Davidson: MoMA May Not Tear Down the American Folk Art Museum After All

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The former Museum of American Folk Art (L) stands next to the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) on April 11, 2013 in New York City. MoMA announced yesterday that it will demolish the former Museum of American Folk Art, a building it purchased in 2011. The building, with a bronze sculptural facade, was architectonically acclaimed. MoMA says it needs to demolish the building in order to enlarge its own facilities.
Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Just weeks after announcing plans to raze the former American Folk Art Museum by Tod Williams and Billie Tsien — a decision that unstoppered a geyser of protests from critics, architects, and preservationists — the Museum of Modern Art has hired Diller Scofidio + Renfro to help plot its expansion into that site.

This is potentially good news for the Folk Art building's defenders. The firm's founders, Liz Diller and Ric Scofidio, have been friends of Williams and Tsien's for decades, and although amity can easily get chewed up in the grind of architectural competition, theirs is a relationship seemingly based on respect for each other's work. A MoMA spokesperson said in an e-mail that the new architects "requested the possibility of considering a range of options for the entirety of the site, including the former American Folk Art Museum building, and the Museum agreed." Translation: DS+R hope to figure out a way to save their friends' once-doomed little building while still satisfying MoMA's real-estate hunger, and MoMA answered: Knock yourself out. The choice of architects is also a good sign, because in their extensive renovation of Lincoln Center, DS+R have a track record of finding elegant ways to integrate idiosyncratic buildings into a larger campus without tearing them down. If they can manage to do the same for MoMA, maybe Williams and Tsien can someday return the favor and rescue one of their creations from senseless destruction.