the former american folk art museum and designing for obsolesence

by now, we've all seen the news of the folk art museum, an ambitious enterprise with ginormous eyes and a miniscule stomach.


with the threat of demolition possible, it seems TWBTA is on a full court press to save their building.


via arch record:

To witness the demolition of anything you created is difficult, he said: “When you make a building, you put your heart and soul into it and send it out into the world.”


Williams also hopes the building is not converted to offices because it was specifically designed to house art. “It wouldn’t make any sense to gut the structure"


i've been pretty conflicted by this project since i first visited nearly a decade ago. on one level, i think it's great that the architect had the freedom to create a building to specifically house specific works of art. however, the specificity also felt very forced/rigid and, on several levels, felt really 'flat' to me. that the building can't be deconstructed or converted (according to TWBTA) further reinforces the failings of such specificity to me.


in fact, i would say this was designed for obsolescence (albeit perhaps unintentionally), which is completely incompatible with the material choices and construction of AFMA. so that leads to a few questions i have regarding the project and the future of the former AFMA building...


is the failure of AFMA a design failure?


if it's a design failure, should the architect really have a say in the future of the building?


even if it's not a design failure, should the architect have a say?


should the architects have taken into account the possibility of the institution needing to move or folding, and allowed for something else to take place/inhabit the space?


what's wrong with demolishing a project that can't be utilized as "anything but a gallery" for something more functional/profitable?

May 14, 11 3:08 pm

specificity - this is the old failure of architects wanting to design for programmatic utopia  - some very narrow vision of how their space would be used in the future - always the same way for ever and ever... (which rarely happens)


instead of designing for heterotopia - allowing for layers upon layers of meaning.  some juxtapositions used to rather unique effect.


the vast majority of buildings are going to be altered in some way to fix "design flaws", or because we need to use them differently - the only thing you can hope for is that you've left enough of a mark so that something you put in stays around for a long time and "influences" the future state of the building.


so - why can't it be turned into an office building?

May 14, 11 4:23 pm

I really like(d) that building, one of the few I took effort to visit in NY (when it was first built).


I think it is silly to design for some obscure/random possibilities in the future.  Clearly, they met the requirements of the client and received much success for their design.  Why would it be better to design a big boring box?


Sure, they should have a voice.  Obviously it always comes down to money, so their voice will, most likely, be only heard by a few.  But I don't see why this is different from saving some "historic" building.


If we take the attitude that money is all that matters, which I am not necessarily opposed to, then we have to re-evaluate all buildings going on a historic preservationist list (as there are quite a few out there that are saved simply because they are 'old', but really nothing special).




I like the building, a lot, and would say 'save it', convert it to whatever the owner wants to keep it.

May 14, 11 4:58 pm

I don't think this is a design failure. I would say it is a concept failure. While concept involves design, there's a larger organizational aspect involved.


Museums, like stadiums or theaters, depend on high-volume traffic. At say $10 for admission price— they would need about 12,000 visits a month to service the debt. That ignores money made on investments, donations, gift shop purchases et cetera. Their data shows about 160,000 visits in 2009 where a figure of 220,000 plus would have been needed to sustain the museum.


And this is where we come into problems, the building is only 30,000 square feet. Eliminate 25% of that space for storage, walls, lobby and circulation, we're left with 22,500 square feet. Of that, eliminate 50% of that for space where art actually stands. And we have 11,250 for place for people to stand. Going back to the 220,000 figure, there would need to be 705 people there on any given day. That's 15 square feet of space per patron. This is a little generous considering that most museums generally have about 8 -10 square feet per patron.


So, the museum is either over-sized and impractical for its potential revenue stream or it was failing to attract the needed traffic. This is something that I don't think really any architect could or should account for. TWBTA, who has done master planning before, should have fired their planners or analysts over this. Because this calculation should have been the first thing to have come to the table.


I think the only thing it could be reused for other than an office is a high-end retail store (shoes, luggage, clothing). I would say the aesthetic would lend itself better to a men's clothing store.

May 14, 11 5:18 pm

It certainly won't become a Duane Reade because this building clearly has bathrooms.

May 14, 11 5:19 pm
won and done williams

Everyone needs to hold their horses. I find it incredibly unlikely that MoMA demos it. Architects (and architecture critics) aren't exactly real estate people. I see no reason whatsoever from a real estate perspective to tear this thing down. The lot is too narrow for MoMA to expand into, and the adjacent tower is already designed. You think Hines wants to redesign the project to somehow take advantage of this matchbox size site? Me thinks not. Most likely MoMA uses the building as a special collections exhibit space. They, if anybody, know the value of the building. So before we turn this into some navel gazing exercise on the responsibilities of the architect or speculate on all the highly imaginative (and highly improbable) uses for this building, let's look at this situation with a dose of reality.

May 14, 11 9:02 pm

What would Koolhaas say? maybe that Preservation is Overtaking Us ?


Though hopefully won and done williams your right. I would like to think that this was some backyard art world deal to ensure the building in fact remains and is used within the context of Manhattans hyper-fluid real estate


May 14, 11 9:50 pm

ok - read the article - won's probably right - MOMA said they're planning on using it as gallery space.


Williams also hopes the building is not converted to offices because it was specifically designed to house art. “It wouldn’t make any sense to gut the structure"


from what little I know about commercial real-estate, I'm guessing he probably meant it wouldn't make any financial sense to gut the structure.

May 15, 11 1:47 am

I was working for TWBTA when the building was being completed/opened. MoMA hated the Folk Art organization and TWBTA from day one, and I think that the potential tearing down is a big f'you/ ours is bigger than yours. That being said, it is a damn shame that a organization that claims to be committed to art (MoMA) would even think about destroying one of the greatest pieces of architecture to have been built in NYC in the past 50 yrs



May 15, 11 11:51 pm

toaster - i really like your use of "heterotopia" in this context.  it's a concept i've spent a lot of time thinking and working through.


May 16, 11 12:00 am

Actually, this place would make a killer office.

May 16, 11 12:12 am
Ms. Architect

... I think, in the day and age of responsible design, green design, LEED, energy conservation blah blah etc... they should find a function for the design the way it is, irrespective of personal vendettas. Besides... its not a bad looking building...

My professor was part of that project and ... it is mind-blowing, the kinds of resources that went into it. It would be such a sad collosal waste if, in fact, it is torn down. 

May 16, 11 4:17 pm

it's really hard to tell a client "well, we designed your building this way because we think in ten years you'll be bankrupt and someone else will want to move in"


May 16, 11 9:29 pm

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