MoMA Pivots on American Folk Art Museum

The American Folk Art Museum (left) and the Museum of Modern Art (right).
JyChen / Flickr

Amid a firestorm of controversy surrounding the planned demolition of the Tod Williams Billie Tsien-designed American Folk Art Museum (AFAM) building, the Museum of Modern Art, which purchased the Folk Art building, announced today that it has selected Diller Scofidio + Renfro to plan the future of the site. The firm will take on the task of connecting the Yoshio Taniguchi-designed MoMA building to a new tower designed by Jean Nouvel.

In a statement, Diller Scofidio + Renfro (DS+R) indicated the possibility that the Folk Art Museum building could be retained as a part of their project. “DS+R has exhibited within MoMA’s walls since 1989 and now we’ve been invited to rethink the museum’s walls. This is a complex project that also involves issues of urban interface, concerns that are central to our studio. We have asked MoMA, and they have agreed, to allow us the time and flexibility to explore a full range of programmatic, spatial, and urban options. These possibilities include, but are not limited to, integrating the former American Folk Art Museum building, designed by our friends and admired colleagues, Tod Williams and Billie Tsien.”

Much of the architecture community has rallied to save Williams’ and Tsien’s building. Editorials condemning MoMA’s demolition plans have appeared in these pages, Architecture Record, Architect, New York Magazine, The New York Review of Books, and other outlets. Online petitions and crowd-sourced alternative proposals have also proliferated. The Architectural League of New York took the rare step of sending a letter to MoMA director Glenn Lowry, asking the museum of reconsider the demolition. Richard Meier, Steven Holl, Robert A. M. Stern, and many other prominent architects signed the letter.

In an article in the Times, unnamed MoMA officials cited the opacity of the Folk Art building’s facades and the non-alignment of the building’s floor plates with MoMA’s own as reasons for the AFAM demolition. In a memo to staff and trustees sent today, Lowry took a decidedly more open-ended tone. “Beginning this month, Diller Scofidio + Renfro will work with us to design a plan that will integrate the Museum’s current building with the property of the former American Folk Art Museum and the residential tower being developed by Hines. The principals of Diller Scofidio + Renfro have asked that they be given the time and latitude to carefully consider the entirety of the site, including the former American Folk Art Museum building, in devising an architectural solution to the inherent challenges of the project. We readily agreed to consider a range of options, and look forward to seeing their results.”

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