In 1999, the Museum of Modern art undertook a major expansion of its historic Manhattan facilities; in the interim a $35 million renovation of a Swingline Staples factory in Queens would become the Museum’s home:  MoMA QNS.


Completed in 2002, MoMA QNS’ 154,000 sf design can be seen as developing along three primary avenues of investigation.  The first is an examination the museum’s context within a transitional middle landscape, a condition between the urban and suburban which has neither the traditional identity of the urban center nor of the suburban landscape.  Importantly, they exist, almost pathologically, as a necessary and essential zone:  a place of exchange.  In a constant state of becoming, MoMA QNS’ context is never fully formed but is instead in a permanent state of flux. This propelling condition constitutes an important context for contemporary culture, art, and understanding.  As a result, the factory’s original light blue color, which had a strong recognition value in an otherwise unremarkable context, was not simply maintained but was instead intensified, creating an amalgam at once familiar and unfamiliar.  Coupled with the size and scale of the building, the Museum’s presence, simultaneously iconic and abstract, could create a complex series of visual relationships within the context’s overwhelming heterogeneity.


Second, the satellite site required the invention of an identity which was not a mere foreshadowing of the soon-to-be-remade midtown MoMA.  Instead, the experience of movement came to constitute MoMA QNS’ identity. The journey to the Museum, primarily on the elevated No. 7 subway line, first engages the building above the street for a 15-second window as the train moves between an existing building and the station.  Through this aperture the Museum’s new identity appears:  first as a series of abstract patterns across the rooftop’s black boxes which then combine to form a legible reading of the MoMA logo before dissolving again.


Of critical significance was the transformation of the Museum’s temporary nature into its most important asset.  In a traditional architectural or cultural practice, to represent an institution is to assert their permanence within society.  This static public identity, typically fixed in the form of a grand public stair, gives way to MoMA QNS’ more dynamic identity, created by an extended procession which begins even before visitors arrive and continues through each of the Museum’s galleries.  This sequence extends the moment of arrival, rendering MoMA QNS’ entry threshold not simply as a line to cross over, but instead as an expanded space of experience occupied and defined through movement.

LOCATION / Long Island City, New York
TYPE / Contemporary art museum, theater, and café
SIZE / 154,000sf
STATUS / Completed 2002
ROLE / Design Architect
COST / $35 million

AWARDS / BusinessWeek / Architectural Record Award, 2004
AIA New York Design Excellence Award, 2004
AIA California Council Merit Award, 2003
AIA Los Angeles Merit Award, 2002
AIA New York Merit Award, 2002