American Folk Art Museum / Tod Williams + Billie Tsien

© Michael Moran

“You do not have to look at it for long before you realize that this is as sensual a building as New York has seen in a very long time,” stated Pulitzer-prize winning architecture critic Paul Goldberger of the American Folk Art Museum. Completed by architects Tod Williams and Billie Tsien in 2001 the museum is 40 feet wide and 100 feet long and is surrounded by the Museum of Modern Art on three sides. It was the first new museum built in New York in over three decades.

More on the American Folk Art Museum after the break.

Eight levels tall on 53rd Street, the American Folk Art Museum welcomes visitors with a grand two story atrium. The mezzanine above, which has a small cafe, looks over the atrium as well as 53rd Street. The four upper floors contain the gallery spaces for permanent and temporary exhibitions. Due to zoning codes and the extensive program for the site, the building also had to extend two levels underground to hold the auditorium, classrooms, museum offices, a library, and archives.

© Michael Moran

The art is located along the path of circulation through the building, such as along staircases, allowing visitors to walk from floor to floor viewing art being displayed. These paths sometimes break off into small nooks which provide space for permanent collections.  A skylight between the second and third floors above the grand staircase allows light to enter the gallery spaces.

Much of the flooring is terrazo ground concrete linking to the walls which are concrete as well. The flooring for the gallery juxtaposes the cold feeling of concrete with Ruby Lake Fir Logs, providing a much warmer and welcoming environment.

© Peter Mauss

The exterior of the museum is a sculpture itself, intended to represent an abstracted open hand. Cladded in tombasil  panels consisting of white bronze with 57% copper, its texture came from casting the panels from sand molds taken from the texture of concrete. The movement of the panels as they fold inwards responds to the sunrise, sunset, and changing of the seasons, its glow depending on the natural sunlight of each day. Selected as the ”Best New Building in the World in 2001,” the museum is a work of art for visitors and pedestrians to admire, and in the words of the architects themselves it is “an idiosyncratic home for idiosyncratic art.”

Architects: Tod Williams + Billie Tsien
Location: New York, New York
Client: American Folk Art Museum
Project Area: 30,000 square feet
Project Completed: 2001
Photographs: Courtesy of Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects
References: Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects,

Cite: Perez, Adelyn. "American Folk Art Museum / Tod Williams + Billie Tsien" 30 May 2010. ArchDaily. Accessed 23 May 2015. <>