The Sad Demise of the Williams + Tsien Designed American Folk Art Museum

American Folk Art Museum Tod Williams Billie Tsien Demolition MoMA

The last time I wrote about an endangered building it was Richard Neutra’s 1963 Cyclorama at Gettysburg. After years of legal battle, the 50 year old building was demolished just last month. It’s a disappointing outcome, but the building did stand for five decades which is longer than many buildings. Sadly, one of those buildings that will not make it to the fifty year mark is the American Folk Art Museum by Tod Williams and Billie Tsien.

American Folk Art Museum Tod Williams Billie Tsien Demolition MoMA

Completed just twelve years ago, the distinctive and small museum sits next to MoMA on 53rd street in Manhattan. It won several awards upon its completion and has a remarkable facade that uses folded planes of a bronze alloy called tombasil in a way which looks hand-forged. MoMA bought the building a couple of years ago after the Folk Art Museum ran into financial hot water which forced the institution to pack up the folk arts and relocate. So after years of mulling over what was to become of the funny little building next to it, MoMA announced this week they plan to tear it down. Why? According to an article in the NYT:

MoMA officials said the building’s design did not fit their plans because the opaque facade is not in keeping with the glass aesthetic of the rest of the museum. The former folk museum is also set back farther than MoMA’s other properties, and the floors would not line up.

Maybe I’m biased or just annoyed, but when I read the snippet above, I think “so MoMA is tearing this building down because they can’t see through the front of it?” I know it’s more complicated than that, but Folk Art Museum’s former building deserves better rationale for it’s demolition than “it doesn’t match.” The bigger problem to me isn’t that the museum officials can’t see through bronze alloy, but that they can’t see or imagine a future where they would protect an architecturally significant project in their possession. If the leadership of MoMA is being this myopic about the expansion of their campus, what other terrible decisions are they making when it comes to doing what museums are supposed to do?

April 12, 2013 / By