Launch Slideshow

Esto Gallery: The American Folk Art Museum, by Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects, photographed by Peter Mauss

Esto Gallery: The American Folk Art Museum, by Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects, photographed by Peter Mauss

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    American Folk Art Museum, New York, by Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects.

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    White bronze panels, cast in an art foundry, make up the Folk Art Museum's façade.

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    The Folk Art Museum's 85-foot façade, designed specifically to make 'a quiet statement of independence' from MoMA, which surrounds it on three sides, may have led to its undoing, if MoMA director Glenn D. Lowry is to be believed.

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    Pieces from the collection were built into the structure of the museum.

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    Visitors could choose different paths to experience the artworks displayed within the museum, which packed eight levels into a four-story structure on West 53rd Street; two levels, which included an auditorium and museum offices, were below grade.

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    "The American Folk Art Museum is an idiosyncratic home for idiosyncratic art."—Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects, from twbta.com.

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    The collection of the American Folk Art Museum includes international folk art by self-taught artists to cultivate aesthetic appreciation of the genre.

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    Built-in niches displayed artifacts from the museum's permanent collection, framing pieces in unexpected locations throughout the building.

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    Upper floors contained permanent and temporary exhibitions, while lower floors contained administrative spaces.

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    Breaking up the museum floors into multiple levels allowed for a variety of exhibition spaces.

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    Openings between floors allow light to pass from the upper level skylights to the galleries below.

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    Ciruclation paths and space use fill the American Folk Art Museum's former home with complexity despite its diminutive stature in the context of New York.

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    Skylights provide daylighting to the gallery spaces.

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    A narrow stairway provides another circulation route through the building.

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    "Sculptural in form, the façade recalls an abstracted open hand. The panels fold inward to create a faceted plan. The façade catches the glow of the rising and setting sun, sublty shifrting with the weather and the seasosn."—Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects, from twbta.com.

An outcry of despair reverberated through the design world last night at the news that New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) has decided to tear down the Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects–designed former American Folk Art Museum building. For many, the New York Times article announcing the decision may as well have been an obituary: “For MoMA, Beloved Building Means an Obstacle.” A material maverick amid the glass-and-steel monotony of Midtown, and a paragon of craftsmanship, the former Folk Art Museum is lost all too soon. The building, 12, is survived by its two loving architects and a cadre of devoted supporters.

Many hope that MoMA may yet preserve the structure as a crown jewel in its permanent collection of architectural artifacts, but its future looks dim, with demolition slated to occur before the end of the year. It has been closed to the public since the eponymous institution sold the building to MoMA in 2011, but the immaculately detailed, pleated bronze-and-copper façade is well worth revisiting before it comes down. And for those who didn’t make it into the interior when it was open, the grand central staircase and galleries of the eight-story building will be preserved in these photos from Esto’s archive, which were captured by photographer Peter Mauss shortly after its 2001 opening. 

To see more of Esto's collection online, please visit Esto.com, or visit ARCHITECT's collection of Esto Galleries.