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moma's new architect

by Walter Robinson  

53rd Street facade
Museum of Modern Art
Model, 1997

Arial view from the
North East of the Abby
Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden
Museum of Modern Art
Model, 1997

54th Street facade
Museum of Modern Art
Model, 1997

Yoshio Taniguchi

MoMA architecture curator
Terry Riley
   In keeping with its global vision of the 21st-century art museum, the Museum of Modern Art has chosen Japanese architect Yoshio Taniguchi to design its new expansion and renovation. Tanaguchi's design will reshape the entire museum, moving the main entrance around to 54th Street, restoring the museum's famous garden to its original proportions and adding a new grand stairway and entrance atrium. Major new construction will include the addition of a seven-story annex structure for painting and sculpture galleries on the present site of the Dorset Hotel.

The redesign makes the garden central to the museum's reconfigured ground floor spaces, and also brings the lines of Cesar Pelli's 52-story museum tower down to grade level, emphasizing the "urban character" of the museum, as MoMA architecture curator Terry Riley put it. The project calls for underground excavation on both the Dorset Hotel site and under the garden to create a new theater and an expanded department of video and film. The Goodwin-Stone facade, presently entrance to the museum proper, will be restored as the entrance to the film center. And MoMA's original "Bauhaus" staircase will once again become an integral connection between the galleries.

Taniguchi's plan expands MoMA's present 86,000 square feet of gallery space to 133,000 square feet. But additional design refinements are expected in the coming months, according to MoMA director Glenn Lowry. What's the expansion's pricetag? The museum isn't saying yet, but it will "be less than the Getty," joked MoMA chairman Ronald Lauder at the press conference, in reference to the $1-billion J. Paul Getty Center opening this week in Los Angeles. When will it be finished? MoMA professes similar uncertainty as to the exact date, but Lauder has challenged Lowry to have it done in time for the museum's 75th anniversary in 2004. "What's great about this plan, nobody can explain," said the architect Philip Johnson, who designed MoMA's first expansion in 1951. "You will walk in and be smitten by art."

This project is Taniguchi's first in the U.S. He has done a number of museums in Japan, including the Nagano Prefectural Museum (1990), the Marugame Genichiro-Inokuma Museum (1988-81), the Toyota Municipal Museum of Art (1991-95) and the Gallery of the Horyuji Treasures now under construction at the Tokyo National Museum.

The two other finalists in MoMA's competition were Columbia University architecture dean Bernard Tschumi and the Swiss architectural team of Herzog and de Meuron. The museum's architect selection committee consisted of MoMA trustee Sid Bass, who served as chairman, plus Lauder, museum president Agnes Gund, MoMA chairman emeritus David Rockefeller, Marshall Cogan and Jerry Spier.

WALTER ROBINSON is editor of ArtNet Magazine.