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Diller Scofidio + Renfro May Keep Folk Art Building in Designing MoMA’s New Galleries

"Rain Room" being constructed yesterday in lot where Nouvel's tower will later rise Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Rain Room, Random International’s immersive environment (opening Sunday), being constructed yesterday in lot where Jean Nouvel’s tower will eventually rise
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Robin Pogrebin was given the story before the Museum of Modern Art sent it to the rest of us: It now appears there’s a chance that the fierce opponents to the demolition of Tod Williams‘ and Billie Tsien‘s American Folk Art Museum building may actually have their way.

This memo from MoMA’s director, Glenn Lowry, to the museum’s board and staff has just hit my inbox:

The highly respected New York-based architecture firm Diller Scofidio + Renfro has been retained by the museum to develop the West End expansion project, including a detailed program and design approach….

Beginning this month, Diller Scofidio + Renfro will work with us to design a plan that will integrate the museum’s current building with the property of the former American Folk Art Museum and the residential tower being developed by Hines [my links, not his].

The principals of Diller Scofidio + Renfro have asked that they be given the time and latitude to carefully consider the entirety of the site, including the former American Folk Art Museum building, in devising an architectural solution to the inherent challenges of the project.  We readily agreed to consider a range of options, and look forward to seeing their results….

We hope to share the results of this creative process with you by the end of the year [emphasis added].

But the announcement that the demolition critics have all been waiting for is contained in this separate statement from Diller Scofidio + Renfro:

We’re thrilled to take part in the next step of MoMA’s evolution. DS+R has exhibited within MoMA’s walls since 1989 and now we’ve been invited to rethink the museum’s walls. This is a complex project that also involves issues of urban interface, concerns that are central to our studio.

We have asked MoMA, and they have agreed, to allow us the time and flexibility to explore a full range of programmatic, spatial, and urban options. These possibilities include, but are not limited to, integrating the former American Folk Art Museum building, designed by our friends and admired colleagues, Tod Williams and Billie Tsien [emphasis added].

Their statement suggests where DS+R probably stand on this—in solidarity with their professional colleagues. And we already know where Glenn Lowry stands. With the disapproval of the demolition decision having escalated to searing critiques of Lowry’s entire tenure as MoMA’s director, he may be receptive to compromise, brokered by the respected architects he has now engaged.

There was not anywhere near this level of uproar and outrage when MoMA completely destroyed the West Wing galleries and garden “greenhouse” created by Cesar Pelli during the museum’s last pre-Taniguchi expansion, nor when major alterations were made to MoMA’s East Wing designed by Philip Johnson. Both of these involved undoing architects’ work that the museum had itself commissioned and bankrolled.

I still believe (as I’ve suggested before) that the best solution for the AFAM building may be to preserve its distinctive (if somewhat forbidding) façade while significantly reconfiguring and integrating the current awkward, cramped interior space, making it more hospitable to art and visitors. That will completely satisfy nobody, which I suppose is one way to define “compromise.”

Or maybe they should simply start over and go for this (just kidding):

Craft and Folk Art Museum, Los Angeles, with a facade (temporarily) adorned with crochet squares.

Craft and Folk Art Museum, Los Angeles, with its façade (temporarily) adorned with crocheted squares

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