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Gladiator in the Architects’ Den: Elizabeth Diller’s Bravura Performance on MoMA’s Expansion

Woman in the Middle: Architect Elizabeth Diller at last night's discussion on Museum of Modern Art's expansion Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Woman in the Middle: Architect Elizabeth Diller at last night’s discussion on Museum of Modern Art’s expansion
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

She probably didn’t change the hearts and minds of the many in the architectural community who adamantly oppose the Museum of Modern Art’s (to my mind justifiable) decision to knock down the 12-year-old American Folk Art Museum in connection with its next expansion.

But Elizabeth Diller walked away from last night’s presentation and panel discussion on the expansion (sponsored by two of her critics—the Architectural League and the Municipal Art Society of New York, as well as the American Institute of Architects New York Chapter) with a long round of strong applause ringing in her ears.

Her intelligent, poised presentation (with numerous slides of conceptual renderings and floorplans) detailed the results of her firm’s failed attempts to find a design solution that would “serve the museum’s mission and curatorial goals” while preserving the Tod Williams Billie Tsien-designed American Folk Art Museum. (Those architects were notable by their absence.) “We were unable to find an adaptive reuse solution,” Diller said.

During the question-and-answer period, Glenn Lowry, director of the Museum of Modern Art, stated flatly that, notwithstanding pleas by some that the knockdown be delayed and reconsidered, “we’ve worked through a lot of options and we’ve made our decision” [emphasis added].

The sponsoring organizations of last night’s event say they will soon post a video of the discussion on their websites (linked in second paragraph, above), which will enable you to get a full appreciation, which a blog post cannot adequately convey, of Diller’s presentation (as well as less compelling remarks by Lowry and Ann Temkin, MoMA’s chief curator of painting and sculpture).

Here’s a slide that enumerated the agreed-upon goals of the project:


For a more detailed rundown of what happened last night, see Fred Bernstein‘s recap on the website of Architectural Record, whose editor-in-chief, Cathleen McGuigan, was one of the onstage panelists.

And here are my tweets highlighting the moments that stood out for me, including one (at the top) that’s of more interest to art-lings than to architecture aficionados:


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