MoMA's Ready for Its Close-Up

John Hill
11. October 2019
Exterior view of The Museum of Modern Art, 53rd Street Entrance Canopy (Photo: Iwan Baan, courtesy of MoMA)

Fifteen years after a major expansion designed by Yoshio Taniguchi, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City has completed its latest expansion, this time courtesy of Diller Scofidio + Renfro in collaboration with Gensler.

Opening to the public on October 21, the newly enlarged MoMA is six years in the making, given that Diller Scofidio + Renfro (DS+R) was hired back in 2013. That announcement came in May, one month after MoMA said they would be tearing down the neighboring American Folk Art Museum that was designed by Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects and was just 12 years old at the time. 

Anger at MoMA for choosing to tear down a building beloved by many architects gave way to cautious optimism when DS+R vowed to try to save it. But a public presentation in early 2014 made it clear that their attempts were unsuccessful and MoMA would not budge on demolishing the contemporary gem. With Folk Art's bronze facade now in storage (per the New York Times), the north side of 53rd Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues is now primarily MoMA — and lots of glass.

Exterior view of The Museum of Modern Art on 53rd Street (Image © 2017 Diller Scofidio + Renfro)

The first sign of DS+R's work on the new MoMA came in 2017, when their renovation of MoMA's 1939 building was opened to the public. Construction work after that focused on the spaces to the west, with the renovation of Taniguchi's work and expansion into the old Folk Art site and the base of 53W53, a residential tower designed by Jean Nouvel. The complexity of the plan is best understood by watching a short film from the architects:

The impetus for MoMA — a museum whose annual number of visitors totals around 3 million — to expand is the creation of more gallery space: 30% more for a grand total of 165,000 square feet (15,330 m2). The westward expansion has resulted in what MoMA calls "a gallery loop" that links galleries on three floors and "enables the museum to exhibit significantly more art in new and interdisciplinary ways."

Exterior view of The Museum of Modern Art, Blade Stair Atrium, 53rd Street (Photo: Iwan Baan, courtesy of MoMA)

Some of the most important spaces in the project are found at sidewalk level, starting with the dramatic, knife-edge canopy at the reconfigured lobby on 53rd Street. Next to the lobby, the MoMA Store has been moved into the basement, in a large space generously illuminated by the glass street facade. Beyond it and a new stair is a street level gallery that sits in the old Folk Art footprint and is open to the public, free of charge. Beyond this gallery is the double-height Projects Gallery, also free, intended as a venue for art of variable media.

Interior view of The Museum of Modern Art, West Lobby Lounge and Eli & Edythe Broad Ticketing Platform (Photo: Iwan Baan, courtesy of MoMA)

World-Architects will have a more in-depth look inside the newly expanded MoMA after opening day on October 21.

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