Renovation plans for the Museum of Modern Art, showing the three phases expected to be completed in 2019 or 2020 (image courtesy the Museum of Modern Art)

In disappointing news for those excited for a futuristic new Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) with retractable glass walls and moving floors, the museum has just unveiled scaled-back plans for its upcoming renovation.

In response to criticism, MoMA and architectural firm Diller Scofidio + Renfro have eliminated the flashiest elements of the redesign plans. They’ve opted against building a fourth-floor “Gray Box,” a hybrid whitebox gallery/blackbox theater with an interior visible from the street, which would let passersby peer up at performance art. They’ve also scrapped the street-facing public entrance to the sculpture garden on 54th Street.

Despite these cutbacks, the expansion will still come with a $390 to $400 million price tag, according to the first official cost estimate. Another $40 million or more will go towards renovating existing galleries. Construction on the expansion will begin in February, two years after the initial announcement of the redesign.

The expansion will add about 50,000 square feet of new gallery space to the Museum. Once the renovation is complete, in 2019 or 2020, the Museum will have a total of 174,000 of square feet of gallery space, an increase of 30%. Much of this will be built in the neighboring space formerly occupied by the American Folk Art Museum, which MoMA controversially demolished in 2014, and in the lower levels of Jean Nouvel’s Tower Verre skyscraper, which is currently under construction in the adjacent lot.


A rendering of the planned layout (image courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art)

Instead of going for a museum-of-the-future/modern art theme park aesthetic, the redesign will focus on making the space work better for visitors and curators. “This is not a heroic ‘Ta-da!’” Elizabeth Diller of Diller Scofidio & Renfro, the design firm revising the building, told the New York Times. “It’s careful. Surgical.”

To make for a less congested lobby, the redesign will move the currently street-level MoMA Store below ground. An additional retail space will be added to the second floor to make up for the drop in retail revenue the store’s relocation will likely cause. The new below-ground store will have a cutaway ceiling, letting visitors peer down from the lobby and the street.


The Bauhaus Staircase at MoMA (photo by Dimitry B./Flickr)

Other significant planned changes: a new lounge; the removal of a wall blocking a view of the garden; the replacement of the 1939 black terrazzo Bauhaus Stair, partially removed in an earlier renovation; and a makeover of the notoriously slow coat check line.

The final architectural design won’t be announced until later this year. The construction will take place in three phases, so the museum will remain open throughout, with individual galleries closed during renovation. It could, however, close for several months after completion in order for staff to rehang the collection.

Carey Dunne is a Brooklyn-based writer covering arts and culture. Her work has appeared in The Guardian, The Baffler, The Village Voice, and elsewhere.

One reply on “MoMA Unveils Unfun Revision of Its $400 Million Redesign”

  1. $8,000 a square foot. Good thing they eliminated the expensive stuff or the budget could have gotten out of control.

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