The MoMA expansion and renovation represents a seismic shift in the museum’s curatorial approach. In an effort to present a greater diversity, depth and breadth of works in its collection, MoMA abolished the longstanding practice of assigning period- and medium-specific galleries to its seven siloed departments. This profound change required spaces that could enable curatorial experimentation and support more fluid, interconnected narratives of modern and contemporary art across all disciplines.
The project involved comprehensive yet surgical interventions across 65,000 m2 of the museum campus, working through 80 years of MoMA’s architectural legacy. Existing buildings included the original Goodwin Stone building (1939), an expansion by Philip Johnson (1964), an intervention by Cesar Pelli (1984), the last major expansion by Yoshio Taniguchi (2004), a site left by the former Folk Art Museum by Todd Williams and Billie Tsien, and the base of Jean Nouvel’s residential tower (2019). The expansion, which started as an increase of gallery space in the base of the Nouvel tower, blossomed into a multi-phase collection of operations throughout all the existing buildings—intersecting their structural, mechanical and circulation logics while weaving through the layers of MoMA’s architectural history.
The ambitious scope of the project encompassed the expansion, demolition, and renovation of spaces throughout the campus. In response to evolving curatorial objectives, new state-of-the-art, flexible galleries broke from the limitations of previous medium-specific galleries to bring together works across all disciplines. The expansion at the western end of MoMA created a stack of vertically interlocking spaces of varying heights, including a street-level gallery; a dedicated Projects Room for artists-in-residence; a box-in-box studio that enables MoMA to present performing arts for the first time; and an outdoor cafe. Among multiple renovations to the eastern end of the campus, the historic Bauhaus stair was extended to restore access to second and third-floor galleries, while a new first-floor lounge was carved out of a mechanical space facing The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden. The combined expansion and renovation yielded a net increase of 30% more gallery space, allowing MoMA to exhibit more of its world-class collection.
The design also revitalized the museum’s public spaces, which previously felt cramped, crowded, and transactional. A new razor-thin entry canopy invites visitors into a double height space on 53rd street with uninterrupted views between 53rd and 54th streets, liberated by moving ticketing and coat check off the central axis. The more welcoming lobby is equipped to host art installations in a ground-floor gallery free and open to all. The museum store is lowered one level, transforming it into a double-height space that allows visual connections between the reconfigured lobby and the street. This renewed sense of openness relieves congestion and knits together the expansion spaces with the lobbies, the theaters, and the Sculpture Garden, creating a contiguous, free public realm that bridges street to street and art to city.
The project’s inherent technical complexities and resultant design solutions gave the new MoMA its distinctive architectural identity. In order to maximize visual porosity between the museum and the street, façade clutter was virtually eliminated through innovations in tension and suspension, a highly efficient structural approach. The 70,300kg Blade Stair, with stair runs made of 20mm thin exposed structural stainless steel, is suspended – or ‘floated’ – 24m from the 5th floor ceiling. The 43,000kg, 12m x 10m entrance canopy, which is also made of stainless street, achieves an equally uncanny floating effect by hanging in suspension between the lobby and street. Frameless ultra-clear glass panels span up to 7m wide. Taken together, these subtle gestures assert that Modernism is still alive but friendlier and smarter, taking advantage of the sensibilities and advanced capabilities of our time.
Founded in 1981, Diller Scofidio + Renfro (DS+R) is a design studio whose practice spans the fields of architecture, urban design, installation art, multi-media performance, digital media, and print. With a focus on cultural and civic projects, DS+R’s work addresses the changing role of institutions and the future of cities. The studio is based in New York and is comprised of over 100 architects, designers, artists and researchers, led by four partners—Elizabeth Diller, Ricardo Scofidio, Charles Renfro and Benjamin Gilmartin.