NYC MOMA Tickets

The Museum of Modern Art Building | Architecture, History, & Evolution

New York is home to many contemporary museums that showcase the works of brilliant and unconventional artists. One such museum, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), was established in 1929 by three influential women — Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, Lillie P. Bliss, Mary Quinn Sullivan. MoMA has changed locations several times since, until it found its permanent home on 53rd street in 1939. On this page, we will walk you through how the stunning architecture of MoMA has evolved over the years.

Quick Facts about MoMA’s architecture

NYC MoMA Building

Official Name: Museum of Modern Art

Function: Museum

Location: 11 W 53rd St, New York, NY 10019, USA

Founded on: 1929

Area: 708,000 square feet

Architectural Style: Modern architecture with a hint of traditional Beaux-arts

The beginning of MoMA

The idea for MoMA Museum began with three women who cared deeply about art meeting for lunch in 1928. Abby Rockefeller, Mary Quinn Sullivan, and Lillie P. Bliss envisioned a museum dedicated to collecting and exhibiting modern art. They invited A. Conger Goodyear to be the first president of the NYC MoMA Museum. 

The Museum of Modern Arts opened in 1929 in a rented space on the twelfth floor of the Heckscher Building at 57th Street and Fifth Avenue.

Abby Rockefeller's husband, John D. Rockefeller Jr. was adamantly opposed to the museum and refused to release funds for the same. Having to obtain sources from other sources led to frequent shifts of location. Eventually, in 1932, MoMA Museum shifted to a five-story townhouse at 11 West 53rd Street, a space owned by Abby Rockefeller and her husband. Ten years after its opening, in 1939, MoMA finally claimed its permanent address at 11 West 53rd Street.

Who designed MoMA?

MoMA Architecture has been shaped by several architects and designers over the years. The flagship MoMA building was designed by American architects  Philip L. Goodwin and Edward Durell Stone. On the other hand, the sculpture garden of the museum was designed by the MoMA architecture curator John McAndrew and the museum’s director, Alfred H. Barr Junior. 

In 2001, Yoshio Taniguchi started working on renovating the MoMA architecture. He added skylights and vistas, created a new education and research complex consisting of a library, classrooms, theatre, offices, and more. A lot of changes to the pre-existing building were made and the renovated MoMA Museum was opened to the public in 2004. This coincided with its 75th birthday as well. 

In 2014, the architecture firm Diller Scofidio + Renfro with Gensler started working on a major expansion project for the MoMA building. At the end of the renovation, in 2019, the MoMA architecture had been expanded to a total area of 708,000 square feet. 

MoMA building architecture & design

Design of NYC MoMA Building

Design of the MoMA building

The Museum of Modern Art found its custom-built home on West 53rd Street in 1939 after operating out of rented spaces for the past 10 years. The MoMA architecture was designed by the American architects Edward Durell Stone and Philip L. Goodwin, a Museum trustee. The sculpture garden of the museum was designed by the MoMA director Alfred H. Barr Jr. and MoMA architecture curator John McAndrew.

Stone has been roped into this construction of the new MoMA building thanks to Barr's push for a modern architect, who would counterbalance Goodwin's traditional approach.

It took 4 years to complete the construction of the MoMA building. The building stands true to its vision of popularising and democratizing modern art, with modern and contemporary architecture styles blending together with international styles.

NYC MoMA Building Structure

Structure of the MoMA building

In May 1939, after a decade of functioning out of rented spaces, MoMA found a home for itself on West 53rd Street. Goodwin's inclination towards the traditional Beaux-Arts style and Stone's more modern approach came together to create a building of six stories made of sleek white marble and a type of insulated glass called Thermolux. This glass helped in diffusing the light in the galleries of the museum.

It was MoMA director Alfred H. Barr Jr who envisioned bringing these styles together, after being inspired by the Bauhaus, an art and design school in Germany. Since the neighboring buildings featured Beaux-Arts and brownstone townhouses, the MoMA architecture was unique and reflected the goal of the museum.

In addition to all this, the new MoMA building boasted more than triple the exhibition space, an auditorium for its film program, a library, and two floors of office space.

MoMA building renovations

Museum of Modern Art - Renovations - NYC

Revamped MoMA building

In the late 1990s, Yoshio Taniguchi, a popular Japanese architect, submitted his design for renovating MoMA architecture. The construction of the new MoMA architecture began in 2001. After its completion in 2004, it was reopened to the public on its 75th birthday.

Taniguchi added granite and glass facades to the entrance of the MoMA museum. He added minimal solutions to the museum’s design while maintaining its modernist roots. Yoshio restored the International style building and enlarged the Sculpture Garden. The architect achieved a minimal aesthetic look with the help of precision. Glass panes were added that surrounded the Sculpture Garden and the curtains walls were detached from the floors to ensure that the glass doesn’t deflect when there are lots of visitors. Taniguchi’s design made the garden the focus while the other buildings acted as the side characters. His design allowed visitors to enjoy NYC’s streets and skyline as they passed through the galleries. Several windows in the galleries and the stairways allow the visitors a look outside. Visitors would find contemporary works on the ground floor and the older artworks on the higher floors. A huge sky-lit space for temporary exhibitions was made available on the top floor. An atrium was also added that connects the lobby to the Sculpture Garden. 

MoMA NYC- Renovation

Reinventing MoMA architecture

MoMA building underwent another renovation in 2019 by architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro who collaborated with Gensler. A two-phased renovation, the first part involved the MoMA architecture and new walls whereas the second part focused on the new art that is getting installed on those new walls.

The Museum of Modern Art expanded to take over the space left by the American Folk Art Museum site. New galleries are added along with floor-to-ceiling windows to let in natural light through the building. This way, visitors have direct access to the MoMA art while walking on the street. Moreover, the ground floor and the lobby were converted into a public gathering space. 

Overall, the exhibition space increased by 30 percent. However, the expansion is more than just about the square feet, but is also envisioned as an expansion in ways of thinking. The institution is no longer separated into disciplines and will offer a collage-like approach to the history of modern art.

Addition of the sculpture garden

A sculpture garden was added to the Museum of Modern Art in 1939. The entire garden has been designed by Director Alfred Barr and Architecture curator John McAndrew in a single night. The garden featured sculptures, and freestanding screens and was enclosed by a wooden fence.

In 1953 the garden was redesigned by the MoMA's Director of Architecture and Design, Philip Johnson. It was renamed The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden to honor Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, one of the Museum's founders. The garden evolved through a series of renovations over the next half-century.

In 1984 after the museum expanded, the garden reduced in size. However, Yoshio Taniguchi's renovations restored the transparency and continuity between interior and exterior spaces allowing the garden to once again be a central focus of MoMA's architecture.

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Frequently asked qestions about the MoMA building's architecture & design

Who designed the MoMA Building in New York?

The MoMA Building was first designed by architects - Philip L. Goodwin and Edward Durell Stone. It was designed in 1939 after the shifting to the permanent location at West 53rd Street. In 2001, the museum went another major renovation led by Yoshio Taniguchi which increased the capacity of the MoMA Museum. The MoMA building was a fine example of contemporary architecture after this change. MoMA building underwent another renovation in 2019 by architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro who collaborated with Gensler.

When was the MoMA first built?

NYC MoMA Museum was first made open to the public on 7 November 1929 in the quarters of the Heckscher Building in Manhattan. After functioning out of rented spaces for a decade, it got its permanent address on 53rd Street in 1939.

How long do I need to spend at MoMA?

Plan to spend anywhere between 3-4 hours at the MoMA if you plan to visit all the galleries.

How big is the MoMA?

The NYC MoMA Building features an area of 708,000 square feet and contains over 200,000 works. There are three main floors with sublevels in the MoMA building.

What is the architectural style of the MoMA?

A wide range of architects worked on the MoMA architecture to make it what it is today. When the MoMA building moved to its permanent location in the Time-Life building in Rockefeller Center, the architects used modern architecture style with a hint of traditional, Beaux-arts style. Later, in 2001, the NYC MoMA Museum underwent a major renovation, and the architect used a contemporary architectural style to design the museum.

Which architect was behind the renovation of MoMA on the occasion of its 75th birthday?

On its 75th birthday, MoMA reopened to the public after undergoing a renovation under Yoshio Taniguchi.

What’s special about the MoMA building?

MoMA building holds over 200,000 artworks on its premises and has expanded over the years. Starting from six rooms of offices and galleries on a floor to a space of 708,000 square feet, MoMA has grown a lot. MoMA's architecture has also changed with hints of modern, traditional, and contemporary architecture.

When did the last renovation of the MoMA building take place?

The last renovation of the MoMA building took place between June to October 2019.

Which architect is behind the 2019 expansion of the MoMA building?

Diller Scofidio and Renfro’s architectural firm managed the 2019 expansion of the MoMA building.

What are the latest additions to the MoMA building?

In the last renovations of the NYC MoMA building, the architects added 15,000 square feet of galleries, a new gift shop, two lounges, and a cafe and espresso bar.

Where is MoMA located?

The Museum of Modern Art has two locations - Midtown Manhattan and Queens. The MoMA location is located at 11 West 53 Street, Manhattan, while MoMA PS1 is located at 22-25 Jackson Ave, Queens.