Pass the Popcorn
The expanded Museum of the Moving Image, New York, is a Thomas Leeser production.
Marc Kristal -- Interior Design, 3/1/2011 1:17:00 PM
"I'm not particularly a moviegoer," Thomas Leeser says. This admission might make him sound like an unusual choice to expand the Museum of the Moving Image, self-described as "the only institution in the United States that explores the art and innovation of screen culture." However, Leeser observes, "The way architecture creates tension and interest is not so different from cinema. In a good movie, every cut and sequence is carefully thought out. Architecture is also like that. Every passage, every room, has to be orchestrated."
Leeser Architecture's concept for the project, a reimagination of the existing ground level, plus a three-story rear addition, doubled the museum's size. The resulting interior, nearly 100,000 square feet, creates a narrative that immerses visitors in the vividness of the moving image while also replicating, architecturally, its ephemerality. "It was basically an organizational problem," Leeser says modestly. The original building had been part of a studio complex that Paramount Pictures opened in 1920 in Astoria, New York, and a 1988 conversion had yielded what he calls a "convoluted entry sequence" and tightly confined programmatic elements. Consequently, more sedate members of the museum-going public often found themselves colliding with clamorous class trips.
Leeser resolved the clash of constituencies with a separate student entrance from the new rear courtyard. Right inside is an education center, which combines a foyer, a small amphitheater for orientations, a capacious event space that can be curtained off into two media labs, and separate restrooms, all allowing this side of the ground level to function entirely apart from the principal public areas. Fire stairs connect directly from here to the galleries above, both the permanent collection in the original building and the 4,100 square feet of temporary exhibition space on the addition's top level. "Large groups of kids can move through and not interrupt other people's experience," MOMI public-information manager Tomoko Kawamoto notes.
As for those other people, their experience begins out front with what Leeser calls the main title sequence: a white stucco facade dominated by high windows. He enlarged three window apertures to create a new entry, relocated slightly off-center to eliminate the need for steps and to gain ceiling height in the lobby. The doors and bays to either side are mirrored and emblazoned with 3½-foot-high vinyl block letters spelling out the museum's name. Right past the doors, the lobby takes the form of a long, wide corridor extending straight through to a run of windows at the back of the addition.
Immediately setting the tone, Leeser rejected "the dark movie-theater cliché," he says, in favor of bright white, loosely interleaved zones that connect visually to the courtyard through the rear windows. Nonetheless, he adds. "The idea was not just a generic loft that would never be unique to the museum's program." He tied his design firmly to its subject, beginning with the ticket counter opposite a 50-foot-wide screening wall on which five concealed projectors produce panoramic videos. The wall tilts slightly backward as it ascends, vitalizing the architecture and reminding visitors, Kawamoto says, "We're not hanging paintings here."
Beyond the screening wall, the lobby widens. Leeser sited the café and the main stair on one side and a lounge on the other. Flanking the lounge, a pair of gestures again connect to MOMI's subject: Leading to the theater are two ramped tunnels bathed in blue light. A marked departure in an otherwise white space, the glowing tunnels give a playfully overt nod to science fiction and remind us that the cinematic world is one of fantasy. "This is like being in a movie," more than one child said during my visit.
Elsewhere, Leeser spoke to the moving image's mix of evanescence and factuality, drawing visitors forward with a surprising variety of program-specific and flexible zones. The richest of the latter is an impromptu amphitheater that morphs out of the main stair where, conventionally, the second-story landing would be-steps expand into benches, and a wall becomes a screen for video installations and lectures. More formal, despite a vestibule clad in hot-pink felt, a small screening room feels all-business, with exposed audio speakers and gray perforated acoustical material lining the walls and ceiling. And the theater, reached via the two blue tunnels, is highly designed, described in a brochure as "a capsule for the imaginary voyage of moviegoing." Felt-wrapped panels, likewise a rich blue, seem to envelop the audience, and the curtain in front of the screen explodes in a multicolored pixel pattern. "It's like you're floating in there," Leeser says. "You come in and forget the real world."
Photography by Peter Aaron/Esto.
david linehan (project manager); simon arnold; kate burke; sofia castricone; henry grosman; joseph haberl: leeser architecture. l'observatoire international; vibrant design: lighting consultants. karlssonwilker: graphics consultant. r.a. heintges & associates: curtain wall consultant. jaffe holden: acoustical consultant. mdc group; scharff weisberg: audiovisual consultants. atelier ten: sustainability consultant. anastos engineering associates: structural engineer. ambrosino, depinto & schmieder: mep. stantec: civil, geotechnical engineer. millerblaker: woodwork. david shuldiner: glasswork. mg mcgrath: facade contractor. f.j. sciame construction co.: general contractor.
C. OLESEN THROUGH AGATHOM CO.: PANEL FABRIC.
IRWIN SEATING COMPANY: SEATS (THEATER, SCREENING ROOM).
MAHARAM: SEAT FABRIC.
BENTLEY PRINCE STREET: CARPET.
MATERIA: CHAIRS (CAFÉ).
MOROSO: OTTOMANS (LOUNGE).
DUPONT: BENCH MATERIAL (LOUNGE, VIDEO AMPHITHEATER).
DESIGNTEX: WALL, CEILING FABRIC (VESTIBULE, RAMP).
GRAPHIC SYSTEMS GROUP: CUSTOM SIGNAGE (EXTERIOR).
QUINZE & MILAN: CUSTOM CUSHIONS (EDUCATION AMPHITHEATER).
BOLIDT THROUGH FUSION FLOORS: FLOORING.
LANE'S FLOOR COVERINGS & INTERIORS: CARPET.