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Thread: The Museum for African Art - Fifth Avenue @ 110th Street - by Robert A. M. Stern

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    Default The Museum for African Art - Fifth Avenue @ 110th Street - by Robert A. M. Stern

    Museum for African Art Finds Its Place



    Designs were unveiled Thursday for a building by Robert A.M. Stern that will be the
    permanent home for the Museum for African Art, on Fifth Avenue at 110th Street.
    It will be the first museum built along Museum Mile since the Guggenheim, 1959.


    By SEWELL CHAN
    Published: February 9, 2007

    The Museum for African Art, which has had a nomadic existence since it opened in 1984, will finally gain a permanent home in a soaring new building designed by Robert A. M. Stern, on Fifth Avenue between 109th and 110th Streets, officials announced yesterday.

    Models and renderings of the new structure, which will face the northeast corner of Central Park, were unveiled at a news conference at the Guggenheim Museum, some 20 blocks south of the site.

    Presiding over the event, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg hailed the project as “the first new construction of a museum on Museum Mile since the great Guggenheim opened in 1959.”

    With 90,000 square feet, including 16,000 square feet of exhibition space, the building will give the Museum for African Art a long-coveted base, said Elsie McCabe, the institution’s president. Officials hope to break ground in the spring of 2008 and complete construction by the end of 2009.

    The estimated cost is $80 million, of which $49 million has been raised, including $12 million from the city.

    A tower of 115 luxury condominiums will be built above the museum, under a partnership between the museum and two developers, Brickman and Sidney Fetner Associates. Perhaps the most distinctive feature of the structure will be a shimmering glass wall made up of what Mr. Stern’s firm calls “dancing mullions,” after the slender vertical members that form the division between window units.

    At the museum’s center will be a great hall entered from Fifth Avenue, with the mullions on the left and a soaring wall on the right, made of richly colored etimoe wood from Ghana, that curves upward to form the ceiling.



    A rendering of the lobby of the new home for the Museum for African Art.


    The wall “suggests, if you look at it, the woven shapes of baskets and so forth — and weaving is so much a part of African art,” Mr. Stern said in an interview. “It’s not a literal interpretation. It’s an abstract one.”

    At the rear, a cylindrical enclosure sheathed in perforated copper that Mr. Stern likened to a drum will house a staircase. Mr. Stern, who is dean of the Yale School of Architecture, called it a “21st-century version” of the concrete stairwell enclosures at Louis I. Kahn’s Yale University Art Gallery, considered a Modernist masterpiece.

    The New York firm SCLE Architects will work with Mr. Stern on the project.

    He noted that his other works of public architecture — the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Mass.; the Roger Tory Peterson Institute, an ornithology center in Jamestown, N.Y.; and a planned American Revolution Center at Valley Forge, Pa. — have revolved to some extent around a personality.

    “This, like the Rockwell, is a major art museum, but it’s not built around a person, but around a continent,” Mr. Stern said. “It takes Africa out of the museums of natural history where it sometimes is — and also out of museums of the modern art.” He noted that over the last century, African masks and figures have sometimes been displayed as if their function were to inspire the Cubism of Braque or Picasso.

    Founded as the Center for African Art in 1984 by Susan Mullin Vogel, now a professor of art history at Columbia University, the museum gained broad recognition for its innovative conceptual approaches to exhibiting African art.

    It occupied two adjacent town houses on East 68th Street before moving to rented quarters in SoHo in 1993. Around 2000, Ms. McCabe arranged a partnership with Edison Schools, the for-profit education company, to buy a parcel on Fifth Avenue from a housing developer. (She said the site had once housed a low-rise commercial building.)

    Plans called for Edison to build a school and a corporate headquarters on the site while providing space for the museum to build a structure for itself. In 2001 the company’s stock price nose-dived, and it abandoned the project in 2002, shortly after the museum had moved to a temporary location in Long Island City, Queens.

    With a loan from the Community Preservation Corporation, the museum secured the land from Edison by 2003. Then, with help from two of its trustees — John L. Tishman of the Tishman Realty and Construction Corporation and Jonathan D. Green of the Rockefeller Group Development Corporation — the museum arranged a partnership with the two developers, Brickman and Sidney Fetner.

    The city’s Economic Development Corporation recently arranged the sale of four other parcels to the partnership, clearing the way for the work to begin.

    Mr. Stern said the challenge was to design a museum with “a strong civic public identity within the larger framework of a commercial apartment house — and at the same time, to make a building that is glassy and open, but not a knee-jerk glass block.”

    Ms. McCabe said: “We knew if anybody could marry us distinctively with a residential building, he could. And God bless him, he did.”

    A Harvard-trained lawyer who worked for Mayor David N. Dinkins from 1990 to 1993, Ms. McCabe has led the museum for nine years. She oversees a staff of 18 and an annual budget of roughly $3 million.

    The museum has organized about 55 exhibitions, many of them traveling across the United States and so far to 17 other countries. It has published more than 40 books and provided teacher training and curriculums to more than 350 schools.

    Although the museum has eschewed collecting in favor of borrowing works from other institutions, it does plan a small permanent exhibition at the new site.

    “We’re a small museum that’s populated by zealots,” Ms. McCabe said. “We not only want to introduce children and adults to the beauty of African art, we want to introduce them in a variety of ways to the beauty and the majesty of the people who created it too.”

    Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

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    The site from above, looking east.


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    I have lots of respect for Robert Stern but why, oh why, didn't he curve the portion of the building facing the circle, following its natural curvature!?

    That would have been fabulous.

    What a missed opportunity!!

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    While the museum itself looks fine, with the addition of the residential section, the whole thing looks like a hospital.

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    I'm not so crazy about the blockiness of the Museum portion -- or those expanses of brick on the lower floors facing west and onto Central Park.

    I expect more from Robert Stern -- but as one who dumped on him after the intitial renderings for his 15 CPW were released (but who has now done a complete 180, and am now a huge fan of that building) I'll reserve judment on this project until we are shown more.

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    The only thing that seems interesting about this design are those window patterns on the bottom part of the building. The rest of the building will be ok I think, but doesn't look too exciting 'yet'. Anway I am glad the museum is building its permanent home in that spot.

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    A fitting gateway to Harlem.

    Quote Originally Posted by antinimby View Post
    I have lots of respect for Robert Stern but why, oh why, didn't he curve the portion of the building facing the circle, following its natural curvature!?
    Perhaps to allow for a small plaza directly in front of the museum, or to provide space for outside artwork?
    Last edited by BigMac; February 9th, 2007 at 01:48 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by BigMac View Post
    Perhaps to allow for a small plaza directly in front of the museum, or to provide space for outside artwork?
    Even so, a lost opportunity. Central Park could have had a second Columbus Circle at the direct opposite corner. Bookends.

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    Quote Originally Posted by antinimby View Post
    The site from above, looking east.

    Are the tall twin buildings opposite to the new museum public housing?

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    Question

    Mullions, a wall, and a ceiling, all made of etimoe wood from Ghana. Does anybody else see a potential problem?

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    Are the tall twin buildings opposite to the new museum public housing?
    They're called the Schaumberg Towers or something like that. I don't think they're public housing, but they're certainly low-income. A preacher was killed there a year or so ago...

    Anyway, I don't mind the condo tower. It'll still be a bookend of sorts, at least as tall as Mt. Sinai's black boxy monstrosity. But I wish it had been visually disentangled from the rest of the museum, at least at street level. Something more like MoMA's arrangement?

    In any case, culture/tourism at this end of the park is very welcome. Currently, beyond the new 111 CPN condo tower, the only thing of note is the prison that's still on Central Park North...
    Last edited by czsz; February 9th, 2007 at 08:32 PM.

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    How disappointing...I agree, it does look like a hospital. I really liked this initial design for the museum by Bernard Tschumi Architects...oh well.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Derek2k3 View Post
    How disappointing...I agree, it does look like a hospital. I really liked this initial design for the museum by Bernard Tschumi Architects...oh well.
    Isn't that pretty much the story of this city?

    The "oh well's..." and "at least it's not..." are very common phrases around here.

    Are our standards and expectations too high that we are bound to be disappointed in one way or another?

    Should we lower them?

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    Quote Originally Posted by BigMac View Post
    A fitting gateway to Harlem.
    Quote Originally Posted by Derek2k3 View Post
    How disappointing...I agree, it does look like a hospital.
    Well, it's one or the other.

    (Hope it's not both at the same time.)




    Gosh, it does look like a hospital.

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    It looks more like a hospital than any of the hospitals he's designed.

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