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Architecture That Blends In And Stands Out

By Benjamin Forgey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 20, 2004; Page C01

NEW YORK -- Nothing better becomes the latest version of the Museum of Modern Art than a leisurely stroll through its galleries and public spaces.

The art still comes first, of course. MoMA's nonpareil collection of 20th-century painting and sculpture was largely unavailable for three years during the museum's expansion, and it is good to have it back, as it were, in circulation.

The new MoMA offers dazzling views of the sculpture garden through glass walls, above, and the back ends of the West 53rd Street facade, at right. (Photos Helayne Seidman For The Washington Post)

But if a visitor wants to come to terms with the architecture of the new MoMA, to grasp its elusive qualities and experience its subtle excitements, then there is only one thing to do: Walk, slowly, among its rooms, anterooms, corridors and lobbies. Pause when the fancy strikes for a particular view or work of art. Stop at one of the two cafes to rest awhile.

And then, do it all over again.

Movement through these sociable, affecting spaces is the key to appreciating Yoshio Taniguchi's artful architecture, which is so elegantly matter-of-fact when seen from the outside.

Taniguchi, 67, was the eldest among the 10 architects invited seven years ago to compete for the complex, prestigious MoMA commission. Having worked exclusively in Japan, he was not widely known, and his selection surprised many in the architectural world.

Yet it's clear that the MoMA folks knew exactly what they were doing when they put Taniguchi on the list. As if to underline the point, Terence Riley, chief curator of the museum's department of architecture and design, organized an exhibition for the opening titled "Yoshio Taniguchi: Nine Museums."

Documenting eight museum projects in Japan plus the MoMA design, the show demonstrates how, with painstaking intensity, Taniguchi honed his skills over the years. It's almost as if all along he had been preparing for the MoMA prize.

Taniguchi's aesthetic of pure abstraction, developed from the same roots that fed Philip Goodwin and Edward Durrell Stone when they designed the original building on West 53rd Street in the late 1930s, fits the MoMA mission. Unlike some of the other competition entries, Taniguchi's design is not a thing of the moment. Rather, it strongly implies a continuity of modernist architecture.

Equally important, Taniguchi's approach combines sophisticated engineering with place-sensitive design. One can easily spot certain favorite themes in the work, such as a preference for open portico forms on a very large scale, yet each design clearly was created for a specific client in a particular location.

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© 2004 The Washington Post Company


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