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MoMA’s Emilio Ambasz Institute for the Joint Study of the Built and Natural Environment Launches New Programming, Including First Annual Earth Day Lecture
The Museum of Modern Art announces new programming and operational updates focused on sustainability, including its first annual Earth Day conference, April 20, and innovative new efforts across the Museum that reduce carbon emissions and material waste.
Ambasz Institute Programming
On April 20, MoMA’s Emilio Ambasz Institute for the Joint Study of the Built and Natural Environment will hold its first annual online Earth Day Keynote, as part of an exploration of cultural change and challenges posed by the global climate crisis. Nigerian architect Kunlé Adeyemi, founder and director of NLÉ, will deliver the inaugural lecture. Martino Stierli, Chief Curator of Architecture and Design of Philip Johnson at MoMA, and Carson Chan, Director of the Ambasz Institute, will give presentations, and Beatrice Galilee, Curator, Cultural Advisor and Author of Radical Architecture of the Future (2021), will host a Q&A session. Details are available online.
Since December 2021, the Ambasz Institute has hosted an online series called Material Worlds, which brings together experts and scholars to discuss specific building materials with the aim of better understanding humanity’s impact on the non-human world and to envision a new future. Topics have included solid wood, waste and plastic, with the most recent discussion focusing on concrete. On April 15, Lucia Allais, Elise Berodier and Kiran Pereira participated in a discussion moderated by Lindsey Wikstrom on the implications of this “essential” resource. Material Worlds takes place about once a month.
Sustainability at MoMA
The Museum of Modern Art is committed to being a leader in sustainability and responsible use of resources. It has set ambitious targets to reduce carbon emissions by 30% by 2024 and the use of materials and waste by 50% by 2025.
Sustainability and environmental design were priorities when conceptualizing the building’s 2019 expansion, which both contributes to New York City’s goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80% from 2005 levels by 2050 and has also earned a LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) Platinum certification—the highest level of green building certification as designated by the US Green Building Council (USGBC). MoMA is now the only major museum in the United States to have obtained this certification.
Building on this LEED Platinum certification, the Museum has convened a cross-departmental sustainability task force to plan a multi-year sustainability strategy that will transform the Museum’s buildings, operational practices, programmatic vision and public engagement efforts. . Museum colleagues worked to reduce carbon emissions and material waste.
Centralized waste stations
The Museum launched on-site organics collection in September 2021 to divert compostable materials from the landfill. Individual bins have been removed and staff are using three main bins in centralized locations to sort and dispose of organics, mixed recycling and landfill. Since March 2022, 73 tons of waste were diverted from the landfill. This is equivalent to the carbon sequestered by 1,703 tree seedlings grown for 10 years.
Design and production of exhibitions
A new way of working has been adapted to support the exhibition program while meeting long-term museum-wide financial and ecological sustainability goals. Process streamlining and a focus on material recycling include:
• Standardization and reduction of wall construction
• Extensive reuse of existing frameworks
• Reuse and standardization of showcases and bases
• The introduction of a reusable modular wall system
• Reusing and repurposing art crates
Efforts are being made to make operations and food offerings more sustainable:
• All packaging is made from compostable and recyclable materials.
• Single-use plastic bags are no longer available.
• Employees save $0.50 on coffee when they bring their own cup.
MoMA Design Store teams have adapted their operations and the products they sell to make business more sustainable:
• The packaging of certain items has changed from plastic to recyclable paper.
• Reusable/recyclable air cushions have been replaced with non-recyclable packaging.
• Reusable plastic bins were used to transport orders to stores.
• The Retail team strives to work with designers using innovative materials, and new products inspired by nature will continue to be introduced.
MoMA’s IT department has implemented energy-saving best practices on museum devices:
• All computers and printers were put on standby after 15 minutes.
• All copiers are EnergyStar certified, default to black/white only, and print front and back.
In 2019, the Museum replaced all halogen bulbs in the galleries with new custom LED fixtures that have improved capabilities and consume significantly less energy. Today, the new LED luminaires consume almost a third of the energy previously required by the luminaires in the gallery.
Custom LED fixtures (today)
7,000 luminaires use 23 W
Total: 161,000 watts
Halogen bulbs (before 2019)
4,738 luminaires used 50W
2,290 luminaires used 90W
Total: 443,000 watts
Water consumption has been reduced through careful selection of low flow plumbing fixtures such as kitchen faucets, bathroom faucets, toilets and urinals.
Modeled construction site energy consumption for MoMA’s recent expansion is approximately 90 kBtu/sq.ft. (annual energy consumption per square foot) and represents a 35% reduction from the ASHRAE baseline 90.1-2007. A new efficient cooling plant contributes nearly 44% in space cooling energy savings and the space heating design results in a 33% reduction in steam consumption. Demand ventilation and variable air volume air system with effective controls in the gallery spaces added to the overall efficiency of the expansion spaces. MoMA is currently focused on projects that will upgrade the rest of the campus infrastructure systems that were completed in 2004 and earlier.
The Museum also continues to explore sustainability and climate change issues with artists and the public through exhibitions and programs like Neri Oxman: Material Ecology, Broken Nature, Automania, Neelon Crawford: Filmmaker, and Reuse, Renew, Recycle: Recent Architecture from China.