The neighborhood crush is admittedly sort of a weird thing, but it’s also a thing that happens to New Yorkers. While I’m not likely to leave my current apartment for Astoria, Queens, I feel that in the interest of disclosure, I should probably acknowledge that I kind of carry a torch for the place. There are really good, really not-expensive restaurants all over the place, the Greek and Italian and Asian groceries cannot be beat for price or selection (or robustly eyebrowed Greek dudes forcing olives on you), and such non-food attractions as the insanely under-hyped Socrates Sculpture Park are just kind of hanging out there. The Museum of the Moving Image is a part of my Astoria crush, if admittedly a part that ranks a few spots behind the grilled octopus at this place, and a pretty excellent place to catch old and hard-to-find films. It is also, after an ambitious LEED Silver overhaul courtesy of Leeser Architects, the first legitimately beautiful new building in Astoria. What the Museum of the Moving Image is decidedly not, at least in the green and futuristic iteration that opened to the public last week, is recognizable as the Museum of the Moving Image.
Yes, the programming is still on point, and the street-facing facade is more or less intact, due in large part to its listing on the National Register of Historic Places. But that’s about it. Leeser’s re-imagining of the museum has effectively turned what was an unremarkable box — actually an old Paramount Pictures studio structure dating back to 1920, built right before the decline of the silent movie — into a remarkable contemporary green building. Virtually everything about the new MOMI, from the entrance on 35th Street on up, is new — the first floor was redesigned completely, and the three floors of theaters, event, education and gallery spaces that rise above that new first story are entirely new. Architects Daily offers a notably detailed walk-through of the new museum, but doesn’t touch on the green design features that have the museum on track for LEED Silver certification. Neither Leeser’s website nor museum press releases go in depth on it, either, although I’ve sent emails to both in hopes of getting some specifics, and will update accordingly.
While the green design elements on display at the new MOMI are as yet unidentified — I’m going to take a wild guess on “low-flow toilets” and “daylighting,” though — the critical consensus on the new design is certain, and it is positive. In a glowing review in the New York Times, Nicolai Ouroussoff reserves special praise for the exhibition spaces, and the way the building captures, “the essence of a world in which images proliferate all around us — from our phones, in the back seats of taxis — and in which it is becoming increasingly difficult to separate physical reality from the sleekly manufactured realities of the digital age.” Which sounds exhausting, honestly, but which is also quite an impressive achievement.
In the Wall Street Journal, Architect’s Newspaper editor Julia Iovine makes her case for the showcase theater at the center of Leeser’s design. and pronounces the entire building a triumph. “The new Museum of the Moving Image is the finest recent American example of radical design, all the more astonishing in that it was almost entirely publicly funded,” Iovine writes. “Bold but accessible, this is the kind of engagement with contemporary culture that will draw new audiences in without making longtime cinéastes feel left behind.” That this particular bit of ambitious green design was publicly funded — the city owns the Museum of the Moving Image space, and a host of city and state entities support the museum — is less surprising to those of us who have followed the rise of the state as a major player in the green building scene. But the distinction of the new Museum of the Moving Image is a surprise, and one worth noting after our recent streak of grouse-intensive coverage of city and state approaches to green building and the inevitably fraught role of state actors in this sort of thing. It would be worth visiting, even if there wasn’t delicious grilled octopus just a short walk away.
Finally, can we get a round of applause for Stephen Del Percio’s Herculean — or, at the very least, consistently well-done and consistently consistent — efforts here at gbNYC over the past few weeks. Stephen did all this while holding down a very busy job as a lawyer, fine-tuning an exciting new gbNYC venture (more on that in days to come) and presumably also walking his excitable little dog. He did all this because, and there’s no way I can make this sound like anything but what it is, I was on vacation and then doing other writing work. Your managing editor. So, yes, round of applause for him, smattering of boos for me, and back to business.