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

“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 New York'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 American Folk Art Museum'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.

© 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

About this author
Cite: Vanessa Quirk. "After 12 Years, Tod Williams & Billie Tsien's NYC Gem To Be Demolished" 11 Apr 2013. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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