NYC – American Folk Art Museum
Image by wallyg
The American Folk Art Museum opened December 11, 2001, coinciding with the three-month anniversary of the terror attacks on the World Trade Center. It was the first new art museum built from the ground up since the Whitney Museum of American Art opened in 1966.
The 30,000 square foot building, at West 53 Street, designed by Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects, is clad in sixty-three lightly textured tombasil panels (a white bronze alloy). An eight-level, 85-foot tall structure, it is capped by a skylight above a grand interior stair connecting the third and the fourth floors, with dramatic cut-throughs at each floor to allow natural light to filter into the galleries and through to the lower levels. The lustrous, sculptural facade is the product of a manual fabrication process evocative of the hands-oriented approach characteristic of folk art – its panels are cast by pouring molten metal directly into gated forms on the concrete floor of the foundry. The faceted panels, which appear stonelike and metallic at the same time, create different visual effects catching the light of the sun as it rises and sets, east and west along 53rd Street.
The galleries on the four top floors of the building vary in scale from intimate spaces to allow for a personalized art experience to open areas for the display of larger works. Art is also integrated into public spaces, such as the lobby, stairwells, and hallways, utilizing a system of niches throughout the building that offers interaction with a changing group of folk art objects beyond the gallery setting. Visitors are able to move between building levels by using three different staircases – a layout that encourages multiple paths of circulation and gives the visitor the feeling of an architectural journey. Adding a sense of warmth to the building, the gallery floors are made of wood set into concrete. Seven of the eight levels of the new building are entirely dedicated to public space. The mezzanine level houses a café overlooking a two-story atrium and offering views of 53rd Street. At the entrance level is the Museum Shop, with access during non-museum hours via a separate exit to the street.