After 12 Years, Tod Williams & Billie Tsien’s NYC Gem To Be Demolished

© Michael Moran

“There are of course the personal feelings — your buildings are like your children, and this is a particular, for us, beloved small child. But there is also the feeling that it’s a kind of loss for architecture, because it’s a special building, a kind of small building that’s crafted, that’s particular and thoughtful at a time when so many buildings are about bigness.” – Billie Tsien, quoted in The New York Times 

After only 12 years, the Tod Williams & Billie Tsien-designed American Folk Art Museum is slated to be demolished. Despite the acclaim it has received from critics, including high praise from the likes of Paul Goldberger and Herbert Muschamp, and the importance it has been given in ’s architectural landscape, the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA, which bought the building in 2011) reports that it must tear down the building to make way for an imminent expansion.

At the time of its construction, the building was of the first new museums built in New York in over thirty years. Unfortunately, the building will more likely be remembered for its short life, taking, in the words of The New York Times reporter Robin Pogrebin, “a dubious place in history as having had one of the shortest lives of an architecturally ambitious project in Manhattan.”

Read more about the ’s imminent demolition, after the break…

© Michael Moran

The Museum had had great hopes that Williams & Tsien’s renovation would bring visitors and revenue to the Museum; however, after remaining millions in debt, the Museum was forced to sell the building to the MOMA in 2011. With Yoshio Tanaguchi’s 2004 redesign of the MOMA increasing attendance from 1.5 million to 2.5 million, the Museum is keen to further bolster visitors’ numbers with an expansion.

MOMA officials explain that it would be impossible to keep the American Folk Art Museum building, for both practical and aesthetic reasons: their planned expansion will connect a new tower by Jean Novel,Torre Verre (which will include exhibition space as well as apartments), to floors of the Modern (on the other side of the folk museum). According to MOMA officials, Williams & Tsien’s building will prevent the floors from lining up. What’s more, officials claim that its opaque facade isn’t in keeping with the MOMA’s glass aesthetic.

Courtesy of Ateliers Jean Nouvel

Nouvel’s Torre Verre will give the MOMA about 40,000 additional square feet of gallery space; the folk museum’s demolition about 10,000. “It’s not a comment on the quality of the building or Tod and Billie’s architecture,” Glenn D. Lowry, MoMA’s director told the The New York Times, “We bought the site, and our responsibility is to use the site intelligently.”

Of course, no matter how business-savvy the decision, the move has understandably appalled the architecturally-minded. The building, named “The Best New Building in the World in 2011” has attracted attention since its opening, particularly for its sculptural facade.

As Andrew S. Dolkart, the director of Columbia University’s historic preservation program, told the The New York Times: “The building is so solid looking on the street, and then it becomes a disposable artifact. It’s unusual and it’s tragic because it’s a notable work of 21st century architecture by noteworthy architects who haven’t done that much work in the city, and it’s a beautiful work with the look of a handcrafted facade.”

© Michael Moran

“It’s a building that kids study in architecture school,” Billie Tsien added, “They study it as a kind of precedent to understand how buildings are made and to understand the kind of space it is because it is a complex and interesting building in a very small site.”

MOMA will soon begin interviewing architects to design the new addition, selecting one by the end of this year. They also expect to have Williams & Tsien’s building demolished by then, to make way for construction of the expansion, including Nouvel’s tower, in 2014. Both buildings should be completed by 2017 or 2018.

Story via The New York Times

Read Williams & Tsien’s statement here

See how designers are reacting (petition included) here

Cite: Quirk, Vanessa. "After 12 Years, Tod Williams & Billie Tsien’s NYC Gem To Be Demolished" 11 Apr 2013. ArchDaily. Accessed 22 May 2015. <>
  • kukubee

    Outrageous !

  • Heywood Floyd

    A narrow minded not to mention environmentally irresponsible attitude like this would not be surprising coming from a developer, but from a major cultural institution? Preposterous, quite pathetic actually. The floor heights won’t line up and the opaque facade doesn’t lend itself to the museum’s glass aesthetic so the building has to be demolished? Really? It’s not possible to design a solution that incorporates the existing structure? It’s not possible to celebrate the incongruities in the contrasting aesthetics, to incorporate disparate elements and resolve opposing conditions into a cohesive whole? Are you absolutely suren about that? Because that is precisely what architects do, Mr. Lowry. Take some time, spend some money, and solve the problem without a wrecking ball.

  • Anson Morris

    The loss of this building is a tragedy, especially to a group such as MoMA who’s values suggest that they would should strive to maintain such a beautiful and modern piece of art rather than tear it down and destroy one of the true architectural jewels of the modern era.

  • Andrew

    What a profound – and in my opinion accurate – reflection of the institutional values of the MoMA. The demolition of a recent architectural gem is only half the tragedy, however; the other is the takeover of the MoMA by a corporate culture focused on value (profit) instead of values (meaning).

  • beta

    this act will be looked upon with severe judgement by future generations.

  • Pierre-Yves Serret

    Losing the American Folk Art Museum is a total tragedy. For those who produce architecture in third world environment like myself, such work of architecture are references and epitomise the best of what architects and artisans can produce.
    This building has soul and surely contributes to the genius loci of the place( I can only guess, since I never visited NY) . Its demolition says lots about the world and times in which we live in where all can be disposed of without any qualm. One thing for sure, it will always remain in my memory as one of those rare American buildings that really inspired me when I was a student and still does now that I am a practising architect.This is definitely one of the buildings that we would like to pass on to future generations for the values it represents. What a mess…

  • Torrey

    This is one of the most depressing things I have ever heard. Billie Tsien is right, this project was the “go-to” precedent when I was designing projects in small infill sites as an architecture student. It is truly one of the nicest buildings I have ever visited, the section is phenomenal, the detailing is thoughtful, and the materials are evocative of the craft culture the museum was displaying. This is a crime against architecture if I’ve ever seen one.

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  • Robert Lomax

    Less… for more? On the bright side, I look forward to their future exhibit– “Penn Station to Folk Art; Architecture in the Age of Obsequious Market-Driven Value Judgements”.

  • Chris Veeneman

    This is an outrage. I remember visiting this museum shortly after it was built and found it beautifully done. Nothing is sacred anymore. Tsien must be heartbroken.

  • Josh Sanabria

    This is an example of not being sustainable..

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  • Codah Gatewood

    12 years? Wow, there are way too many problems with this. Not only is this an incredibly well crafted building, but the fact that it is only 12 years old is something that seems like a terrible idea even if it were just another building.

    I certainly hope they find a way to reuse the facade. It is a very handsome and unique material. I was young at the time to know the material of the facade, but I remember being fascinated by its texture up close and its sculptural look from afar.

  • Derek

    “…According to MOMA officials, Williams & Tsien’s building will prevent the floors from lining up.”

    more like Jean Nouvel just sucks in architecture and gives little regard to context and artifacts in a site

  • John-David Carling

    Total freaking idiots.!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Rob

    What’s really not being discussed here is that this stunning building was simply too expensive. They took out a huge loan TO PAY FOR THIS BUILDING, then defaulted and were forced to sell to MoMA. If you want to blame anyone for this “tragedy,” look to the AFM board, not MoMA.

  • Mark Foxworth

    I hope this is some sort of vast, social media, marketing ploy to generate attention and outrage in order to direct attendance to this great project. That’s the only reasonable explanation I can imagine.
    Otherwise MOMA has demonstrated to the world that is truly has no integrity, relevance, nor voice in the cultural dialog. This is truly disgusting and I hope there is swift and fierce backlash against this institution. The Folk Art museum is one of my favorite projects in all of Manhattan. It is beautiful, sublime, refined, humane, even haunting. It is modernism with a soul. You’ve shown the world who you are MOMA. Your loss.

  • John-David Carling

    Moma should house the Folk Art Museum and venerate (SP?) it as a master master piece of MODERN ART!!!!!!. Not getting floor plates to line up is a silly joke of a reason to knock down something.

  • Adam Pollock

    Lowry’s statement about intelligent use of the site is a glorious affirmation of delusion. Most NYC designers are offended – its strange to think you can be personally and professionally insulted by a building owner demolishing a building left empty for years, but most are. I am. There is nothing about this decision aligned with MOMA’s mission statement. There is nothing intelligent about a full demo of a 12 year old building with no performance issues and very expensive, idiosyncratic and interesting elements. There is nothing responsible about this choice.

    There really is not enough shame to go round.

  • Paul Lehman

    I’m glad I was able to visit the museum a number of times while it was housed in this building. As lovely as it is, there were concerns at the time it was built that it was too small to hold larger exhibitions and that attendance would suffer. I think that concern played out accurately.

    I agree with others here who would like to see this building incorporated into the MOMA expansion.

  • Lempicka

    It should be noted that the fifth floor of the Folk Art Museum lines up perfectly with Moma’s. It is a real demonstration of Moma’s hubris to have thought such weak reasoning should be satisfactory for the general public. I hope they have underestimated us.

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  • Jes

    Ugh… “…officials claim that its opaque facade isn’t in keeping with the MOMA’s glass aesthetic.” Despicable.

  • Ghinlon

    Next step: turn the lot into a large shopping center. That statement really got me going, making reference to a “site” … and I suppose MoMa is just full of old canvases … perhaps we should use these more “intelligently” and wrap them around Mr. Lowry’s head !

  • Dustin

    This is outrageous. I will visit this building one last time before it is demolished, and then, never go back to MOMA.

  • sybille valcke

    an international petition in favour of maintaining the building should be started

  • Ontherun

    Outrages!! What a contradiction of the MOMA spirit, disappointed..

  • Sameer
    • John-David Carling

      I just signed and shared with alot of people

  • Tritone

    …..”maximizing shareholder value”……
    Why not outsource it to China?

  • John-David Carling

    their official response to my email:

    From: Information, MoMA []
    Sent: Friday, April 12, 2013 1:37 PM
    To: John-David Carling
    Subject: Re: Information Request I would like a reply. [#11319]


    Thank you for sharing your concerns regarding our 45 West 53rd St property. Since acquiring it in 2011, The Museum of Modern Art has thoughtfully considered the ways in which the property can best be used to provide additional space for the Museum’s exhibitions and programs. After carefully reviewing the building and site, the Museum has determined that it is not feasible to incorporate it into the Museum’s long-term plans for development of the West end, primarily due to issues of alignment between the floor plates and facades.

    We are sensitive to your concerns and greatly appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts as we move forward with the expansion of the Museum.

    The Museum of Modern Art

    Nice of them to respond at least…. I’m still sad about this.