Situated between the High Line, the elevated landscaped walkway on a former freight railway, and the Hudson River in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District, the new home of the Whitney Museum of American Art vastly increases exhibition and programming space for the unsurpassed collection of modern and contemporary American art.
By the Renzo Piano Building Workshop
The building engages the Whitney directly with the bustling community of artists, galleries, educators, entrepreneurs, and residents of the Meatpacking District, Chelsea, and Greenwich Village, where the Museum was founded by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney in 1930.
Designed by Renzo Piano Building Workshop, the building includes approximately 4,650 square metres [50,000 square feet] of indoor galleries and 1,200 square metres [13,000 square feet] of outdoor exhibition space and terraces facing the High Line.
The museum takes a strong and strikingly asymmetrical form—one that responds to the industrial character of the neighbouring loft buildings and overhead railway while asserting a contemporary, sculptural presence.
Clad in pale blue-grey enamel steel panels, the bulk of eight-storey building is to the west, Hudson-side, with tiers of lighter terraces and glazed walkways stepping down to the High Line, embracing it into the project.
The structure is a steel frame with masonry block, composite poured concrete/ steel floors, and precast. The architects used precast panels to express the core where all the vertical circulation happens, stairs, elevators and ducts on the exterior and also in the interior lobby.
The Museum is entered via a dramatically cantilevered plaza, or ‘largo’, a public space that serves as a kind of decompression chamber between street and museum, a shared space, with views to the Hudson and the High Line entrance just a few steps away. Accessed from the ‘largo’, the main entrance lobby also serves as a public gallery – nearly 100 square metres [a thousand square feet] of free- entry exhibition space.
The 4,650 square metres [50,000 square feet] of gallery space is distributed over levels five, six, seven and eight, the fifth level boasting a 1,670 square metres [18,000 square feet], column-free gallery – the largest open-plan museum gallery in New York City. This gallery is reserved for temporary exhibitions and can accommodate large works of contemporary art.
The permanent collection is exhibited on two floors, levels six and seven which step back towards the west to create 1,200 square metres [13,000 square feet] of outdoor sculpture terraces. Level three houses a 170-retractable seat theatre with double-height views over the Hudson River, along with technical spaces and offices.
According to Renzo Piano, “The design emerges equally from a close study of the Whitney’s needs and from a response to this remarkable site. We wanted to draw on its vitality and at the same time enhance its rich character. The first big gesture, then, is the cantilevered entrance, which transforms the area outside the building into a large, sheltered public space. At this gathering place beneath the High Line, visitors will see through the building entrance and the large windows on the west side to the Hudson River beyond. Here, all at once, you have the water, the park, the powerful industrial structures and the exciting mix of people, brought together and focused by this new building and the experience of art.”
The busy, difficult-access site made precast a good choice for its speedy installation, a reduced crew and no on-site waste.
Bétons Préfabriqués du Lac [BPDL] in Alma, QC provided all the exterior and interior architectural precast concrete components, including, as noted above, the stairwell and elevator shaft panels. In total, this represents approximately 415 precast concrete panels covering a surface area of 3,050 square metres [32,850 square feet]. On average, the components were 11 square metres [150 square feet] in size.
The architectural panels had a special “formwork” exterior finish as specified by both the architect and the client. Contrary to common practice, the panel surfaces were not sandblasted. The intent was to create the appearance of traditionally site-poured concrete, while maintaining a high-quality finish.
BPDL gave careful attention to preventing any damage during transport because making repairs on this type of finish is extremely difficult. Delivering a precast concrete project “right-on-time” to the island of Manhattan is a logistical challenge. A local subcontractor was hired to look after the installation of the panels, but a BPDL inspection team member was on site daily to ensure proper installation practices were being used.
This project also received LEED certification in the BD + C [Building Design and Construction] category where precast concrete has proven to offer many benefits.
The Whitney Museum enlivens a former industrial area of Manhattan by incorporating standard structural components and facade treatments into a pleasing building form which does not forget the blue collar past of the neighbourhood.
Renzo Piano Building Workshop is a world-renowned firm in Genova, Paris and New York.
Photos : Renzo Piano Building Workshop
Gardiner & Theobald, Inc.
Renzo Piano Building Workshop et Cooper, Robertson & Partners
Jaros, Baum & Bolles, Ove Arup & Partners, Robert Silman Associates
Heintges & Associates, and Phillip Habib & Associates
Turner Construction, LLC
Canadian Precast Prestressed Concrete Institute
PO Box 24058 Hazeldean, Ottawa Ontario, Canada K2M 2C3