This is not conjecture. The Guggenheim’s 2001 Frank Gehry retrospective (the museum’s second most-visited show ever), MoMA’s 2004 “Tall Buildings,” the Whitney’s 2008 Buckminster Fuller show, the Eero Saarinen traveling exhibit that passed through Yale and the Museum of the City of New York in 2010—each dispensed choice revelations and brought in crowds beyond the usual corps. But that is not enough. What an architecture museum can do that occasional exhibits can’t is to tell an overarching story or put a career in its widest context—to describe, for instance, how Hadrian’s Villa, the second-century estate outside Rome, exercised a powerful influence on a long roster of designers, right down to Louis Kahn and Philip Johnson.
Could there be a better place to ensconce such an institution than Breuer’s elegant bunker? The tough, sharp-edged block of concrete balances on a pediment of glass. It simultaneously reaches toward the city and hangs back from it, extending its upper floors but retreating behind a dry moat spanned by a narrow footbridge. Despite its combination of ambivalence and brawn, it has proved an amiable place to show art. As an architecture museum, it would not only do honor to its holdings but also embody the aspirations on display inside.