It’s pretty rare that the cacophonous architectural media lines up about anything, but the wall of resistance to MoMA’s plan to demolish the firm’s design of the American Folk Art Museum is extraordinarily firm and consistent.
The promised demolition of the museum is a highly emotional loss for the architecture community, not only because it is a courageous work of art (seeking, whether you like the result or not, to overcome the tyranny of the vertical museum), but because so little of real architectural significance is built in New York City. MoMA, of all institutions, should not have been surprised. So many projects are shaved of ambition because of money, or risk- averse clients, or crabby neighbors or just laziness.
MoMA supporters are thin on the ground (the primary one being Jerry Salz, of New York magazine, who weighed in in favor of the demolition, reflecting, I suspect, the views of a segment of the art world that insists that art can only be properly displayed in prismatic honorific galleries).
The resistance to demolition also reflects the deep respect the architecture community has for the architects Tod Williams and Billie Tsien. They have stayed small, and have methodically built an impeccable reputation for decades by being selective about the work they do, then applying thoughtful, painstaking hard work to the issues it presents. They are modest, and actually allow doubt to show. We all know how rare that is. They try unstintingly to make each design count. And so many of them do count.
That’s why they will be celebrated at AIA’s national convention in Denver as the firm of the year.
It’s a sad irony that within months one of the firm’s few major projects may be turned to dust.