Imagining The New Museum of Modern Art


New York, New York

The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and its multiple expansions over the past century encompass a variety of architectural types, each revealing distinct qualities about the modernism out of which they were respectively born. Today the Museum’s collage of annexed buildings cumulatively occupies almost an entire Manhattan block, and the announcement of the most current expansion further amplifies its spirit of endless growth. Its excessive enlargement calls into question the current role of the art museum within the overarching project of modernity, particularly, its position as a social and aesthetic urban center.

The MoMA, and more broadly, the modern art museum grew out of a rearrangement of the cultural field of the nineteenth century centered upon societal “lifting” of a new mass public—the art museum bases its history in civic unity, through the idealistic transposition of private aesthetically valued objects into the public sphere for viewing. The MoMA’s early interest in standardization and design as a progressive tool reflected a larger social project. The nascent social and cultural project lasted from the 1920s into the 1960s, yet eventually was overridden by Manhattan’s rules of development. 

The tension intensified between the social and cultural within speculative development, and the art museum became an overly aestheticized project based more upon the visual commodity than the ameliorating potential of design. This programmatic shift is directly reflected in MoMA’s architecture, which iconically and self-consciously outlines the distinct transition from civic and social nexus to spectacularized aestheticization. 

In terms of its future, the MoMA has the exceptional potential to culturally reinvent. This analysis attempts to justify, through a close reading of its typological change, the necessity for social and cultural agency within frenetically aestheticized architectural space. The art museum deserves an expanded definition, through its architecture, to assert its contemporary civic role.

This project proposes an expansion to the current expansion of the Museum of Modern Art. Assuming the completion of the DS+R project, this proposal confronts the complex’s many Modernisms, its newly public ground of the sculpture garden (the last remaining undeveloped area of the block), and the interior as a revised space for the merger of a socially and aesthetically motivated architecture.