2007_6_New%20Columbus%20Circle.jpgThe NY Times takes a careful, detailed look at the rising Museum of Arts and Design building at 2 Columbus Circle more than two years after preservationists failed to stop plans to radically alter the 1964 Edward Durell Stone building.

Yale School of Architecture dean Robert AM Stern was one of the better-known critics (after novelist Tom Wolfe, of course), arguing that the original structure was an important Modernist landmark. The fight helped paved the way for last year's firestorm over the Landmarks Preservation Commission, or the "bureau of the walking dead," as Wolfe put it.

Architect Brad Cloepfil of Allied Works Architecture, who worked on the redesign with Gary Edward Handel & Associates (also the firm of the World Trade Center Memorial’s Michael Arad) told the Times' Robin Pogrebin that he thought of his work as editing - he sought neither to erase the history of the building nor give it a superficial makeover.

“Part of the intent was to preserve key memories of the building — the shape, the scale,” he said. “It’s still an idiosyncratic building. It’s still a monolith in Columbus Circle. There are many ways to preserve something without just a stylistic overlay.”


Pogrebin focuses on the light, given that rooms that were once dark are now open. The façade, too, is more transparent, and iridescent white terra cotta cladding will be installed over the summer. The street-level lollipop shapes, which survived because of their role as structural supports, are now behind glass. And Cloepfil views the two-foot cuts in the walls and floors that will be filled with glass his “primary act of architecture” at the site. The port holes are gone, as is the Venetian-style loggia. The mechanicals and the restrooms were moved and several staircases didn’t survive. In total, 300 tons of concrete and 47,000 square feet of surface materials were removed. And the square footage of the new building is almost triple the museum’s current site on West 53rd Street, with one floor of the new building equivalent to the whole museum.

As for the landmark battle, Cloepfil adopts a defensive posture, asking whether iconography is really more important than the experience of a building, saying, "It could have been a more fascinating conversation about the nature of preservation. The debate never got beyond whether this piece of work merited critical preservation...I think it’s a debate that needs to happen; the old criteria don’t really apply anymore. That’s part of the lost opportunity of this building.”

The Museum of Arts and Design is expected to open next spring.