In 1870 the Legislature of New York State granted an incorporation that formally established the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This institute is charged with “encouraging and developing the study of the fine arts, and the application of the arts to manufacture and practical life, of advancing the general knowledge of kindred subjects, and, to that end, furnishing popular instruction and recreation”. At its inception, the Museum had no formal building or collection. Metropolitan’s paintings collection began when three private European collections numbering 174 paintings, which included the works of Van Dyke, Tiepolo, Guardi, and Poussin, entered.

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Opening reception in the picture gallery at 681 Fifth Avenue, February 20, 1872; wood-engraving_ Frank Leslie’s Weekly (1872)

During the 1870s, the museum was housed in two locations in New York City, first in a building at 681 Fifth Avenue and later at 128 West 14th Street. On 30th March 1880, it moved to its current address of Fifth Avenue and 82nd Street in Central Park. The original gothic revival building, completed by Calvert Vaux and John Grey Mould, was set back from Fifth Avenue and shared the appearance of structures within the park. The present-day Beaux Arts façade completed in limestone came later in 1902, designed by Richard Morris right before his death in 1885. Its four wings faced Fifth Avenue, two to the north and two to the south of the original structure. The first phase saw the completion of the north wings, followed by the slightly simpler wings to the south. McKim Mead & White, the firm behind the design, sought a majesty for the wings which complemented the grandeur of the main entrance without overshadowing it. The structure was set back from the street behind a retaining wall so that the eyes of the visitor immediately went to the main entrance.

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The museum in 1914_Wikipedia

The Evening Post reported that at-last New York had a neoclassical palace of art, “one of the finest in the world, and the only public building in recent years which approaches in dignity and grandeur the museums of the old world.”

The original 1870 building with its Rushkinian Gothic Structure had its west façade on display in the Robert Lehman Wing and has since expanded through the addition of several new structures which go on to surround it.

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Original Façade on display in the European Sculpture Court_ Jean-Christophe Benoist

By the 1960s, the grand museum entrance was considered a dangerous bottleneck; Several proposals for its removal in favour of a simple ground-to-floor entrance or escalators were put forth.  1971 architects Kevin Roche Dinkeloo and Associates prepared a comprehensive architectural plan for the museum. Several notable additions like the Robert Lehman Wing (1975), which houses the old master’s collection along with the impressionist and post-impressionist art; the Sackler Wing, housing the house of Dendur; The American Wing with its 25 renovated period rooms along with Michael C. Rockefeller Wing, Lila Acheson Wallace Wing and the Henri R. Kravis Wing are attributed to this period. The new design engulfed the irregular south, west, and north wings in a 1000 feet long neoclassical plaza of limestone. At the fifth avenue, two new wide landings were added to the side of the main entrance, and the grass plots in front of the 1905 McKim, Mead, and White wings were eliminated.  At the extreme north and south ends, a public gathering space emerged with the placement of trees and benches. On either side of the paved entrance, a fountain was added with just enough water level to discourage seating; the new landscape was certainly less inviting for the loiterers. 

The Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met) entrance façade in Upper East Side, Manhattan, New York City_Flickr

Newer galley additions like the Galleries for Oceanic and Native North American Art opened in 2007. The Galleries for the Art of the Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia, and South Asia were added in 2011 and 2012. The David H. Koch Plaza was inaugurated in September 2014 as a 300-meter-long public space in front of the museum’s main 5th Avenue entrance. Designed by the firm OLIN, the space was paved in Maine granite and equipped with seats, parasols, fountains, trees, and LED lighting. 

In total, the area of the entire Museum is 2 million square feet of 1.5 million sq. feet is the main building that houses most support staff offices, libraries, and conservation and curatorial departments. The lewis centre is another fascinating addition that puts the complete collection of an artist’s body of work on display; It shows the museum’s commitment to the concept of connoisseurship, which is to study the works of art comparatively. Only a tiny percentage of the museum’s permanent collection is on view anytime. However, the museum regularly rotates its exhibits, enabling returning visitors to see a large proportion of their holdings.

In addition, the museum also has two auditoriums, several public facilities, a photography studio, and an online resource centre. All in all, the museum is big enough to house a grand equestrian court and has 19 separate museums within it. Other than the permanent exhibits, there are several lectures and events like the widely publicised cultural phenomena, the MET Gala, and 30 special exhibits every year.

Citations | Metropolitan Museum of Art

Cha, B. (2010) The Museum, Constructed, Available at: (Accessed: December 11, 2022). 

Gray, C. (2005) STREETSCAPES/The Metropolitan Museum’s Facade; The Many Faces Of a Grand Monument , New York Architecture Images- Metropolitan Museum of Art. Available at: (Accessed: December 11, 2022). 

(no date) New York Architecture Images- Metropolitan Museum of Art. Available at: (Accessed: December 11, 2022). 


Fresh out of architecture school Ana is actively exploring the intersection between architecture and planning in her role as an Urban Designer in Lahore. Questions of inclusive planning systems in the south Asian context with a focus on climate change ,affordability and gender are her key areas of research.