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Long Live Queens
Ten years from start, Queens Museum of Art back on track.
The facade is dramatically lit at night.
Courtesy Grimshaw

Tucked into Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s State of the City address on January 12 was a brief call-out announcing that the tortured Queens Museum of Art expansion project continues to soldier on. Initially projected to cost $37 million, the latest estimate for the expansion/ renovation has reached $68 million and the original 2009 completion date has been pushed to fall 2013. Though the road to the finish line has been tumultuous, new design details have been refined and the grand opening appears to be within reach.

The main entrance.

The project’s history took a meandering path from the get-go. Designed by Robert Moses’ man Aymar Embury II for the 1939 World’s Fair, the building once housed an ice skating rink in half its vast column-free hall; the rink was moved out as part of the failed 2012 Olympic bid, allowing the museum to expand within its own walls from 50,000 to 100,000 feet. In 2003, Eric Owen Moss won New York City’s first Design Excellence competition to develop an iconic design for the space. Moss’ proposed slumped-glass entry addition would have wiped out the central section of the original building, and in 2005 it was scrapped. At the time, the museum’s executive director Tom Finkelpearl told AN that “things weren’t clicking.” One year later, a new design by Grimshaw emerged, embracing the original art deco-inspired structure.

The designs released in 2006 responded to a need to catch the attention of 250,000 Grand Central Parkway commuters while incorporating two formal entryways. The entrance facing Flushing Meadows Park maintained Embury’s classical colonnade, while the entrance facing Grand Central Parkway placed an illuminated glass curtain wall in front of the columns. Original designs included the name of the museum translated into scores of languages and etched onto the glass. It also incorporated a floor-to-ceiling arched glass dividing wall in the interior that would have disrupted Embury’s column-free 115-foot arched truss. Both elements have been altered.

The museum interior.

Inside, the truss will flow free of disruption. “We’ll be able to do large-scale installations like no other museum in America,” said Finkelpearl. A small skylight above the central lobby and a larger one to the south between two galleries feature baffles that direct light downward, while a series of angled glass panels—50 percent transparent—frame the skylight. Each row of hanging glass panels follows the rectangular form of the skylights before dropping down and shifting in angle so as to block and direct natural light.

The most important design element is at the western facade. A sand-blasted dot graphic runs up the glass, becoming less dense toward the top. At night, the dot finish will be kinetically lit by LEDs programmed by a guest artist. Metal halide lights will wash over a vertical metal mesh that runs perpendicular to the glass, and a two-tone metallic finish will form letters that read “Queens” when viewed from the north and “Museum” when viewed from the south.

Tom Stoelker