Building as an Urban Plan

architect Terence Riley
interviewed by Nada Beroš


An interview with the architect and theoretician Terence Riley, Head of the Department of Architecture and Design in the Museum of Modern Art in New York about the MOMA expansion project by Japanese architect Yoshi Taniguchi.


MOMA is the oldest and the most significant museum of modern art in the world. It was founded in 1929, and since 1939 has been on the same location – West 53rd Street. It is the fifth reconstruction and expansion, which is due to the new and complex problems of safekeeping and exhibiting new and large collections; also it has to respond to unpredictable movements of contemporary art and to heterogeneous demands and expectations of the public. Although Riley stayed in Zagreb for a short time he showed exceptional interest in Zagreb architecture between the two wars. Also, he showed interest in Frani}’s project for the Museum of Modern Art, commenting that he was relieved to be able to state that “it is not another Bilbao project”.


ORIS: Before we start discussing Yoshio Taniguchi’s design for MoMA’s expansion I would like to ask you about the process of selection itself. As staff liaison to the jury you were from the very beginning involved in the design competition. First I am interested to hear who selected the ten participants in a design exercise – so called charette, ten architects who were invited to submit mission statements, among them Rem Koolhaas, Steven Holl, and Dominique Perrault just to mention several names?


Riley: If you have a new institution and you have a green-field site, you can frequently look at a range of architects’ other work and you can make some kind of extrapolation of what these architects might do in a given situation. But MoMA does not have a green-field site, it is highly urbanized site. There are less opportunities for tabula rasa projection, the way architect might do if they had a free hand to invent. And also it is not a new institution. It is an institution with 75-year history and a very strong investment in architectural expertise and curatorial museum practices, which we want to preserve and expand. This is the reason we had a charette, to engage the architects in a dialogue.