MoMA to Demolish Tod Williams Billie Tsien’s Former American Folk Art Museum

Although Diller Scofidio + Renfro (DS+R), the architects charged with the Museum of Modern Art‘s expansion, bought the adjacent Tod Williams Billie Tsien-designed former American Folk Art Museum a short period of clemency from demolition, MoMA rang its death knell Wednesday and announced its plans to tear it down.

A rendering of MoMA’s new 53rd Street presence

“The plans approved today are the result of a recommendation from [DS+R] after a diligent and thoughtful six-month study and design process that explored all options for the site,” MoMA director Glen D. Lowry said in a statement. “The analysis that we undertook was lengthy and rigorous, and ultimately led us to the determination that creating a new building on the site of the former American Folk Art Museum is the only way to achieve a fully integrated campus.”

After MoMA had announced its intentions to demolish the Folk in April, DS+R requested the opportunity to explore other options that would spare the building designed by their “friends and admired colleagues.” Principal Elizabeth Diller, however, ultimately echoed the sentiments of former MoMA head architecture curator Barry Bergdoll that not only was the Folk’s interior inconducive to viewing art, but gutting it in order to preserve its striking facade would “denature its total design aesthetic.”

“To save the building, we had to lose too much of the building,” she told the New York Times. “You pass a tipping point where there’s not enough of the original structure to actually maintain its identity.”

MoMA will be expanding its second, fourth, and fifth floors westward to occupy three floors of Jean Nouvel‘s forthcoming residential tower at 53 West 53rd Street and the new building to be constructed on the site of the former Folk, adding a total of 40,000 square feet of (30 percent more) new galleries and public areas. The existing building is also undergoing a transformation “as a major component of the Museum’s desire for greater public access,” Lowry continued. In order to enhance its street presence, the expanded MoMA will feature facades of glass spanning the length of its ground floor, which in turn will contain new public gathering areas called the “Art Bay.” It’s the third in a trend set forth by the recent expansion plans of Perez Art Museum and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art towards a more accessible climate in contemporary art institutions.

— Janelle Zara (@janellezara)

Image courtesy Diller Scofidio + Renfro