American Folk Art Museum

American Folk Art Museum in New York, NY by Tod Williams Billie Tsien Associates, 2001

On December 11, 2001 the long-awaited American Folk Art Museum, designed by New York City's Tod Williams Billie Tsien Associates, opened its doors to the public. The following text and design sketches are by the architect; the following dose will feature a critique and images of the built museum.

Located on 53rd Street, this new eight-level building devotes the four upper floors to gallery space for permanent and temporary exhibitions. The Museum will be capped by a skylight above a grand interior stair with openings at each floor allowing natural light to filter into the galleries and through to the lower levels. Art will be integrated into public spaces, utilizing a series of niches throughout the building that offer informal interaction with a changing series of folk art objects. The experience of the Museum visitor will be an architectural journey, encouraging novel encounters with both new and familiar objects by using multiple and sometimes redundant paths of circulation. This project will present the Museum's collections and exhibitions, through both straightforward and non-traditional display spaces, creating a comfortable environment for adults and children, frequent and first-time visitors alike.

The building also incorporates a number of additional facilities. The mezzanine level, with a view out to 53rd Street, will house a small coffee bar and will look back over the main hallway with a dramatic view of a two-story atrium. The building extends two levels underground: one floor will hold the new auditorium and classroom facilities, while the lowest level will house museum offices and a library and archive. At the entrance level will be a new Museum store, with access during non-Museum hours via a separate exit to the street.

This forty foot wide building is surrounded on three sides by sites owned by the Museum of Modern Art. The facade of the Museum of American Folk Art, then, is designed to make a strong but quiet statement of independence. It is sculptural in form, recalling an abstracted open hand. Generally solid, it is folded slightly inward creating a faceted plane. Metal panels of Tombasil (a form of white bronze), poured into gated forms on the concrete floor of a foundry will clad the building. Spaces between each panel will reveal the darkened wall of the weather barrier behind. These panels will catch the glow of the morning and early evening sun as it rises and sets, east and west along 53rd street.