Nouveau-Whitney: Bigger, Stronger & Neighborhood-Friendly

George Bellows Dempsey and Firpo via Wikimedia Commons

The new Whitney Museum, designed by Renzo-Piano and currently under construction at the southernmost end of the High Line, is slated to open in the Spring of 2015. Recently, architect Scott Newman of Cooper, Robertson and Partners and Larissa Gentile (building’s project manager) gave a detailed project overview as part of Archtober presentation. The new museum is located at Gansevoort and Washington Streets.

To say that the museum simply needs some more space would be a gross understatement. By 1966 there were 2,000 works in the collection; now there are 21,000. In 2006, Gentile and crew deemed the site at the bottom of the High Line sufficiently larger, and have been at work on it ever since. The new building is nine stories tall and has 220,000 square feet, in contrast to the 83,000 square feet at the Madison Avenue site. Also, there will be 50,000 square feet for galleries, in contrast to Madison Avenue’s 32,000.

However, acquiring the site presented many challenges: Several meatpackers had to be bought out and relocated, the ground beneath it is organic fill (i.e., very problematic), and since museums are notoriously light buildings, the museum had to be anchored. Last (and by no means least), its proximity to the Hudson River means flooding is a concern. Hurricane Sandy sent six million gallons of water into the basement, which was afterwards redesigned for flood protection (including flood gates at the loading dock).

The design team hopes for LEED Gold certification, an achievement to be reached by means of installing plate steel on the exterior, LED lighting on the interior, a green roof, and an indoor microturbine.

The main entrance to the new building is positioned to place the bottom of the High Line’s stairs right at what Piano calls the “largo” (Italian; “wide”). Newman said the museum is stepped back from the High Line so as not to “overpower” it.

The ground floor will be open to the public, featuring a lobby gallery and a top-notch restaurant run by Danny Meyer, relocating from uptown. Offices, a dedicated classroom space (a first for Whitney), a seminar room and a theater will all share the third floor. The theater is dirigible--the ceiling can be altered and the stadium seating can be adjusted for varying acoustical desire.

The fifth floor will feature special exhibitions in a column-free, 18,000 square foot space that Newman claims will be the largest in the city. Its ceiling will have all electrical, HVAC functions and lighting necessities. The ceiling lights will be LED, but can be altered to use incandescent lights when necessary. There will also be an outdoor gallery, film and video room.

The sixth floor will reveal the eastern skyline (resembling many early paintings in the collection). The eighth floor will have another gallery, a cafe with terrace, also run by Danny Meyer. The eight will also have skylights with baffles to make the light indirect, and if that isn’t enough--the plumbing has trace heating installed, so it’s already winter-prepped.