Text and photographs are © by Ellen Spector Platt & Ellen Zachos, all rights reserved.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


On Dec. 14th, 2009 I announced my Big Apple Roof Awards for 2009 in this blog.

Now my pick for least favorite: the roof garden at the Museum of Modern Art, New York City.

What, you didn’t even know MOMA has a roof garden? You’ve been to the Museum many times and never seen mention of it? You are a great fan of the MOMA sculpture garden and would love to see the roof?

Well you can’t. Not even if you pay admission. This “garden” is meant to be seen from neighboring windows, those that are higher than the 10th floor, so if you rent a room at the Warwick Hotel facing 54th St. or have an apartment at the Museum towers, or an office overlooking the Taniguchi building, you’ll be able to see the plastic boxwood-like things in all their glory. Oh yes, there are stones in patterns and some rocks too.

Apparently MOMA didn’t want anyone to be able to walk out on the “garden”, didn’t want any water leaking on the art work on floors below, didn’t want any upkeep costs. MOMA did want to placate neighbors who questioned expansion of the Museum. But if they really wanted to be a good neighbor, why would they leave their trash pile exposed on 54th St. for all of those neighbors to see every day.

This “garden” has been cited by the American Society of Landscape Architects with an Honor Award. The project statement refers to its ‘wit and irony’. Where they see wit, I see humorless, fake; where they see ‘irony’ I see insult and missed opportunity. I woke up this morning realizing that this design reminded me of the miniature golf courses of my girlhood.The ASLN award compares the MOMA rooftop to Japanese dry Zen gardens. I’ve been to many Zen gardens both in the US and Japan, and find them invariably delightful, serene places to stroll, contemplate, or enjoy from afar. Thinking of what MOMA might have done and didn’t, makes my blood boil.

Before I saw the roof I called on all of my scientific training to wait until I saw it myself. I was trying so hard to keep an open mind. Go see for yourself, provided you have a friend or acquaintance on a high floor overlooking 54th St. Don’t expect to be able to look just by paying your $20 admission to MOMA.

Many thanks to dear friend Leah G. who gave me access to her building’s roof for my viewing and telephoto lens.

The Portland Japanese Garden (OR)

A rock garden labyrinth at the Lodge at Sedona (AZ)

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