Location New York City
Site Area 35,000 ft²
Completed 2014 (expected)
Program Museum and gallery space, performance theater, multiuse black box theater, classrooms, indoor and outdoor spaces
Client Whitney Museum of American Art
Design Architect Renzo Piano Building Workshop
Executive Architect Cooper, Robertson & Partners
Owner’s Rep Gardiner & Theobald
MEP Engineer Jaros, Baum & Bolles
Lighting Engineer Arup
Structural Engineer Robert Silman Associates
Construction Manager Turner Construction
American art is an evolutionary term; it has applied to many different ideas and styles in the last two centuries while always maintaining a certain core definition. The art has changed, but the spirit is the same. In this regard, the new design for the Whitney Museum of American Art is analogous of its exhibits.
The museum is building a new location, a larger, more flexible, and more diverse space that mirrors the progress and evolution of American art while keeping intact its mission: to display and celebrate the work of artists who identify themselves as American. In addition to creating a museum that would accommodate new art and media, the Whitney sought to make a splash with an environmentally responsible building and a noteworthy design. To accomplish the feat, only one architect would suffice.
“We wanted an architect that would make a statement, and after looking at the all the greats with museum experience, there was only one person for the job, and it was Renzo Piano,” says Bill Maloney, the project director for the new museum.
Piano’s unique artistic design was a perfect match for the museum’s sustainable objectives. This year, it will be 47 years since the Whitney moved to its current space. “Artists are constantly doing new and exciting projects, and as art changes, the work requires new, more flexible and often bigger spaces,” Maloney says. It’s a necessity that is echoed by the museum’s project manager Larissa Gentile. “The type of work we exhibit has changed over the years,” Gentile says. “Artists are no longer working with a single medium; they’re doing things that cross all boundaries. Our art takes many forms, and that can be a challenge from a physical standpoint.”
The volume of the Whitney’s collection also has grown significantly. When the doors opened at the current museum site in 1966, the Whitney had about 2,000 total objects in its collection. Today, that number exceeds 19,000 and is continuing to grow. The new space will have more than 50,000 square feet of indoor galleries, including an 18,000-square-foot temporary exhibit gallery on the fifth floor whose open design will make it the largest gallery space of its kind in New York City. Along with adding square footage, the new Whitney will have two designated performance venues: one will be a formal theatre with retractable seating, and the other is a multiuse, black box theater for film and video. There also will be an education center, a first for the Whitney, complete with seminar rooms and classrooms.
Certification LEED Gold (expected)
Materials Reclaimed old growth pine flooring
Energy Advanced BMS and chillers, curtainwall system, independent convection system
Lighting LED lighting, three-level shade system
In the new museum, reclaimed old growth pine will cover the 60,000 square feet of flooring, a departure from the white oak favored by galleries. “The Whitney strives to do things in a different way than its sister institutions,” Gentile says. “Pine is represented in a lot of old artist’s lofts, and we needed the harder surface you find with reclaimed old growth pine.” An advanced building-management system will control the specific climate requirements in the galleries at all times (a temperature of 72 degrees and a relative humidity level of 50 percent plus or minus a very tight tolerance).
Until recently, there have been few lighting options for art museums despite its importance, but advances in LED technology have made it possible to use the more efficient and longer-lasting lighting throughout all the galleries and public spaces, enabling the museum to accrue significant savings. The Whitney also will employ a sophisticated shade system with three levels of shading to control the light amount coming through its windows and skylights.
The most visible aspects of the project is its location and how it relates to its surroundings. Located in the Meat Packing District, which is currently seeing a large amount of commercial and cultural growth, the site is situated with the Hudson River Park to the west and the High Line to the east. Piano took the location between the two into consideration and designed the museum in a way that he hopes will make the Whitney a natural link between the two public areas and be a part of the integrated neighborhood culture for many years to come.