Tod Williams and Billie Tsien Respond to DS+R Plan to Tear Down Folk Art Building at MoMA

Architecture, East, Preservation
Wednesday, January 8, 2014
Conceptual sketch of DS+R's plans for MoMA. (Courtesy DS+R)

Conceptual sketch of DS+R’s plans for MoMA. (Courtesy DS+R)

Diller, Scofidio + Renfro announced today that their reorganization of the Museum of Modern Art will include the replacement of Tod Williams and Billie Tsien’s former American Folk Art Museum at 45 West 53rd street. Liz Diller said in her briefing that DS+R hoped to save the Folk Art building and repurpose it into a usable exhibit space or a connecting bridge between the new Jean Nouvel tower (which will have three floors of MoMA galleries) and the older parts of MoMA. However, “saving” the structure with its misaligned floors (to MOMA existing galleries) would mean compromising the integrity of the Williams Tsien structure.

One can imagine the logic of DS+R’s decision, but Williams and Tsien are, like any architects, sad to see the demise of their 2001 building that Herbert Muschamp said “transcend(s) cultural categories even as it helps define them.”

Here is Williams and Tsien’s statement:

In response to the American Folk Art Museum building decision by MoMA
January 8, 2014

We have learned of MoMA’s final decision to raze the former American Folk Art Museum building and replace it with a new structure. This action represents a missed opportunity to find new life and purpose for a building that is meaningful to so many.

The Folk Art building was designed to respond to the fabric of the neighborhood and create a building that felt both appropriate and yet also extraordinary. Demolishing this human‐scaled, uniquely crafted building is a loss to the city of New York in terms of respecting the size, diversity and texture of buildings in a midtown neighborhood that is at risk of becoming increasingly homogenized.

This is a building that we and others teach from and about. It has served as an invaluable learning resource for students, colleagues and scholars, and a source of inspiration for many more. It has a powerful architectural legacy. The inability to experience the building firsthand and to appreciate its meaning from an historical perspective will be profoundly felt.

As architects, we must be optimists. So we look to the future and we move on.


3 Responses to “Tod Williams and Billie Tsien Respond to DS+R Plan to Tear Down Folk Art Building at MoMA”

  1. Erika says:

    This is so heart breaking. I adore this building. It hurts to think it won’t be there to enjoy in the future.

  2. Joerg Schwartz says:

    No doubt one day MOMA will acquire St Thomas Church and will deem the doorway from MOMA as comprising the integrity of the original design and cite that as rationale for demolishing the 5th avenue landmark.

  3. Mark Billy says:

    The Folk Art building is one of the great buildings we have in this country. Mr. Williams and MS Tsien have not only created a masterpiece out of the most difficult of site conditions, but they continuously produce work of equal quality in every one of their projects. Regardless of your aesthetic preferences, the commitment to quality they bring to the profession cannot be argued with. From the outside, I have never met either one of them; they appear to be a model firm focused on the work. They have built quality buildings from concept through execution that have stood as models of what can and should be done to the vapid ocean of mediocrity that fills this profession today. I think they are a complete anomaly in profession ruled buy fame, ego and the myth of Howard Roark.
    Buildings don’t last forever and I am certain that there was a building that had to give way for the Folk Art building to be built. This is not the same discussion. A city continues to grow and change, we all get that, but tearing down the Folk Art building is simply a heinous act of hubris. It speaks volumes about our profession and the self-appointed taste makers and cultural elite who feel fine about pimping out the next fame hungry lap dog architect to do their dirty work for inflated, Macy’s Parade Balloon sized egos.
    Who knew that floors’ not aligning was as good as having a demolition permit in hand? Perhaps the architect’s site research should have taken MOMA’s floor plate elevations in to account as an existing site condition to be addressed. I guess Williams Tsien just screwed up… Sorry guys, MOCA would love to help you out be their hands are tied on this one.
    And DS+R… remember, Karma comes back and can bite pretty hard.
    It is a sad day in our profession… and depressingly familiar.

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