MoMA to demolish Williams and Tsien
folk art museum


MoMA to demolish Williams and Tsien folk art museum, photo by Dan Nguyen

News: the Museum of Modern Art in New York is to raze the former American Folk Art Museum next door just 12 years after its completion by US architects Tod Williams and Billie Tsien.

The bronze-clad museum, which opened its doors in December 2001, will be demolished and replaced with a glass-fronted building linking MoMA's existing space on West 53rd Street with a planned 82-storey tower designed by French architect Jean Nouvel.

The American Folk Art Museum, which holds a collection of paintings, sculptures and crafts by self-taught and outsider artists, was sold to MoMA in 2011 to pay off a $32 million loan. It currently exists at a smaller site on Lincoln Square, further north in Manhattan.

While the MoMA director Glenn D. Lowry said the demolition was not a comment on the architectural quality of the building, the news was met with disappointment by Tsien, who told the New York Times she saw the building as a "beloved small child".

"It's a kind of loss for architecture," she said, "because it's a special building, a kind of small building that's crafted, that's particular and thoughtful at a time when so many buildings are about bigness."

The expansion across both the folk art museum site and the Nouvel building will provide MoMA with approximately 4600 square metres of additional floor space.

When Nouvel's tower is complete in 2017 or 2018, its second, fourth and fifth floors will line up with the same levels in MoMA's existing building over the road, but the art museum is still deciding what to put at ground level on the site of Williams and Tsien's building.

In January this year, the architects' Barnes Foundation art gallery in Philadelphia won an Institute Honor Award from the American Institute of Architects.

A major retrospective of the work of modernist architect Le Corbusier opens at MoMA this June – see all news about MoMA and see more architecture in New York.

Photograph by Dan Nguyen.

  • JJJ

    Well, that's life, that's business, that's architecture, and that's a shame.

    Such an abysmal commentary on our use of resources, to destroy a building as wonderful as this. I strongly recommend a visit, if possible, before it meets its premature end.

  • Shame

    4600 additional square feet? And a connection to a building for the hyper rich?

    Shame on you MOMA!
    Shame on you Glenn Lowry!

    With one move your organisation lost all credibility as an institution for modern art which was carefully built up over many decades.

    • Considering that art is used as a mechanism for money laundering this seems quite appropriate.

    • Brian

      The article says 4600 square meters, which is approximately 46,000 sf. Personally, I find the wastefulness of the entire exercise pretty hilarious: expensive, much published example of contemporary architecture performs poorly, drives its client out of business, is purchased by a competitor, destroyed, and replaced by another expensive much published example of contemporary architecture. Hilarious.

      • sdfsd

        I don’t think the building “drove its client out of business”. Do you care for “self-taught and outsider art”?

  • Gugenheim is next

    Gugenheim should be next!

    (Sarcasm keeps me from throwing up over MOMA's insanity)

  • Chris

    Please help with trying to prevent this travesty. Sign the petition!

  • Desk

    Nouvel gives Tsien the big stick… Hmmm.

    • Jaketown

      Perhaps you missed the point that this site is not part of the Nouvel-designed tower, but rather the location for an expansion of MoMA that will link to the Nouvel tower?

  • RitaSue Siegel

    Please look at the photo of the museum and tell me what the imagery has to do with Folk Art? On the street it was overpowering and oppressive. Inside, It was tiny, dreary and dark. I cannot understand the reason why anyone considered it was a good building. The architects have done so much better before and since. There is no reason why a few stairs could not have breached the difference between its and the MoMA floor plates if MoMA was serious about preserving it. I do not think MoMA would want to go on record as the destroyers of a great piece of architecture, but that is not the case. It was a building that belonged somewhere else, just like the pending Nouvel building does.

    • santiago

      Completely agree with you RitaSue. This is a doggone awful building. Heavy, uninspired, clumsy, dark, real, real bad. I am glad MoMA does the right thing and flushes it down the drain.

    • crusty

      Ditto! Horrible building — went the first week it opened and never went back. The architects drained the Folk Art Museum with an exorbitant price tag the museum could never afford, for a mediocre building that was mostly circulation with tiny awkward galleries. I’d bet those of you calling for its preservation have never even been inside. Good riddance!

  • This is a terrible shame. A museum of modern art choosing to destroy a real work of contemporary art in favour of, according to the New York Times article, “perhaps additional retail or another restaurant” is just shameful and pathetic. MoMA clearly have their priorities wrong and should be ashamed of themselves.



  • Stephen

    Don't just stand there! Do something!

  • pipo

    That’s really a shame.

  • Eason

    That’s crazy. Nooooo

  • Colonel Pancake

    MoMa should have got Christo, Elizabeth Diller and some other folks in the art community together to see if they could find a way to transform the building itself into an artwork, either temporarily before it is torn down, or permanently as a means to find a way to get people into it.

    At the very least, there should be a long brainstorming session about how to either recycle components of the building into the new building (like the facade), or to commission a series of artists to make artworks out of the building’s materials for some type of exhibition at the new building or PS1 later.

    It suggests a lack of dignity within MoMA if they go about destroying somebody’s creative offspring if there isn’t a diligent effort to maintain some value in its original realisation.

    I understand the need for space, but Christ, this is a crass effort of cultural hegemony that I wish we could have laid to rest with Corbu and his barbaric Paris utopia.

    • santiago

      Spend money to have artists make artworks out of that crap? In what kind of a world do you live? You like to spend other people’s money? It’s their building, they can do with it whatever they want!

  • twbta4life

    A loss for all who enjoy quality, slowness and craft. I am deeply saddened.

  • Saramon

    Wow, how lame and morally corrupt can the MoMA get at this point? Maybe they should call in Tilda Swinton for PR support after this disaster.

  • Michael

    MoMA, soon your floors will line up, but we will no longer line up for you.

  • jmaw

    Being that the client is an art museum, one would assume that the preservation of art should outweigh a little extra floor area.

    • Chris

      MoMA stopped being about preserving art many years ago; it’s now a corporation bent on protecting its financial assets. This is what happens when governments don’t subsidise the arts; galleries are reduced to accounting. One of the reasons why I love Tate so much.

  • ryan

    This Williams/Tsien building, like much of their other built work, is only good and never great. With their supposed attention to “detail”, they somehow always fall short.

    That said, the Nouvel building is guaranteed to be worthless.

    • Peter

      I agree completely with your assessment of Williams/Tsien’s work, but I would say barely good and never great.

      Although I am always excited for a new Nouvel building.

  • Scott W

    Are the artists/designers in charge of MoMA so stupid that they can’t figure out a way to incorporate this building in their new design? Just because the floors don’t line up (Steven Holl did a fantastic job of using this design ‘challenge’ to create a quality building at Pratt) and it isn’t made out of glass doesn’t mean this building can’t be accommodated to fit their future needs.

    • bill

      Er, there are no artists/designers in charge of MoMA.

  • An outrageous and profligate disaster. They should be very ashamed of themselves.

  • Gugenheim is next

    MoMA = McDonald’s of Mediocre Art.

  • Tod Tsien

    Give me a break. This is only a so-so building, not anything remarkable, no matter what Billie claims! Taught in architecture schools, huh? It’s not exactly the most contextual building, nor is having a bronze facade an automatic claim to craftsmanship! And isn’t the design of the museum one of the reasons for the museum’s downfall? The architecture just didn’t generate enough excitement to encourage attendance and therefore revenue? Anyone who says that this deserves landmark status should refresh themselves on what makes a landmark. Why should MOMA be burdened by a predecessor’s mediocrity when they have plenty of it themselves, in the form of the Stone, Pelli & Taniguchi annexes. Only Philip’s garden is a real gem. Maybe MOMA can get a real landmark for themselves this time around.

    • Chris

      ”Not exactly the most contextual building” – it’s tall and environmentally unfriendly, I’d say it’s perfectly contextual in regards to the surrounding city.

    • recon::decon

      “Maybe MOMA can get a real landmark for themselves this time around.”

      My understanding from some of the discussion about this is that MoMA intends to just extend the bland 53rd street glass facade, so no, they will not get a real landmark, just more of the same. Which makes the loss of this building particularly tragic. Regardless of your feelings on it, it is arguably better than the current MoMA building that has zero street presence whatsoever.

  • Adam

    Artists and designers are not in charge of MOMA – developers are. Lowry’s comment about ‘it’s our responsibility to intelligently use the site’ is so sad it’s laughable.

  • sor perdida

    This is the true ugly face of the corporate machinery at work behind MoMa. Ironically, the proposed Jean Nouvel tower derives inspiration from Williams & Tsien’s museum, but the pundits on the board are ignoring this design empathy.

    The whole deal with demolishing the museum is (by extrapolation) a case study in American greed. Isn’t it the time to call Terence Riley and the like on MoMa’s board of trustees vile impostors who pander culture?

  • T Sandwich

    Let’s be honest – it’s not a great building and it will not be missed. EOM

  • texxeen

    Go MoMA! go Jean! I am ecstatic, been waiting for years for this, about time. Architecture is inherently destructive guys, get used to it. Also, NYC remains the capital of our capitalist consumption continuum, so let’s stop kidding ourselves here. Until another global system replaces it, I suggest we celebrate capitalism by celebrating the new MoMA! BTW guys the Dow is headed to 15,000, cheers!

    • recon::decon

      this is such a “‘Merica F— Yeah!” comment. Terrible.

  • A serious shame to lose the exhibits from the building and now the building itself. New York does not have enough seriously great works of architecture that it can afford to lose this one. What an incredible lack of imagination and foresight by MOMA. The hypocrisy is amazing!

  • Jess Lapid

    Can they recreate the bronze cladding in one of the walls inside the proposed new building? Like an atrium or something? That’s the least they can do to still have some respect for the former architects.

  • SYP

    It is cannibalism that consumes its own kind for its own greed. Mr Nouvel would be eaten by one of his own kind, too, in time.

    It is capitalism, isn’t it?

  • Aditi

    Regardless of whether the this building is perceived as being ugly or not, this is such a wasteful approach to architecture! It’s a waste of resources that have already gone into the construction, and to demolish and restart is even more wasteful. What’s wrong with reuse? In the current age of being sustainable and sensible about our use of resources, it’s disappointing to hear about such insensitive proposals.

    • rich


  • James

    Sign the petition now! Help speak out against this terrible decision!

  • future architect

    Boycott MoMA, Museum of Modern A**