfro, followed by a panel discussion on issues raised by the plan, moderated by Reed Kroloff, Director of the Cranbrook Academy. Panelists included Cathleen McGuigan, Editor-in-Chief of Architectural Record; Jorge Otero-Pailos, Associate Professor, Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, Columbia University; critic and writer Nicolai Ouroussoff; Stephen Rustow, Principal of Museoplan; and architectural advisor Karen Stein.
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