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MoMA’s New Expansion Plan: Another Reality Check for Diller Scofidio + Renfro

Once again, with the recent revisions to the Museum of Modern Art’s expansion plans, Diller Scofidio + Renfro‘s transgressively creative but farfetched architectural follies have been (mercifully) abandoned.

All I can say is: I told you so.

While we know that some high-profile innovations that had initially piqued MoMA’s interest have now left the building, we still have scant information about what the new MegaMoMA will look like, save for this sketchy schematic:


When I asked if there were any photographic renderings of the new/renovated spaces, MoMA’s spokesperson replied:

The details of the façade and galleries are still under design development. The full design will be announced later this year, so we won’t have any images until then. We expect the expansion to be completed in 2019 or 2020.

According to MoMA’s revised prospectus, Building for the Future, “The end result will be an overall gallery space increase of 30%. The total square footage of the renovated museum will be 744,000, an increase of 17%.”

In a text introduction to my CultureGrrl Video tour of MoMA’s front and back façades, I had presciently predicted that “the open-to-the-street, triple-height glass ‘Art Bay’ on the former American Folk Art Museum (AFAM) site (intended for exhibitions, performances and ‘spontaneous events’) will go the way of other fanciful innovations conceived and later dropped by architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro for other museum projects (Boston Institute of Contemporary Art, The Broad, to name two).”

I never understood how MoMA could venture to disrupt the dense pedestrian flow on 53rd Street with performances open to the street. Nevertheless, architect Elizabeth Diller had told a large, architect-heavy audience during a February 2014 presentation on the expansion that “we feel strong conviction in putting an experimental space right on the street.”

Architect Elizabeth Diller at January 2014 panel discussion on Museum of Modern Art's expansion Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Architect Elizabeth Diller at January 2014 panel discussion on Museum of Modern Art’s expansion
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

I had also expressed doubt as to whether the proposed open-to-the-street glass entrance to the sculpture garden, a threat to its peaceful intimacy, was going to survive the final designs. That, too, has been scrapped.

“We listened,” director Glenn Lowry told Robin Pogrebin of the NY Times, referring to the initial plans’ almost universal drubbing by the critics.

Now that it’s decommissioned the “Art Bay,” maybe MoMA should revisit another of my previous notions: I had suggested that the best solution for AFAM’s ill-fated building would be to “preserve its distinctive (if somewhat forbidding) façade, while significantly reconfiguring and integrating its awkward, cramped interior space, making it more hospitable to art and visitors.”

Lowry has already confided to Pogrebin (in lieu of a general press release about the changed plans) that the museum “is rethinking its current ‘hard materials’ of glass, stone and steel, which, Mr. Lowry conceded, ‘had a kind of austerity to them.’

As I previously put it: “The sleek glass-and-steel façade of…MoMA, judging from the rendering, looks like an imposing, intimidating headquarters for Art, Inc.”:

Concept sketch of MoMA's proposed new 53rd Street façade © 2014 Diller Scofidio + Renfro

Concept sketch of MoMA’s proposed new 53rd Street façade
© 2014 Diller Scofidio + Renfro

They’ve already followed my suggestion to preserve the demolished American Folk Art Museum’s façade (albeit off-site). Instead of keeping it in storage, how about taking the next logical step? Restore this lively sculptural composition of hammered, richly textured copper-bronze panels to its accustomed place in the streetscape:

Entrance of former American Folk Art Museum facility Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Entrance to former American Folk Art Museum facility, designed by Tod Williams and Billie Tsien
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

MoMA has provided a brief rundown of the timetable for its “phased approach” to the renovation and expansion. Here’s a visual for that:


One thing’s for certain: This report of the project’s supposed $93-million cost (picked up by some other writers) got it wrong: The “first official cost estimate,” according to the NY Times, puts the total at $390-400 million for new construction; $40-45 million for renovations.

Cue the donors!

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