American Folk Art Museum, Tod Williams Billie Tsien & Associates, New York, USA, 2001

USA, New York, USA,

underground, Sport & Wellness, Gallery, Museums,

Wood, Glass,


Best building of the year. The American critics predicted as much, praising its design ever since the building opened in December 2001, and the World Architecture Congress in Berlin confirmed it, awarding the building a number of World Architecture Awards.

American Folk Art Museum, Tod Williams Billie Tsien & Associates, New York, USA, 2001 The Folk Art Museum building rises six storeys above the ground, with two underground levels, in a single, undivided space built around a central staircase and lit up from above, leading visitors through a series of display halls that function as landings.

Visitors take the elevator to the top floor and work their way downwards using three staircases permitting a myriad of different routes through the museum, creating a feeling that the building is bigger and more complex than it really is. Art appears in all the spaces available in the museum, including transitional areas, in a series of niches cut into the walls in which unusual items of folk art are displayed, providing stops for visitors along their route.

On each level of the museum there are small but significant variations to the basic plan forming ever-changing spatial configurations, with openings offering glimpses of life out on the street and allowing in so much light that the building seems less massive from the inside.

The wealth of architectural solutions offered by the museum is made possible by the particular nature of the works on display, which are small and do not require particularly large spaces such as those in most contemporary art galleries.

The materials used on the inside create the same impression of handiwork as the facade: walls, floors, ceiling and stairs are all made of concrete cast on site and left exposed, treated in different ways and combined with wood and glass.

Enormous blue and green resin panels are suspended beside the central staircase, lit up by light from above to provide an important landmark for orienting visitors at any point in the building.

So it's not surprising that there's been so much talk about this tiny New York museum dedicated to preservation of America's folk past: Williams and Tsien have created brilliant architecture which is both handcrafted and metropolitan, with an angular façade that will still manage to make itself noticed when it is engulfed by the new MoMa.

Flores Zanchi


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