28 January 2014


45 W 53rd Street

Witness the ongoing saga at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. With the acquisition of the American Folk Art Museum on West 53rd Street, came a crafted building praised by many critics. After some wavering on the issue, it was announced that this building would be torn down to make way for a new MoMA addition, throwing MoMA headlong into a classic preservation debate. Keep or Tear Down. Keep the quirky structure by the architects Tod Williams + Billie Tsein, with all of its accompanying issues mis-matched floor elevations and the like, or scrape it clean and start over.

The museum has always had a history of going its own way in growing its campus, sometimes working to achieve clarity and vision to the place, and sometimes bringing forth muddled miscues. With the acquisition of this building, a real design challenge arose, with a difficult road to achieving what MoMA wanted programatically. No matter where you sit on this one, you have to admit that there are issues on both sides.

Cities need to transform, to make way for something that suits the needs of the current and future generations. To stifle creative destruction in a city or in any other human endeavor insures the slow death. The advancement of the great City of New York has had its moments; great things have been lost, and great things have been gained, but the place is alive and vital.

Yet more often then not, things that had substance, and crafted in a loving manner are torn down, and replaced with the ill-conceived and the hastily built. The newly acquired American Folk Art, and its apparent demise, look to follow in that tradition, especially since MOMA's miscues are part of its history.
The first conceptual design by the MOMA Architects Diller, Scofido + Renfro have been revealed, and there are a lot of apparent programmatic issues, apparently solved, presented in a manner apparently in keeping with MOMA's brand.

What will be lost is a building that was crafted to be quirky in function, in the vision it presented, and to the street it stands on. A crafted solution, for an institution that celebrates craft. Changes to the city are good. But with change, the acknowledgement of what has been created in the past is very important to a city that people love. As an architect, I find it very hard to believe that there wasn't some solution that kept all or a portion of this quirky structure in place, with a design considered and nuanced enough to make it a useful addition to the subsuming institution.


Meanwhile, here is a story about a museum in San Antonio, Texas, where the new and existing conspire together to make a crafted place.

Creative Destruction

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