Wikimedia Commons

Could the beloved building, slated to be torn down, have a second life somewhere else?

As the controversy surrounding Diller Scofidio + Renfro's plan to demolish the Folk Art Museum wanes, some very real questions about what to do with the building have arisen. One New York engineer, Nat Oppenheimer, has an idea. Oppenheimer is a principal at Robert Silman Associates, the firm responsible for moving the historic Empire Theater up the street in 1998. He wants to perform a similar urban slight-of-hand and transfer the Folk Art Museum down 53rd Street to make room for the MoMA expansion and its connection to the adjacent Tower Verre (MoMA Tower) by Jean Nouvel.

According to an article by Fred A. Bernstein, Oppenheimer wrote a letter to FAM architects Tod Williams and Billie Tsien suggesting just that. "For enough money, you can do anything in New York," he said. This got us thinking. Why stop down the street? What if the Folk Art Museum was transported somewhere else in New York City?

It is certainly feasible. The Empire Theatre, a fixture on West 42nd Street, was lifted and moved 170 feet via large steel rails in 1998. The same technique was used in 1962 to move Princeton University's Corwin Hall to make room for a new building by Minoru Yamasaki, of Pruitt-Igoe and World Trade Center Towers fame, who demanded Corwin Hall's corner spot.

However, the best moving technique for the AFAM might be to tear it apart and reconstruct it elsewhere. Museums often do this to preserve landmarked or historical buildings, including the Metropolitan Museum, which cobbled together the Cloisters in the 1930s from reassembled architectural elements largely dating from the 12th through 15th centuries. The London Bridge was disassembled and shipped from London in 1971 to Arizona. It is now a functioning bridge that links Lake Havasu City to an island.

So where might the Folk Art Museum end up? Maybe MoMA could use another satellite in the outer boroughs—something like Queens's PS1, but in the Bronx. Imagine the parking lot of tailgaters drinking cold ones and checking out the latest contemporary art at the former Folk Art Museum, now part of Yankee Stadium in a weird relational architecture experiment.

Image by Andrew Kovacs

Maybe the museum could be set in a field in Central Park like a fish-tank castle, out of its urban context and nuzzled nicely in a field of grass. Or maybe it becomes part of a fountain. Michael Kimmelman of the New York Times suggested that MoMA treat the building as a piece of its design collection. This kind of objectification would do precisely that.


Image by Andrew Kovacs

Maybe the Folk Art Museum could join another monumental piece of architecture, such as Philip Johnson's AT&T building, fulfilling its destiny as a monumental facade, high up in the air and less subtly than in the 53rd Street location. Or if it were placed on top of a building, it could be like a little rooftop extension of the MoMA, and thus the city. And it could act like a spire, too.

Image by Andrew Kovacs

New York loves to redevelop its waterfront, so why not move the Folk Art Museum to a pier? Or maybe take it out to Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty, or the Brooklyn Bridge and marry it with an iconic part of the city. If it really is as important as everyone says, then it should fit in nicely, right? And we all know that you can move buildings via boat.


Image by Andrew Kovacs

The point is that MoMA should keep the Folk Art Museum and move it somewhere else where it can engage the city—not just hide it in storage. Treat it as a building, not a sculpture. The "where" can be up to MoMA; these are merely suggestions.

If the institution does manage to find a new home for the endangered structure, it would show a positive, big-picture attitude about MoMA's position in the city, as well as art at the scale of the city. Moving the Folk Art Museum is the best choice.

Image by Andrew Kovacs

Image by David Shankbone/Wikimedia Commons.

This post originally appeared on Architizer, an Atlantic partner site.

 

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