Launch Slideshow

Former American Folk Art Museum by Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects

Former American Folk Art Museum by Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects

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    Michael Moran

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    Michael Moran for OTTO

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More than 30 architects and board members of the Architectural League of New York signed a letter calling on the Museum of Modern Art to reconsider its plans to tear down the former American Folk Art Museum, designed by Tod Williams and Billie Tsien Architects.

"The Architectural League calls on the Museum of Modern Art to reconsider its decision to demolish the American Folk Art Museum. The Museum of Modern Art—the first museum with a permanent curatorial department of architecture and design—should provide more information about why it considers it necessary to tear down this significant work of contemporary architecture," the statement reads. "The public has a substantial and legitimate interest in this decision, and the Museum of Modern Art has not yet offered a compelling justification for the cultural and environmental waste of destroying this much-admired, highly distinctive twelve-year-old building."

The letter, signed by Architectural League president Annabelle Selldorf and executive director Rosalie Genevro, was cosigned by 33 members of the Architectural League's board of directors. Among them were architects Steven Holl, FAIA; Claire Weisz, FAIA; Gregg Pasquarelli, AIA; Wendy Evans Joseph, FAIA; and many other prestigious designers.

ARCHITECT recently spoke to Barry Bergdoll, chief curator of architecture and design for MoMA. Bergdoll defended the museum's position, which has been roundly condemned by designers and architecture fans.

"While I do believe that museums have a special responsibility toward works of art, including the works of architecture they commission to house their collections, I also recognize that MoMA's careful study of possible ways of integrating the building of its former neighbor, the American Folk Art Museum, led to the conclusion that this finely crafted space cannot be repurposed for a vastly different collection or function," Bergdoll says. "It was designed as a jewel box for folk art."

Tod Williams, FAIA, and Billie Tsien, AIA—the architects who designed the Folk Art Museum—are among the designers who have registered their displeasure with MoMA's decision. Two separate petitions on Change.org have netted almost 6,000 signatures protesting the loss of the building. And alternative ideas continue to emerge on Twitter and Tumblr via #FolkMoMA.

Not everyone is sad to see the building go. Jerry Saltz, art critic for New York magazine, describes the building as "absolutely unusable for the purpose of showing art." Saltz finds himself at odds with New York magazine architecture critic Justin Davidson over the building's fate and quality. "What MoMA needs more than anything is more properly scaled contiguous space for this singular collection [the permanent collection of painting and sculpture]," Saltz writes. "The boxy walled building of Williams-Tsien is sadly not that space."

Bergdoll has ruled out the possibility of retaining the Williams and Tsien–designed façade, suggesting that it would do a disservice to the building.

"With the Taniguchi expansion of 2004, MoMA has developed a campus of buildings that relate to its own evolution as an institution, of which it is an excellent steward: from the 1939 Goodwin and Stone building and subsequent additions to Taniguchi's own elegant resolution, along with the exquisite Philip Johnson sculpture garden, the second on the site," Bergdoll told ARCHITECT by email. "From the studies that were considered for taking over the building design for Folk Art the museum concluded that any significant alteration of Williams and Tsien's spaces, or actions that retain only a token part of the building such as the façade, would denature a total design."