Some six months ago, following an outcry by the architectural community after theMuseum of Modern Art announced its plans to tear down the former American Folk Art Museum building next door, MoMA hired architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro to review the decision, possibly with an eye toward salvaging something of the AFAM structure designed by Tod Williams and Billie Tsien. Yesterday, in an announcement that should surprise no one, the Modern declared that it was proceeding with the demolition of AFAM, which will be replaced by an entirely new building designed by…Diller Scofidio + Renfro. (Check out renderings for the new space above.) Together with another three-story addition sited within a planned Jean Nouvel skyscraper west of AFAM, MoMA will be adding 40,000 square feet of new galleries and public areas. This comes a decade after MoMA's previous expansion, completed in 2004.
MoMA's stated rationale for AFAM's destruction was that its floor plates did not line up with those of MoMA's existing building, a difference due to ceiling height. This didn't exactly explain why MoMA couldn't have retained AFAM's idiosyncratic angular facade in some fashion while rebuilding behind it, suggesting that MoMA was solely motivated by aesthetics. Simply put, MoMA wanted the corporate modernist look of its glassy skin to continue unbroken through its new buildings. On that score, Diller Scofidio + Renfro delivers in spades, judging from the renderings, which depict a veritable sea of glass fronting West 53rd. The result blends seamlessly with MoMA's environs, which include the Uniqlo flagship store down the block. Indeed, the plan resembles nothing so much as a (very) high-end retail establishment.
But this is all in keeping with a tenet of postmodernism, one that's been tirelessly promoted by MoMA: That in today's global society, all barriers between cultural production have been broken down—including the one, presumably, between shopping and museumgoing. Well, as they say, the victors get to write history, and no doubt this triumph of corporate uniformity over local eccentricity will be duly celebrated in time. But it's still a damn shame.
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Diller Scofido + Renfro's new design for MoMA; view from 53rd Street
Diller Scofido + Renfro's new design for MoMA; view of the Sculpture Garden entrance on 54th Street
Diller Scofido + Renfro's new design for MoMA; view of the lobby, looking west