From his perch as the Museum of Modern Art's chief curator of architecture and design, Terence Riley, AIA, spent the last 14 years affirming the importance of architecture. He brought it into the public realm not only intellectually but physically too, presiding over the design and construction of MoMA's ambitious addition and moving the architecture section from a small side room to prominent space on the third floor of the new building.
By the time he left MoMA this year to become director of the Miami Art Museum, he had succeeded in making Modernism more accessible to laypeople. “By the end of my tenure there had been a real rethinking of Modernism, mainly to the positive,” he says. “People realized Modernism was more than a cookie-cutter, white plaster, flat-roofed Le Corbusier kind of architecture [and] that it was much more complex and varied and had a great number of new possibilities.”
One of Riley's favorite exhibits, 1999's The Un-Private House, took the most traditional of ideas—the single-family house—and looked at how cultural and societal shifts are transforming its design. It was a project type that people in the real world could understand, and they showed up in record numbers. “The public participated at every level they could, whether reacting personally or writing letters to the editor,” he recalls. And if he were to curate a show on domestic design today, what would be the theme? Not the single-family house, but rather housing, he says: “Housing went through an awful period where it was done at the lowest possible cost and had a hospital look. In the last 10 years a lot more energy has gone into housing to make it more livable and more desirable.”
Riley is now overseeing the selection of an architect who will transform the Miami Art Museum into a new $200 million landmark on Miami's glittering coastline. He's also a partner in K/R, a New York City firm he helped found 22 years ago, though Riley says much of his involvement there is temporarily on hold.
what drew you to this path? “Having grown up near Chicago, I first learned about architecture from roaming the streets. I never decided to become an educator, in a formal sense, but I've welcomed the opportunities to share my enthusiasm for architecture and its possibilities.”
what were you doing 10 years ago? “I was in the midst of the early stages of discussing how we might expand the Museum of Modern Art. Should we open a second building off site? Should we move to a new location? Should we try to expand on site? The last option was the most difficult, but it was what we eventually did.”
what do you hope to have achieved 10 years from now? “[I hope] to have built the most exciting new museum in the world.”