Whitney Museum Previews Storm-Ready Downtown Site


At a hard-hat tour on Wednesday of its new facility, under construction in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District, the Whitney Museum indicated some of the precautions it has put in place since Superstorm Sandy struck the city in 2012. The eight-story, Renzo Piano-designed, $422-million new building, at the corner of Gansevoort and Washington Streets, will overlook the Hudson River. Construction had been under way for a year and a half when Sandy hit New York.

“The site took on water,” director Adam Weinberg said Wednesday. Some 30 feet of water flooded the basement, according to the New York Times. To ensure the museum will withstand future storms, the museum is now working with a hydro-engineering firm from from Hamburg, Germany, Weinberg said.

Among other post-Sandy precautions are watertight doors designed by Oxford, Conn.-based Walz & Krenzer on the loading dock and the west entrance, facing the Hudson. A temporary barrier system, an aluminum wall around the perimeter of the site, will protect the museum building and collections from future floods, Greg Weithman, an engineer with Cooper, Robertson & Partners, the executive architects, told A.i.A. Wednesday.

On Wednesday, Piano, Weinberg, and Whitney curators such as Donna De Salvo and Scott Rothkopf focused on the exhibition and programming opportunities afforded by the new building, which will nearly triple the museum’s exhibition space compared to its current Madison Avenue facility.

One temporary exhibitions gallery will offer 18,000 square feet of column-free space, which, the museum says, will make it the largest unobstructed exhibition space in the city. The new building will host an on-site conservation facility, classrooms for art-making, and two theaters, one of them seating 170 and offering views of the Hudson. Amenities will include a restaurant run by noted New York chef Danny Meyer, who runs Untitled, the restaurant at the Madison Avenue building.

The museum is sited at the southern end of the High Line elevated park, and a series of stepped terraces will face east, toward the park, allowing views to the city and providing the museum with outdoor areas where it can display works that will be visible from the High Line.

“You’ll have the city this way,” the tall, silver-bearded Piano told A.i.A., standing on a seventh-floor terrace and gesturing toward the Village. Turning west, toward the Hudson River, he added, “and then the sense of the infinite, and . . . New Jersey.” Piano has designed numerous museum buildings, including the Menil Collection, Houston; the Fondation Beyeler Museum, Basel; the Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas; and expansions at the Art Institute of Chicago and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

The Whitney is leaving behind a Brutalist structure completed in 1966 by Hungarian-born, Bauhaus-trained architect Marcel Breuer, which the Whitney will lease to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for eight years, with an option to renew.

“People always say, ‘Isn’t the Breuer building wonderful, and won’t you miss it?'” Rothkopf said on Wednesday. “I’m not nostalgic for it, because it wasn’t designed for what museums do now. And the collection has grown from about 2,000 objects to about 20,000.” Contemporary art has also grown in size and ambition, Rothkopf noted, making the domestic spaces of the Breuer building constricting for many of today’s artists.

For his part, Piano is not shy about expressing his own ambitions for the new site. He said, “I love to make buildings that change the life of cities.”