The New Museum building is intended as a home for contemporary art and an incubator for new ideas, as well as an architectural contribution to New York’s urban landscape. Sejima and Nishizawa, who received the commission in 2002, have described the building as their response to the history and powerful personalities of both the New Museum and its storied site.“The Bowery was very gritty when we first visited it,”they have said.“We were a bit shocked, but we were also impressed that a fine art museum wanted to be there. In the end, the Bowery and the New Museum have a lot in common. Both have a history of being very accepting, open, embracing of every idiosyncrasy in an unprejudiced manner. When we learned about the history of the New Museum we were flabbergasted by its attitude, which is very political, very focused on new ideas, fearless. The New Museum is a combination of elegant and urban. We were determined to make a building that felt like that.”Amidst a cluster of relatively small and mid-sized buildings of varying types and uses, the New Museum rises 175 feet above street level. As visitors approach on the Bowery or from the west along Prince Street, they encounter the building as a dramatic stack of seven rectangular boxes.
This distinctive form derives directly from the architects’ defining solution to fundamental challenges of their site. They arrived at a dense and ambitious program that would allow for open, flexible gallery spaces of different heights and atmospheres within a tight zoning envelope on a footprint a mere seventy-one feet wide and 112-feet deep.
In order to address these conditions without creating a monolithic, dark, and airless building, SANAA assigned key programmatic elements to a series of levels (the seven boxes), stacked those boxes according to the anticipated needs and circulation patterns of building users, then drew the different levels away from the vertebrae of the building core laterally to the north, south, east, or west. The shifted-box approach yields a variety of open, fluid, and light-filled internal spaces that are different heights at every level, with different characters but all column-free.
Courtesy New Museum.