Volume 19 | Issue 26 | November 10 - 16, 2006

Lafayette St. entrance in Maya Lin’s design for the new home of the Museum of Chinese in the Americas.

Maya Lin unveils renderings for Chinatown museum

By Priya Idiculla

Architect Maya Lin was reminded of her mother when she saw the new space she will be remodeling for the Museum of Chinese in the Americas. The new building space is made up of two separate structures that surround a courtyard. The courtyard space was reminiscent of her mother’s previous home in Shanghai.

Lin has etched forever the names of the fallen and missing on the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial Wall in Washington D.C., and last week unveiled her first renderings of the new expansive space for the museum, scheduled to be completed by the end of 2007.

She was quoted in The New York Times saying that she plans on a contemporary design that will make the interior courtyard space “a link back to Chinese architectural design for courtyard houses.”

Though there have not been any renderings released of the courtyard space, Lin’s renderings of the museum were made public at a benefit dinner at Chelsea Piers last Tuesday. The design included an interior of wood and earth tones and an exterior of wood, concrete, and bronze.

When the new space is complete, the courtyard will be central to its design. It will be the center around which the permanent exhibition will be housed. The courtyard will also allow natural light to illuminate the basement space, where a conference room, auditorium, and house offices will be located.

Charles Lai, executive director of the museum, said the museum had a requirement for a larger facility, and that the current gallery has very little gallery space. “We have done so much given our limited space,” he told Downtown Express in a telephone interview.

The museum has been at 70 Mulberry St. for over 20 years in quiet obscurity. The location was also formerly home to P.S. 23 for a century. The new location will have visible entrances, as it will occupy the ground and basement levels. There will be an entrance on Centre St. that faces Chinatown, and another on Lafayette St. that faces Nolita and Soho.

“We hope that the increased visibility will bring more people forward to support the museum intellectually and financially,” Lai said. “The museum will play a significant role in showing tourists and visitors the rich history and culture of the area.”

The new space is part of a six-story building located on the western border of Chinatown and is around 13,000 square feet, or five times the size of the current space for the museum. Lai said the additional space was badly needed. “It is very sad for us when we have to turn away school trips because of space limitations,” he said.

The new space will include exhibition galleries, a bookstore, offices and multi-purpose rooms. Lai notes that more space will allow a more comprehensive story to be told, and there will be program space that will service the community.

“We are very keen in our need to be a community resource and community center,” Lai said. “We are making the space to be available for all things.”

“Having Maya’s stature and to have her associated with the museum is a wonderful crux in many ways,” said Lai. “It says that Asian Americans want to give back provided that there is a vehicle to engage in. We were extremely excited to work with her and also with her high level of enthusiasm,” he said.

Lin was born in Athens, Ohio a year after her parents emigrated from China. Her work has spanned more than 20 years and has included the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Ala. and The Wave Field, at the University of Michigan. She has said that this will be her first Chinese-related project. Lin lived in Chinatown for nine years and currently lives on the Upper East Side. Her studio is located Downtown and she served on the World Trade Center memorial jury that selected the “Reflecting Absence” design by Michael Arad.

“There is a level of resonance between Maya and her mission and values,” Lai said. “This allows her to return to her roots and fuse it with her art.”

The Museum plans on keeping the Mulberry St. location to house its archives. “Our archives right now are from floor to ceiling about 14 feet high, now we will be able to expand the archives and keep them accessible,” said Lai. “All of the documentation doesn’t mean anything and it’s useless unless it’s shared.”

The total cost of the project is $7.5 million and the museum has received about $5 million in government and private grants.

Lai said that Chinatown and the museum have been severely impacted by 9/11. “We have been extraordinarily fortunate to receive support from the September 11th Fund,” said Lai. He said the museum received two grants from the fund. The first was for $1.7 million and the second was for $500,000.

Lai added that all levels of city government have been extremely supportive.

The mayor’s office has given $1 million, the City Council has given $1 million, Borough Presi­dent Scott Stringer has given $250,000 and the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation has given $200,000,” he said.

“Everyone has been extremely helpful and they want us to serve as an asset. We are part of the Lower Manhattan culture.” Lai said. “This will be a long lasting gift for the future.”

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