Carson Chan appointed inaugural director of the Emilio Ambasz Institute at MoMA


The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) has appointed curator, writer and educator Carson Chan as the first director of the museum’s Emilio Ambasz Institute for the Joint Study of the Built and Natural Environment. Chan will also serve as curator within the Department of Architecture and Design with a focus on sustainability in collaboration with the six conservation departments at MoMA.

The Ambasz Institute was launched last November as a largely research-based vehicle for the museum to explore the complex relationship between the built environment and ecology. As previously stated by A, the institute has a strong focus on digital initiatives that stimulate global conversations about sustainability while striving to study how the design of our cities, buildings and landscapes can be harnessed more effectively, in the words of the museum, “in order to work towards an ecological future and environmental justice.

The creation of the Institute was made possible thanks to a $ 10 million donation from the Legacy Emilio Ambasz Foundation (LEAF), a philanthropic organization created by the architect and industrial designer born in Argentina and trained in Princeton, considered to be a (somewhat enigmatic) ancestor of the contemporary sustainable design movement. Announced as the “Messiah of green architecture” by James Wines, Ambasz, whose eponymous firm is based in New York, has also had a long relationship with MoMA, notably as design curator in the department of architecture and design (1969 –1976); member of the International Museum Council (1978-present); and member of the board of directors of MoMA PS1 (2002-2006.) Ambasz has also been the subject of two exhibitions at MoMA, Emilio Ambasz / Steven Holl: Architecture (1989) and In depth: The spiritual retirement home by Emilio Ambasz (2005-2006), and has been featured in a number of group exhibitions.

Chan will begin his tenure as Director of the Ambasz Institute later this summer and, in his new role, will develop a “robust and diverse” list of exhibits as well as programming, both virtual and on-site, which he says the museum, “addresses the interdependence of architecture and ecology. Notably, Chan will also organize and present a major upcoming exhibition focusing on emerging green trends in architecture. This show is scheduled for 2023.

MoMA’s recent and upcoming programs and exhibitions with environmental and climate-focused themes include Neri Oxman: Material Ecology, Broken Nature (now until August 15); Automania and Neelon Crawford: Directorr, both of which will open in July 2021, and the recently announced Reuse, Renew, Recycle: Recent Architecture from China, a major group presenting the work of several young Chinese architectural firms driven by environmental stewardship and social responsibility. Apart from exhibitions, MoMA as an institution has placed emphasis on sustainable practices. The museum’s major expansion project in 2019 received LEED Platinum certification, making it the only major American art museum to achieve rigorous rating. A dedicated sustainability working group is also helping lead an institution-wide effort to reduce the museum’s energy use and carbon emissions by at least 30% by 2024 to meet the New York City Local Law 97. The museum also aims to reduce its material waste. by half by 2025.

“I look forward to challenging current and future MoMA audiences with new ways of defining architecture in the midst of our ecological crisis,” Chan said in a statement. “My vision for the Ambasz Institute is to enable MoMA’s public to see architecture beyond the object and understand how it is ecologically and socially anchored in the world.

Most recently, Chan was an assistant professor at the Weitzman School of Design at the University of Pennsylvania, where he taught a postgraduate seminar titled Architecture’s Ecology.. He is also the co-founder of PROGRAM, a non-profit project space and residency program in Berlin established with Fotini Lazaridou-Hatzigoga. In 2013, Chan was executive curator of the Biennale of the Americas in Denver and, the previous year, co-organized the fourth Marrakech Biennale with Nadim Samman. Widely published author and commentator on contemporary art, architecture and culture, Chan is editor-in-chief 0f 032c and also, alongside Daniel A. Barner and Dalal Musaed Alsayer, founding editor-in-chief of Current: Collective for the History of Architecture and the Environment, an online resource and scholarly journal described by MoMA as focusing on “the intersection of architecture, environment and justice”. He holds a BA in Architecture from Cornell University, an MA in Design Studies from the Harvard Graduate School of Design, and a PhD. from Princeton University in Ambasz, where his doctoral research focused on the evolution of aquarium architecture in the postwar United States against the nascent environmental movement.

“I am delighted to appoint Carson Chan as the first director of the Emilio Ambasz Institute,” said Martino Stierli, chief curator of architecture and design at MoMA Philip Johnson. “Carson comes to MoMA with an impressive track record of conservation and scholarship at the intersection of architecture and ecology. I am convinced that it will help make the Emilio Ambasz Institute a world leader in the ecological recalibration of architecture, one of the most pressing issues in the field today.

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