Glenn Lowry on American Folk Art Museum: The Decision Has Been Made

Rendering of the garden entrance of the new MoMA, by Diller Scofidio + Renfro. Image Courtesy of MoMA

Yesterday, Glenn Lowry, director of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), and , principal of Diller Scofidio + Renfro, presented their plans for the MoMA expansion to an audience in New York City, insisting  - once again - that they require the demolition of the American Folk Art Museum

The presentation was part of a larger event, “A Conversation on the Museum of Modern Art’s Plan for Expansion,” presented by The Architectural League, the Municipal Art Society, and the American Institute of Architects New York Chapter. After Lowry and Diller reiterated their case, a panel of experts – including the editor of Architectural Record, Cathleen McGuigan, and critic  – gave their opinions on the subject (some panelists spousing particularly anti-MoMA sentiments). ArchDaily was there to catch the conversation; read on after the break for the highlights. 

Liz Diller presents the plans for the MoMA Expansion. Image © Sebastian Jordana

While Elizabeth Diller’s presentation was very well-received, the real fun began when the panel – moderated by the director of the Cranbrook Academy, Reed Kroloff – began to give their two cents. 

While Nicolai Ouroussoff and Jorge Otero-Pailos, architect and preservation theorist, kept their comments fairly strictly in the realm of theory, the other panelists entered the fray with their opinions. Stephen Rustow, principal of design firm Museoplan, rejected Lowry and Diller’s claim that demolition was necessary, citing MoMA’s long history of preserving existing buildings with every expansion (indeed, Philip Johnson, Pelli, and Taniguchi were all tasked with preservation). Cathleen McGuigan suggested that there was still time for MoMA to “Stop and re-consider the demolition.” 

Architectural consultant and writer Karen Stein was the most vehement opposer of the plans, saying that the facts seemed contradictory (even saying that the circulation issues could be accounted for). Stein pointed out that the mission of the Department of Architecture & Design of the MoMA is completely at odds with this demolition, finishing with the statement: ”I expect something better from MoMA.”

The panel of experts. Image © Sebastian Jordana

During the Q&A, Lowry offered a kind of defense; answering the question of whether or not he considers architecture to be art, he emphasized that architecture, unlike art, is entirely linked to function: “You don’t collect buildings and there’s a reason for that.” By the end of the night, he and Diller seemed to have swayed the audience to their side.

Ultimately, however, public opinion will make very little difference. Lowry insisted that while there was room for “some adjustments”: ”The decision has been made.” The American Folk Art Museum’s days are numbered. 

And now for some reactions to the #MoMAConvo from the twitterverse:

Cite: Quirk, Vanessa. "Glenn Lowry on American Folk Art Museum: The Decision Has Been Made" 29 Jan 2014. ArchDaily. Accessed 30 May 2015. <>
  • mjewin

    Sleek, cold, black and white is not the only “modern” design theme. Texture, warmth and handcraft workmanship are also design tools. Rigidity of vision, a lack of imagination and limited design ability seem to define MOMA and Diller Scofidio + Renfro.

    “Tear down the neighborhood cause the freeway’s coming through”

  • Ari

    “By the end of the night, he and Diller seemed to have swayed the audience to their side.”

    Nonsense. Just because no one in the audience stood up and publically cried out that this is a horrible decision and that Liz’s proposal has the aesthetic charm of a Wal-Mart does NOT mean that they had won over the audience. There isn’t an architect I know who agrees with this decision or has a single nice thing to say about DSR’s hideous proposal.

    • Brandon

      I agree with Ari, I don’t think the article’s statement of DS+R’s swaying the audience is right. I’m currently an architecture student, and talking with my professors and other researchers and practicing architects, I have yet to hear a single word of approval for MOMA’s decision.

  • Pierreyves

    A very sad story indeed… Here is a building really worth preserving as it has got unique architectural qualities… And what do we do with it : throw it in the bin like a dirty used tissue paper. I am a Mauritian architect ( for those who don’t know , mauritius is a small island in the Indian Ocean.) and I feel that this building needs to be preserved for all to see, this is not an American debate but a real world attention grabbing one. This raises along other issues specific to American culture affecting the whole planet, that of consumerism. In this day and age, one should think global and not local.
    When I like to think of the US, I have this image of an old restored impala Chevy, would be great if the American people could say to the world that they are capable of sustainability, the more if it’s about preserving a true American icon.
    God Bless, PierreYves.

  • randy jacobson

    Lowery is right about one thing. Architecture is not art. It is so much more. This philistine has got to go.

  • david traub

    Architect Elizabeth Diller has called saving only the facade of the American Folk Art Museum, “facadism.” But if there ever was a facade to keep in Manhattan, it would be this one that is utterly unique and splendid in its urban context.
    Here is an idea to avoid creating an appearance that is paper thin: Might MoMa hire the original architects,Tod Williams and Billie Tsien, to collaborate with Diller Scofidio & Renfro to design a workable passageway through the Folk Art Museum to the new exhibit space? If the friendship of the couples could be mended, surely this could be accomplished effectively employing the combined skills of the two architectural firms. If Williams and Tsien had an involvement in designing the necessary changes to the inside of the little museum in relationship to the façade, then that important ingredient, authenticity, would be lent to the final results.

    David S. Traub, AIA, Co-founder of Save Our Sites, SOS, Philadelphia

  • John

    MoMA should start working on a new name as part of this expansion plan. I suggest either MoMAll or MoMA-rt.

  • John-David Carling

    I almost cant bear to listen to this. its ridic.

  • John-David Carling

    LOL…. think about what they did at Lincoln center… they really couldn’t figure this out. HA, I call B.S.

  • Mandy Cuneo

    The American Museum of Folk Art was a highlight of my visit to New York in 2009. I’m returning in 2014 and very disappointed to discover that the museum is to be closed. What a loss!!

  • Danielle

    The Museum of Folk Art was always at the top of my list when visiting New York. I am extremely sadden at the thought that this beautiful collection and building will be gone. A great loss for the art world.