In 2001 a new American Folk Art Museum opened on West 53rd Street in Manhattan. The new building had been designed by the renowned firm of Williams and Tsien Architects and was widely applauded as “a beautiful and inventive jewel of a building that enriched its streetscape”.
In 2011 the museum closed because of financial problems and the neighbouring organization, which happened to be the world-renowned Museum of Modern Art, bought the building at a fire sale price and decided to pull it down in order to expand its own space with an 82 storey tower.
Following the announcement of the proposed demolition in April of this year the folks at MOMA have been subject to all kinds of criticism. Among the strongest comes from Seattle-based “industrious Architecture” firm BUILD llc which, in an open letter to MOMA, stated “You are practicing anti-sustainability. The environmental impacts of bulldozing a perfectly functional, 12 year old building are shameful. We get a headache just considering the consequences: the effort it will take to raze the building, transport the debris, and the amount of space it will consume at the landfill—not to mention the wasted energy, time, materials, and financing of the original structure. Don’t even try pulling off some exhibit on “green” design after this foolish move.”
The mess in which MOMA, a world leader in stewardship of modern art and design, now finds itself could easily have been avoided had the organization more completely applied the principles which it espouses to its own activities. Other businesses, with less architectural experience than MOMA, might also find themselves creating demolition waste out of architectural gems with many more years of life. Recycling buildings, especially newer buildings, is not yet always getting the attention it deserves but it is as environmentally important to recycle buildings as to recycle sheets of paper.
You can read the story of the American Folk Art Museum building in an editorial in the April issue of Architectural Digest at http://archrecord.construction.com/news/2013/04/130412-Editorial-MoMA-Inc-Plans-to-Crush-Williams-and-Tsien8217s-Gem.asp
The open letter to MOMA from BUILD llc can be read at http://blog.buildllc.com/2013/04/an-open-letter-to-moma-the-museum-of-mediocre-aspirations/