NYC Dream: Museum of Technology, Art & Science

Roosevelt Island, N.Y.  Not often does one man have such a big dream.  But few people are anything like Tad Sudol, Ph.D., an architect and artist lately of the firm of Thierry W. Despont Ltd. and now principal of his own firm (Daily Kos).  Tad’s dream: The Museum of Technology, Art & Science — MOTAAS.

This museum, MOTAAS, is to be located in the soon to be de-commissioned Steam Plant on Roosevelt Island adjacent to the Queensboro Bridge and directly behind the Roosevelt Island Tram station.

Tad Sudol, a Global Adviser to the J. Luce Foundation, serves as president of the non-profit Roosevelt Island Visual Art Association and Gallery RIVAA that has spawned other art venues and activities. 

The Museum of Technology, Art & Science (MOTAAS) 
is to be located in the soon to be
de-commissioned Steam Plant on Roosevelt Island adjacent to the Queensboro Bridge
and  directly behind the Roosevelt Island Tram station. Photo: MOTAAS.

Presented with an opportunity to visit the steam plant two years ago, Tad immediately grasped the nature and importance of the majestic interior space that soars four stories upward from the complex existing machinery on the ground floor to a large skylight that dominates the roof.

As an artist, architect and visionary, Tad compares this Roosevelt Island opportunity to the Tate Modern in London and other power plant conversions to art centers elsewhere in the world.

He also perceived and understood the logical connection to the architectural brilliance of the FDR memorial, the proposed Cornell project, the Tramway, the unique AVAC refuse collection system with its beautifully designed transfer station – all integrated into renowned architect Phillip Johnson’s original master plan for Roosevelt Island that began with the award winning 1970’s-era residential buildings that form the nucleus of the island’s continuing development.

Roosevelt Island is the result of urban planner Edward J. Logue’s vision of a transformation of Welfare Island, originally developed to house a variety of hospitals, mental institutions and prisons, into a ground breaking mixed use community in the heart of New York City.  In addition to the Tramway, the island is served by the “F” subway line and a traffic bridge to Long Island City.

RIVAA thought leader, global citizen and visionary Tad Sudol presents the idea of MOTAAS.
Photo: RIVAA.

Some interesting facts about the south end of Roosevelt Island:

Begun in the 1930s and finished in the 1950s, the Steam Plant was built to provide energy for the island’s two hospitals, Coler and Goldwater.

Goldwater Hospital occupies nearly ten acres between the bridge and the Four Freedoms Park, an iconic architectural masterpiece designed by Luis Kahn as a memorial to president Franklin Delano Roosevelt located at the southern tip of the island.

The Steam Plant is adjacent to Southpoint Park and the ruins of the Smallpox Laboratory designed in the mid-19th century by James Renwick who also designed St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

The hospital is soon to be replaced by a $2 billion post-modern campus for Cornell NYC Tech.  Converted into the proposed museum, the plant would be intended to complement Cornell’s technological presence.

The interior of the steam plant is reminiscent of the Tate Modern in London  Photo: MOTAAS.

Philip Johnson’s master plan was never fully realized, but the evolution of the Island’s development has done justice to the original concept. The steam plant reinvention to MOTAAS would help to complete the circle and tie together the technological, architectural and educational elements of this groundbreaking experiment in urban development and planning.

MOTAAS would provide the ultimate and possibly last opportunity on the island to complete and fulfill Logue’s dream.  Rarely does such a dramatic space come available, and at the nexus of the unique urban center that is Roosevelt Island.  It would be a catalytic unifier of this vibrant and diverse community enhanced by the influx of the students, scientists and engineers for the Cornell/Technion University Campus.

Art inspires, it attracts and it draws people together.  This new museum would celebrate the complex technology within the plant structure, leaving some as technological sculptures and repurposing much of the rest as sculptural elements within and outside, across the extent of the island.

The space on the ground floor not occupied by the existing machinery exhibits would be devoted to galleries.  The interior height would permit an additional three floors, two of which would be galleries, the fourth or top floor would be a combination of gallery space and dining.  The full basement is available for galleries, theater, learning space and offices.  The architectural and artistic possibilities are intriguing and exciting.  MOTAAS would make Roosevelt Island a prime destination point in New York City.

Potential donors, sponsors, and foundations contacted have expressed keen interest in this project as have major artists.  The unique architectural and display possibilities are an obvious attraction as is the artistic, technological and educational venue that is Roosevelt Island.

No less important would be its function as a bridge to connect all New York City’s important existing art institutions to those in Queens such as the Noguchi Museum, The Museum of the Moving Image, PS-1, and the Noguchi Sculpture Garden.

Tad Sudol, Mark Craig, Phillip Murray, Denis Bastin, Micah Kellner, John Weatherhead,
and Jim Luce at the Gallery RIVAA. Photo: MOTAAS.

The direct economic benefits to Roosevelt Island would derive from leasing income, increased tourist traffic for existing businesses and establishment of additional businesses associated with the increased visibility and interest in the Island as a mainstream destination.  MOTAAS would be the facilitator that would fully integrate Roosevelt Island into the fabric of the city and the commercial development that would flow from that.

Prominent organizations Including Friends of the Roosevelt Island Steam Plant (FRISP), Gallery RIVAA, and the J. Luce Foundation have expressed their support for the Museum of Technology, Art & Science (MOTAAS).

Some of the original steam fittings in the plant should be retained
as part of the technological artifacts display.  Photo: MOTAAS.

See Stories by Jim Luce on:

Art   |   Corporate America & CSR   |  Education   |   New York   |
Philanthropy    |   Photography   |   Roosevelt Island

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John Laing is a writer based in New York with decades of non-profit experience.

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