45 West 53rd Street, American Folk Art Museum, proposed designation.
At the regularly scheduled monthly meeting of Community Board Five on Thursday, April 10, 2014, the following resolution passed with a vote of: 27 in favor, 7 opposed, 1 abstained.
WHEREAS, The building that housed the American Folk Art Museum, located at 45 West 53rd Street is slated for imminent demolition; and
WHEREAS, The façade of the 85-foot tall building is clad in sixty-three textured panels of Tombasil, a lustrous and weatherable alloy of copper and white bronze, and the material, which had never previously been used architecturally, faceted in three large planes that evoke the palm of a human hand and catch the light at different angles, was designed by Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects in collaboration with sculptor Darcy Miro; and
WHEREAS, The building's architects, Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects, won numerous awards for the building—among others, an American Institute of Architects National Honor Award (in 2003), the World Architecture Awards for Best Building in the World, Best Public/Cultural Building in the World, and Best North American Building, as well as the New York City American Institute of Architects Design Award (all in 2003); and the Municipal Art Society New York City Masterwork Award (in 2001); and
WHEREAS, The facade was designed in context with the Midtown Special Sub-district, which has the following purposes, among others: to preserve the historic architectural character of development along certain streets and avenues and the pedestrian orientation of ground floor uses, and thus safeguard the qualities that makes Midtown vital; and to continue the historic pattern of relatively low building bulk in mid-block locations compared to avenue frontages; and
WHEREAS, The American Folk Art Museum sold its Midtown building to its neighbor MoMA in May 2011 and relocated to the Upper West Side; and
WHEREAS, In April 2013, MoMA announced plans to demolish the building to make way for MoMA's expansion plans; and
WHEREAS, As a result of massive outpouring of media attention and the objections from preservationists, design critics, and renowned architects, urban planners, academics, neighbors, and other city advocates, by the following month, MoMA announced that it would reassess its decision to raze the building; and
WHEREAS, On January 9, 2014, MoMA announced its final decision to raze the building; and
WHEREAS, This particular block has seen a very complex transfer of development rights, between and among the University Club, St Thomas Church and a receiving site; and
WHEREAS, The receiving site for these air rights is 53W53ST, which is adjacent to the Folk Art Museum and may be impacted by the demolition of 45W53ST and the proposed new building; and
WHEREAS, MoMA Building History includes:
1951 | Grace Rainey Rogers Annex, designed by Philip Johnson, opens at 21 West 53 Street, adjacent to the original 1939 building (razed in 1979 to make room for the new west wing).
1953 | The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden, designed by Philip Johnson, is dedicated. Acquisition of building at 27 West 53 Street.
1964 | Opening of east wing and garden wing and enlarged sculpture garden. Project designed by Philip Johnson.
1980 | Construction begins on the west wing and Museum Tower, built over parcel formerly occupied by 21-35 West 53 Street.
1984 | New west wing, designed by Cesar Pelli & Associates, and renovated and improved Museum facilities open. West wing doubles exhibition space and adds a new film theater and two floors of offices. Other improvements include a four-story, glass-enclosed garden hall overlooking the sculpture garden and housing Museum circulation; two new restaurants in the expanded garden wing; and a completely refurbished sculpture garden.
1996 | Acquisition of the Dorset Hotel at 30 West 54 Street and two adjacent townhouses at 42 West 54 Street and 41 West 53 Street for future expansion.
1997 | Yoshio Taniguchi selected as architect for the new Museum of Modern Art. Architects chosen by MoMA for the competition. Bernard Tschumi, Herzog & de Meuron Architekten, Steven Holl, Rem Koolhaas, Toyo Ito, Rafael Vinoly, Dominique Perrault, and the team of Tod Williams and Billie Tsien.
2001 | Construction on new Museum of Modern Art begins.
MoMA opens The MoMA Design Store, Soho, at 81 Spring Street.
2002 | The Museum opens MoMA QNS, its temporary new home in Long Island City. Designed by Cooper, Robertson & Partners of New York. Lobby and roofscape designed in collaboration with Michael Maltzan Architecture of Los Angeles.
2004 | The new Museum of Modern Art opens in Manhattan. MoMA's midtown location underwent extensive renovations in the early 2000s, closing on May 21, 2002 and reopening to the public in a building redesigned by the Japanese architect Yoshio Taniguchi along with Kohn Pedersen Fox, on November 20, 2004. The project nearly doubled the space for MoMA's exhibitions and programs and features 630,000 square feet of new and redesigned space. The Peggy and David Rockefeller Building on the western portion of the site houses the main exhibition galleries, and The Lewis B. and Dorothy Cullman Education and Research Building on the eastern portion provides over five times more space for classrooms, auditoriums, and teacher training workshops, and the museum's expanded Library and Archives. These two buildings frame the enlarged Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden; and
WHEREAS, The Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) has established a criteria that buildings less than 30 years old are not eligible to be considered for preservation; and
WHEREAS, On occasions such as this, a building less than 30 years old when threatened, draws considerable attention from the architectural/design and local community for its preservation; and
WHEREAS, A building less than 30 years old that has not stood the test of time must meet the highest criteria for preservation; and
WHEREAS, A contemporary building worthy of preservation should meet at least five out of the six criteria below:
1- When constructed, the building, structure or facility must have been recognized by multiple, prestigious design awards. The awards must be bestowed by a national or international-based organizations, not merely local or regionally based. The Folk Art Building meets this criteria.
2- The architect of the building should hold a place of national or international distinction for over 15 years. Todd William and Billie Tsein meet this criteria.
3- Building must not have suffered from any design or functional flaw in the intervening years. The Folk Art Building meets this criteria.
4- Innovative materials – rarely or never used architectural material or system. The Folk Art Building meets this criteria.
5- Innovated design – the design should have been considered innovative and contextually appropriate. The Folk Art Building meets this criteria.
6- The builder, developer, or institutional benefactor of the building must be a prominent individual or firm, destined to hold a high place of esteem in their industry or profession. The Folk Art Museum Building meets this criteria; and
WHEREAS, MoMA's Department of Architecture and Design was founded in 1932 as the first museum department in the world dedicated to the intersection of architecture and design; and
WHEREAS, MoMA acknowledged Williams Billie Tsien Architects stature in the realm of architecture in 1997 by inviting them to compete for the previous renovation; and
WHEREAS, It would be moral conflict for a museum to acknowledge the importance of an architect and then remove a site-specific example of their work; and
WHEREAS, The original design of MoMA's proposed addition did not include the American Folk Art Museum site, so adding such a small percentage of area to the museum does not justify demolishing a building meeting the criteria listed above; and
WHEREAS, MoMA has shown precedent in all their previous renovations of preserving buildings meeting the criteria above: 11 West 53, 21 West 53, and the sculpture garden; and
WHEREAS, Community Board Five would recommend that MoMA consider this and look at a larger MoMA campus renovation to preserve the American Folk Art Museum building as a solution to demolition, therefore be it
RESOLVED, Community Board Five strongly objects to the demolition of the former American Folk Art Building façade and finds that the current Landmarks Law and city charter do not adequately address saving this worthy example of architecture and thought should be considered for exceptions or revised criteria, and be it further
RESOLVED, Community Board Five urges the Mayor, NY City Council, the Landmark Preservation Commission to consider adopting criteria to preserve contemporary buildings of distinction, especially when public funds are involved, and be it further
RESOLVED, Community Board Five urges the Mayor, NY City Council, the Landmark Preservation Commission to consider the former American Folk Art Building façade be the first such designation to protect it from demolition.