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Natural Circulation: The MoMA Expansion and Renovation by Diller Scofidio + Renfro and Gensler

Natural Circulation: The MoMA Expansion and Renovation by Diller Scofidio + Renfro and Gensler

The MoMA Expansion and Renovation by Diller Scofidio + Renfro and Gensler Ph. Brett Beyer

The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York has completed a renovation and expansion designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, in collaboration with Gensler, that has increased gallery space by thirty percent, provides visitors with a more welcoming and comfortable experience, and better connects the museum to the urban fabric of midtown Manhattan. Launched in 2014, the first phase of renovations on the east end was completed in 2017, and the second phase of expansion on the west end is now complete and opened to the public on October 21, 2019. The design creates natural circulation and provides innovative and transparent spaces to display art.

Ph. Iwan Baan. Courtesy of DS+R.

The design optimized current spaces to be more flexible and technologically sophisticated, expanded and opened up the main lobby into a light-filled, double-height space that connects seamlessly between West 53rd and 54th Streets, and created a multitude of circulation routes with more areas for visitors to pause and reflect. The state-of-the-art Studio in the heart of the Museum and an innovative second-floor Creativity Lab invite visitors to connect with art that explores new ideas about the present, past, and future. The flagship Museum store has been lowered one level and made visible to the street through a dramatic glass wall and a new sixth-floor café includes an outdoor terrace facing 53rd Street. The clear glass façade, new street-level galleries, and a ground floor free and open to all offer increased transparency and bring art closer to people on the streets of midtown Manhattan.

The architectural expression is a restrained conversation between the existing palette and new materials within The MoMA. The design taps into the historic DNA of the building, relating disparate elements through a series of strategic interventions that reflect aspects of twentieth-century modernism: purity of material expression, abstraction of space, and thinness. Synthesis is achieved with a minimalist use of materials which correlates with the existing building fabric.

Improved Circulation Features

The 53rd Street entrance canopy is a thin 42 feet plane weighing 95,500 pounds that appears to slice through the glass façade and float above the main entrance doors. The canopy is comprised of steel plates and concealed ribs, suspended on steel rods. The canopy cantilevers 26 feet beyond the façade of the building, out to the sidewalk to mark the main entry point for visitors. The east-west connector on the ground level lobby is an open network that seamlessly links new galleries to the renovated east side of the building.

A gallery loop of distinct galleries with varying heights and layouts supports curatorial flexibility and cohesion in the display of art. These new circulation routes link new and existing galleries on the second, fourth, and fifth floors that have been expanded westward into the new David Geffen Wing and Jerry Speyer and Katherine Farley Building.

Vertical Circulation

Completed during the first phase of renovation, the historic Bauhaus stairway was extended to the ground level to restore and enhance access to the second and third-floor galleries. The retail stairway provides direct access into the flagship Museum store from 53rd Street. The blackened stainless steel stairway was designed as an offset beam, in which structural loads are transferred at the landing. As a result, the stair provides its own built-in structure.

The blade stairway marks the threshold to the new expansion of the museum and acts as a palette cleanser. The stairway is a vibrant urban sculpture, combining a monumental physical presence with intangible structural lightness. Its minimal expression was achieved through a number of structural innovations—a six-inch thin vertical spine hangs from the roof structure to structurally support the stairs and landings, leaving the structure free of any lateral bracing. It is constructed with bead-blast stainless steel panels with solid northern oak treads and risers. Glass balustrades on the seven-foot wide risers are cantilevered and held in place with pins to express the intersection of the two materials, a detail and dimension that echoes the renovated Bauhaus stairway which is embedded into the terrazzo. Bird’s-eye Maple, with acoustic micro-perforations, lines the blade stairway atrium.

The 6th-floor stairway connects levels five and six, distinguished from the blade stairway to mark a transition between gallery floors and the café. The blackened stainless steel stair cantilevers off the atrium wall is free of any additional structural supports.


The 53rd Street façade is conscious of the Museum’s architectural history in the existing Goodwin and Stone, Johnson, and Taniguchi buildings but shaped by the new demands of its adjoining spaces behind. The Studio and the Daylight Gallery share a frameless suspended glass wall with a black dot frit outer surface to delicately modulate daylight and reflection. The Studio features an additional interior glass wall with metal mesh interlayer, as the inner wall of the box-in-box, acoustically isolated construction 3 feet behind to control outside sound migration and further filter daylight and view. The façade of the public spaces–the lobby, the suspended blade stairway, the Street Level Gallery, and the retail space below– employ frameless glass panels that are structurally clamped to function as glass beams both vertically and horizontally to maximize visibility from the street to activities inside the museum. Four of the Street Level Gallery façade panels can open up to the sidewalk to facilitate loading and unloading work to the Projects Room Gallery.

Ph. Iwan Baan. Courtesy of DS+R.

DATE: 2017 (Phase 1 Renovation completed), 2019 (Diller Scofidio + Renfro in collaboration with Gensler Expansion completed) / LOCATION: 11 West 53 Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues / AREA: 708,000 square feet (Total after expansion) / PROGRAM: Museum  / STATUS: built / DESIGN: Diller Scofidio + Renfro in collaboration with Gensler / DIRECTOR, REAL ESTATE EXPANSION, MOMA: Jean Savitsky / CONSTRUCTION MANAGER: Turner Construction Company / CONSULTANTS: Lumsden Design (Retail consultant), Tillotson Design Associates (Lighting designer— public spaces), Renfro Design Group (Lighting designer— gallery spaces), Jaros Baum & Bolles (MEP/FP/IT), Severud Associates (Structural), Heintges Consulting Architects & Engineers P.C. (Façade), Atelier Ten (Sustainability), DVS Security (Security), Cerami Associates (Acoustics/Audio-Visual), Van Deusen Associates (Vertical Transportation), Fisher Dachs Associates (Theater Planning & Design), Boyce Nemec Designs (Theater Audiovisual), Vidaris (Waterproofing), Cini-Little International, Inc (Foodservice), Gensler/Wkshps (Signage/Wayfinding), Dante Tisi, DAMTSA (Steel Fabricator—blade stair), counters M Cohen (Steel Fabricator—retail stair), Frener+Reifer, Germany (Steel Fabricator—canopy), MillerBlaker (Millwork) / PHOTOS: Iwan Baan, Brett Beyer

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