When the American Folk Art Museum designed by Tod Williams and Billie Tsien first made its shimmering debut on West 53rd Street, it was heralded as a solid piece of architecture that lifted the post-911 sadness that befell New York City. Clad in panels of white bronze and surrounded on three sides by the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), the $32 million building was the first new museum to have been built in three decades. And now, just twelve years later, it is coming down.
After defaulting on payments in 2009, the American Folk Art Museum was almost forced to shut down. But MoMA purchased the building and the museum moved to a smaller space on Lincoln Square at West 66th street.
“Clearly we made an error of judgment in spending that much money on that building,” said Edward Blanchard, who became the museum’s president in 2011. “I give the board at that time a lot of credit for having great ambitions and for seeking to do something that was not ordinary. I think that’s admirable.”
Unfortunately, MoMA is planning an expansion and the eight story building doesn’t fit their style. The very thing that makes the building so iconic, its facade, is too opaque for MoMA’s glass-fronted building, according to The New York Times. It is also set back on the plot, which means that the floors of a new 82-story tower wouldn’t line up.
Glenn D. Lowry, MoMA’s director, told NYT that the decision to raze the building is not a “comment on the architecture” and he informed Tod Williams and Billie Tsien in person that their building will be demolished. Tsien was disappointed by the news, she said in an interview with the paper.
She said that “your buildings are like your children,” adding that in a city where “bigness” has come to dominate architecture, the special building’s demolition is also a loss for architecture. Not to mention a ridiculous waste of precious resources and $32 million.