After four months of work behind closed doors, The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) is finally ready to reopen its main Manhattan museum to the public on Monday. Designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro (DS+R) in collaboration with Gensler, the multi-phased renovation and expansion adds one-third more gallery space to the institution’s 80-year-old complex on West 53rd Street and integrates it more seamlessly with the public realm. Since MoMA’s debut in its iconic, Philip L. Goodwin- and Edward Durell Stone-designed home, the museum has been physically inching closer and closer towards Sixth Avenue. Three individual extensions by Philip Johnson (1964), Cesar Pelli (1984), and Yoshio Taniguchi (2005) attempted to modernize the museum and keep it competitive, while also giving it increased room to display its permanent collection and rotating exhibitions. But these changes—in sheer size—pale in comparison to the massive new addition by DS+R and Gensler. The MoMA’s new David Geffen Wing came into existence following the demolition of the American Folk Art Museum and the construction of Jean Nouvel’s 53 West 53 in its place. The 950-foot-tall apartment tower next door now houses three levels of gallery space that adds an additional 11,500 square feet per floor to the older, eastern galleries—all of which are now connected and configured in a single loop. A central blade stair, visible from the street below, reveals activity and circulation within the building while signaling the separation between old and new. According to Charles Renfro, a partner at DS+R, the minimal and spacious design wasn’t meant to be a big, heroic gesture but help expand the museum naturally. “In order to make MoMA’s curatorial vision possible, our architectural intervention had to be quite stealthy in a lot of ways,” Renfro told AN. “We knew we couldn’t overwhelm those different building projects that have happened over the past almost 100 years, so we tried to work within the DNA of MoMA to advance a new concept of detail that reflects the 21st century.” Built out over the last three years, the $50 million renovations and $400 million expansion increased the museum's total footprint to 708,000 square feet. Approximately 165,000 square feet of that space is brand new, 40,000 square feet of which is used for galleries. Renfro said the design team was charged with making a more consolidated, borderless exhibition space that would help create a clear narrative within the museum and allow the curators to showcase various art disciplines. “The vision was to dissolve the media divisions that have guided the curatorial position since the beginning, merging up painting and sculpture with photography, film, design, and architecture,” he said. “We’re not service architects by any stretch of the imagination, but with MoMA what we’re trying to do is breathe a new kind of life of possibility into its curatorial direction.” These ideas of mixing and mingling materials—just like the art—extend down into MoMA’s new main lobby space as well. Its formerly dark and crowded front door on 53rd Street received a much-needed makeover by the design team in an effort to make it more welcoming and less confusing for visitors. DS+R and Gensler added a thin, stainless steel entrance canopy (supported by only a few cables, giving it a cantilevering appearance) to the facade to signal its presence on the street. They also introduced a glass curtain wall to make for a broad, light-filled lobby. As patrons walk by, they’ll be able to see the installations hanging from the double-height interior or on the walls of the adjacent street-level galleries. From the exterior, people will also get a new perspective of the 5,950-square-foot flagship museum store, which was sunken one level and is now accessible via a grand staircase. The floorplate cutout is a design move that adds new dimensions of depth to the museum’s public-facing spaces. Apart from any crowds inside, passersby should be able to see right through the lobby to 54th Street. The new ground-level galleries, like the lobby itself, will be free to the public.
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When MoMA debuted its Diller Scofidio + Renfro (DS+R)–led expansion and renovation plans in 2014, the reaction from the public was overwhelmingly negative. Those plans called for demolishing the Tod Williams and Billie Tsien–designed American Folk Art Museum and creating a glass curtain wall that would open MoMA's entire first floor to the public, for free. It's not the free part critics took issue with: It was the perceived chaos of the museum-goer experience and wholesale destruction of the folk art museum. MoMA took note, and pulled plans back. This week, revised plans were revealed. DS+R is still the architect (with Gensler), and the original objective—to create unfettered movement between galleries—remains. But a lot has also changed. Plans call for connecting galleries in Jean Nouvel’s planned residential tower at West 53rd Street, the new DS+R addition, galleries in the site of the former American Folk Art Museum, and the current MoMA building to broaden public access and accommodate skyrocketing attendance. Renovations and new construction will add 50,000 square feet of exhibition space, and expand the lobbies. When construction is complete, MoMA will be 744,000 square feet, or 17 percent, larger than it is today. The fluidity of the program, museum officials and observers contend, signal MoMA’s move away from traditional departmental categories towards more interdisciplinary collaboration. Martino Stierli, the museum’s chief curator of architecture and design, told the New York Times that MoMA is “really using this moment of renovation to explore other ways to see our collection—looking at how media can interact. We want to make use of this time to try new things.” Given the museum's increasing popularity, more people will see these new concepts in practice. Since 2004, the year that Yoshio Taniguchi's $858 million addition opened to the public, the collection has grown by 40 percent, the number of yearly exhibitions has increased from 15 to 35, membership has reached 150,000, and attendance has doubled to three million annual visitors. The project is being split into three phases so the museum will not have to close completely. DS+R’s structure will be the last of the three: The first phase will be changes to the Lauder Building, where audiences now enter for film screenings, followed by renovations to the Taniguchi building. The Lauder building's east lobby will be expanded to improve crowd flow to the main lobby, and the gift shop and bookstore will be moved below ground to facilitate the expansion. Broadening public access will be achieved by different means than those put forth in the plan's first iteration. A new public entrance to the 54th Street sculpture garden was nixed due to security concerns. The “Art Bay," a retractable glass door would have allowed museumgoers to enter ground-floor galleries straight from the street, has also disappeared from plans. Instead, the first floor will have a free gallery with two exhibition spaces (one double height, for MoMA's Project Series) that's open to the public, but accessed through the museum lobby. A new canopy and a double height ceiling at the 53rd Street entrance will give extra visibility to the museum's main entrance. The double height ceiling will displace the media gallery, whose contents could be moved to a fourth floor gallery for media and performance. To accommodate larger pieces, or pieces of the future whose spatial requirements cannot yet be determined, none of the new galleries will have permanent walls, and collections galleries will be almost column-free. The four third-floor galleries (including galleries for architecture, photography, drawings, and special exhibition) will be merged into two galleries of 10,000 and 5,000 square feet. Glass, steel, and stone will be traded for a warmer palette to unify the changes. Construction on the $390 to $400 million project will begin next month. Although completion is contingent on the project timeline of the Nouvel building, all construction is expected to be complete by 2019 or 2020.
Liz Diller faced down a hostile crowd at the recent “MoMA Expansion Conversation,” hosted by the Architectural League, the Municipal Art Society, and AIA New York. Apparently she’s had some practice. One elder statesman of the New York architecture community reports that Diller made a series of phone calls to prominent architects prior to the public release of MoMA’s plans asking for their advice and support. This gray eminence apparently told her the firm should resign from the commission. At which point Ric Scofidio apparently chimed in, saying, succinctly, “Never!” An editor from another publication reports rumors of dissent within Diller Scofidio + Renfro. Apparently some associates in the firm have asked not to work on the project, fearing a Scarlet Letter on their resumes.
The Architecture League of New York has released a video of the discussion convened last week to discuss to MoMA's planned expansion. The move, which entails the demolition of the adjacent American Folk Art Museum, is a contentious one and has sparked much debate within the architectural community. Tuesday's conversation included contributions from the Museum's director, Glenn Lowry, Elizabeth Diller (principal of Diller Scofidio + Renfro, who is overseeing the project), and a slew of other architects, journalists, and theorists who all questioned MoMA's decision to do away with their Tod Williams Billie Tsien-designed neighbor.