art and the street



New MuseumLinking Contemporary Art To The Street

"There were many challenges in this project, the first museum designed by my firm, Kiss + Cathcart, Architects. How could the architecture provoke an experience of art without muscling the art aside? How could we enhance historic spaces, accommodate the staff, and welcome visitors?"

"We began with the premise that the character of the New Museum comes from its mission and programs, not from its architecture. Most museums tuck the galleries behind imposing facades to create a hermetically sealed interior world, an escape from everyday life. The New Museum prides itself on an active engagement with contemporary culture, so we designed its new lobby, stairs, landings, and entryways to have a clear view of the Broadway, New York's main street. We wanted to connect the art of the Museum vividly with the world beyond the lobby doors."

"Phase I of a $6 million capital project began during the summer of 1996, expanding the Museum to 30,000 square feet on four floors. The primary goal of Phase I was to improve the Museum's service to its audience, and this goal had to be achieved on a strict budget of $1.5 million, a mere $50 per square foot."

On Broadway

"When you go by the Museum now, you see a new multilevel space with perforated metal screens suspended over the new bookstore. While the screens hide the stairs, artist's videos are projected deep inside the space of lobby, and there are hints of gallery entries beyond. Obviously, with so much to explore inside, I hope you will decide to venture in."

In the Lobby

"Once you're inside, what was hidden becomes revealed and there are several options to choose from. Just inside the door you can see straight down a line of columns into the ground floor gallery. To your right, a built-in bench offers a relaxing pause from the crowds on Broadway. You might go up the stairs -- now visible behind the screen -- to the mezzanine and up to the second floor gallery, but you will probably first be drawn to the atrium to your left, with its tall metal screen and stairs. You can lean on the maple railing and check out the new bookstore downstairs."

Downstairs at the New Museum

"Step into the atrium from the free lobby onto the stairs to the downstairs level-the Museum's spacious new bookstore and its free public programming. Downstairs offers you a seamless and flexible space with light spilling down from Broadway windows. From the bookstore, you can move on to comfortable reading areas, featuring thematic displays of the Museum's archival materials and catalogues. Follow the broad hall of columns to a new 1500 square foot exhibition and education space for a changing variety of installations, performances, and readings. Downstairs at the New Museum will always be free."

In the 2nd Floor Galleries

"The history of the building can be traced in the copious patching of this hundred year old wooden floor. The 3000 square foot space has both natural and artificial lighting, to flexibly accommodate different kinds of exhibitions. The deep sills of the three magnificent bay windows comfortably seat six! It is one of the few galleries in the city where you can look up and down Broadway; simultaneously enjoying a view of art and the buzz of New York. The rest of this floor houses new daylit offices and meeting rooms for the Museum's staff. You can choose between an elevator to the bookstore, or the tiered stairway down to my favorite place, the mezzanine."

The View from the Mezzanine

"Here is my favorite single spot in the new building. At the railing, you can see through the metal screen to Broadway, down to the bookstore two levels below, and out over the ground floor galleries. You also get an unusual close-up of the top of an Ionic column. Providing a rest stop between ground and second floors, the mezzanine is the most intimate of the new programmable gallery spaces, providing an ideal environment for talks, film, video, and performance."

Back to Broadway

"As you descend from the mezzanine to the ground floor, light filtered through the screen dapples the maple stairs and railings. The steady presence of Broadway will always orient you while inside the Museum. And if by chance you missed going to the new bookstore Downstairs, you are now suspended thirty feet above it!

I envision the downstairs level as a free international living room for art. My fondest wish is that an artist from the other side of world might call a friend in New York and say: 'I'm flying into JFK tomorrow, meet me downstairs at the New Museum!'"

Architect Colin M. Cathcart