Magazine article The New Yorker

The Talk of the Town: The View from the Seven

Magazine article The New Yorker

The Talk of the Town: The View from the Seven

Article excerpt

When you approached the old Museum of Modern Art, on West Fifty-third Street, it didn't much matter whether you arrived on foot, by bus, in a taxi, or in a limousine. After the museum's new temporary quarters, in the former Swingline staple factory in Long Island City, Queens, open on June 29th, things are going to be very different, and not only because a lot of the MOMA crowd is more accustomed to walking around Paris than around Queens. It is best to approach the old factory by subway--the No. 7 line--because the architect, Michael Maltzan, has designed the building to be seen from the elevated train.

"There are almost two different topographies in this part of Queens--there is what you see from the street level and the other level, from the train," Maltzan said the other day as he sat looking out the window of a No. 7 train rattling past the back of the huge Silvercup Studios sign. "All of those roof signs had an incredible effect on what we were doing--the roofs of these buildings really are like a second facade," he went on. "The idea of skirting across the rooftops--it gave us a way of imagining the people passing this building on a daily basis."

Maltzan decided that MOMA needed some kind of rooftop sign of its own, so that the building would take its place alongside its Queens neighbors. Huge neon letters, however, aren't quite MOMA's style, so Maltzan, along with the graphic-design firms Base Designs and 212 Associates, came up with a sign that consists of several black panels affixed to the mechanical-equipment enclosures on the old factory's roof. Each panel contains a piece of one of the letters of the MOMA logo, and they are arranged so that at first, from a distance, the letters appear disconnected, but as the train nears the Thirty-third Street station they come together to form the logo.

Maltzan, who worked on the project in association with the architectural firm Cooper, Robertson & Partners, has run his own architectural practice in Los Angeles since 1995. He grew up on Long Island and has a particular fondness for what he calls "the middle landscape"--those industrial areas on the edges of cities that most serious architects disdain. "Here we had the opportunity to make a horizontal building in a landscape that seems antithetical to New York City," he said. "When I got the job, I realized that one of the most interesting things about it was that it was temporary. This was in opposition to the usual idea of an institution as a great, permanent safe house."

Maltzan was lucky, because MOMA's board was spending most of its time worrying about the expensive and difficult renovation of the Manhattan site, by the Japanese architect Yoshio Taniguchi. …

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