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Ex-folk art museum in N.Y. may escape demolition

Architects to decide in MoMA expansion

NEW YORK — After impassioned protests from prominent architects, preservationists, and design critics, the Museum of Modern Art said Thursday that it would reconsider its decision to demolish its next-door neighbor, the former home of the American Folk Art Museum, to make room for an expansion.

In a board meeting Thursday, the directors selected the architecture firm Diller Scofidio & Renfro to design the expansion and to determine whether to keep any of the existing structure.

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‘‘We’re going to try to create the best building we can create,’’ Jerry I. Speyer, the real estate developer and MoMA chairman, said in an interview. ‘‘Whether we include folk art or not, as is, is an open question.’’

That question, MoMA said, will be guided by the extension’s architects. ‘‘The principals of Diller Scofidio & Renfro have asked that they be given the time and latitude to carefully consider the entirety of the site, including the former American Folk Art Museum building, in devising an architectural solution to the inherent challenges of the project,’’ said Glenn D. Lowry, MoMA’s director, in a memo sent Thursday.

In a statement, the Diller firm said MoMA had granted its request for ‘‘the time and flexibility to explore a full range of programmatic, spatial, and urban options.’’

“These possibilities include, but are not limited to, integrating the former American Folk Art Museum building, designed by our friends and admired colleagues, Tod Williams and Billie Tsien,’’ the statement said.

In its original announcement last month, MoMA officials said the former folk art building needed to be razed because its opaque facade did not fit the glass aesthetic of the rest of the museum, and because the floors would not align.

One person involved in the plan, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that MoMA was still likely to arrive at the same conclusion. ‘‘Everybody likes the building, but it’s hard to keep it — the floors don’t line up,’’ the person said.

The folk art building was well received when it opened in 2001, partly for its striking bronze facade and partly because it signaled the city’s recovery from Sept. 11. But the museum was also criticized as a cramped place in which to view art, because of its narrow galleries.

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