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Architect Details Creation of Modern Art Museum in Queens

By Gabriel M. Velez, Contributing Writer

The architect who designed the temporary home of New York City’s Museum of Modern Art in Queens (MoMA QnS) explained the concepts behind his current work in a talk at the Graduate School of Design (GSD) Wednesday night.

Michael Maltzan discussed how his final design for the museum incorporated the temporary nature of the museum with the history of the industrial neighborhood outside Manhattan where it is located.

“The idea of temporality had within it a kind of spatial constraint,” Maltzan said. “Because [the entrance] was a loading dock, it is lower when you enter. We use that to our advantage to give you the sense you’re moving from the outside to the art.”

Additionally, Maltzan discussed how he employed the movement of the subway in creating the building’s plans. “MoMA” was painted white on the black background of the mechanical boxes on the roof, in such a way that anyone passing by the museum on the subway would see the phrase slowly come together to form the museum’s name right before the subway arrives in the adjacent station.

In addition to describing his MoMA design, Maltzan also presented seven of his current projects during his lecture, which was this year’s final installment of the public lecture series sponsored by the GSD’s Department of Architecture.

The talk coincided with the presentation of an exhibit of Maltzan’s work—“Lift,” which consists of the designs and models for these same projects—currently on display in Gund Hall.

“It’s fitting that [Maltzan] is needed to ‘lift’ us over these last few weeks,” joked Hubbard Professor of the Practice of Architecture Toshiko Mori in her introduction to Maltzan’s lecture.

Maltzan emphasized the design strategy of his current works, but Mori described the themes that appear in his work in a more straightforward manner.

“It’s about his work, but it’s also about how we take his work in our different moods,” Mori said. “Movement becomes the primary instructor of buildings.”

Maltzan’s current designs range from urban museums, like California’s Sonoma County Museum of Art, to a beach house along the Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu.

The structures he presented combined horizontal design with a sense of movement and flow—created by raising the buildings above the ground and the surrounding landscape.

“As the buildings get higher and higher above the ground,” Maltzan laughed, “we are closer and closer to the end of the talk.”

Maltzan said that his greatest challenge was to blend the modern ideals of his clients with the history of his projects’ sites.

When an audience member asked Maltzan to describe some of the major influences in the development of his own theory, his response revealed his personal feelings in using the ideas of “Lift” and movement to create a structure.

“Horizontal context marked a lot of my life, and the projects in the end are really an amalgamation of experiences...the clues to that reside in the buildings,” Maltzan said.

These clues will be on display in his exhibit until Jan. 19 in Gund Hall.

The exhibit comes 13 years after Maltzan earned a Master of Architecture degree with a Letter of Distinction from the GSD.

In 1995, Maltzan started his own architecture firm—Michael Maltzan Architecture—in California.

He has garnered many awards for his work both at his own firm and at Frank O. Gehry Associates.

When he was designing MoMA QnS in 1999, the American Institute of Architecture awarded him its Young Architects Award.

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