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Thread: Whitney Museum of American Art expansion - by Renzo Piano

  1. #16


    February 10, 2005


    The Whitney Expansion

    ometimes it seems as if every major museum in America has expanded or been reconfigured in the past few years. The reasons are obvious: bigger audiences, expanded collections, new marketing plans and, often, a feeling that can be summed up as "grow or die." Growth belongs to the very logic of a museum, and in some cases, plans for future growth have been designed right into a museum's original blueprint. The Whitney Museum of American Art in New York is a good example.

    Marcel Breuer's design for the building we all know as the current Whitney included enormous knockout panels that would allow expansion without damaging the structural stability of his creation. Elegant as the Breuer building is, the museum almost immediately outgrew it. As long as there has been a Whitney, the museum has been looking forward to a day when it could expand. To that end, it began buying adjacent buildings - brownstones and row houses - to make room.

    Advancing the Whitney expansion has not been easy. A striking plan by Rem Koolhaas was set aside two years ago. And now a restrained but pleasing design by Renzo Piano, who has also designed The Times's new headquarters, is under fire because it requires the demolition of two buildings on Madison Avenue and the partial removal of a third. The Whitney and the buildings around it fall within the Upper East Side Historic District, a landmark neighborhood. There has been real and sometimes vociferous concern that destroying landmark buildings would set a precedent leading us back to the evil days when the original Pennsylvania Station was demolished - the act that gave birth to New York's preservation movement.

    Given the context of the neighborhood, where there are much taller buildings within a few blocks, Mr. Piano's tower seems restrained. The likelihood of a precedent emerging from the loss of two row houses seems almost nonexistent, especially since the circumstances are very unusual.

    The Whitney owns those row houses, and it has worked carefully to preserve all the buildings that would surround the new addition, on Madison Avenue and 74th Street. It purchased these buildings, with the intent of expanding, before the historic district was established.

    Critics often charge the preservation movement with an almost puritanical reverence for the past, and preservationists often charge proponents of contemporary architecture with willfully disregarding it. The Whitney Museum's expansion seems like the best of both worlds: a much-needed expansion that is deeply respectful of history.

    Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

  2. #17


    February 17, 2005

    Bad Precedent at Whitney

    To the Editor:

    We agree that the Whitney Museum needs to expand and that its proposed design is sensitive to the current museum, designed by Marcel Breuer (editorial, Feb. 10). But we disagree that "the likelihood of a precedent emerging" from the demolition "seems almost nonexistent."

    The Landmarks Preservation Commission, in its 40 years of watching over our city's heritage, has not permitted the demolition of a protected building in a historic district under a certificate of appropriateness. If the commission approves the demolition, how will it be able to deny requests by other institutions wanting to demolish designated buildings to make way for something they consider better?

    This case will be cited as precedent and will leave the commission vulnerable to litigation.

    Furthermore, the Whitney has not yet proved that the demolition is a necessary part of its expansion. Given the talent of the architect Renzo Piano, we are confident that the design could be modified to incorporate the protected brownstone. With a minor adjustment, the Whitney could have a beautiful, expanded museum and prevent a dangerous precedent from being established.

    Kent Barwick
    President, Municipal Art Society
    New York, Feb. 11, 2005

    Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

  3. #18


    February 17, 2005 Edition > Section: Arts and Letters
    The Whitney Should Move, Not Expand

    BY FRANCIS MORRONE - Special to the Sun
    February 17, 2005

    The Whitney Museum of American Art has since 1966 occupied one of New York's iconic Modernist buildings, designed by Marcel Breuer. In the 1980s, the Whitney wanted to expand its building with a large "post-Modernist" addition by Michael Graves. For various reasons, that project went unrealized, as did a later expansion plan by Rem Koolhaas. Now the Whitney has retained Renzo Piano to undertake an expansion. Mr. Piano is very hot in New York right now. He is the architect of the Morgan Library's massive expansion and also of the new New York Times headquarters, to be built on Eighth Avenue.

    All these Whitney expansion plans touched off storms of controversy. The museum is located in a dense neighborhood in the Upper East Side Historic District. Any expansion will require permission to destroy buildings that have legal protection to remain standing in perpetuity. Traditionally, the Landmarks Preservation Commission grants such permission grudgingly, if at all. The commission has, however, yielded in recent times in cases involving fashionable architects designing "statement" buildings, examples being Mr. Piano's Morgan Library addition, James Stewart Polshek's new front on the Brooklyn Museum, and Norman Foster's tower above the Hearst Magazine Building.

    But the Whitney's putative need to expand does beg a question. The museum has occupied three main buildings in its brief history. It also pioneered the "satellite" outpost that other museums have now taken to global dimensions. Why is the time now for the Whitney no longer to consider relocation?

    Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney founded the museum. The daughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt II, Whitney grew up in the city in a stupendous mansion on the west side of Fifth Avenue between 57th and 58th Streets, where Bergdorf-Goodman now stands. Though the mansion is gone, we may infer its scale and grandeur by looking at its huge fireplace, designed by Augustus Saint-Gaudens, which graces the Engelhard Court of the Metropolitan Museum of Art's American Wing. Many readers will also know Whitney's family's summer "cottage": the Breakers, in Newport, R.I.

    Whitney typified the rich men's sons and daughters drawn by the romantic allure of Greenwich Village in its bohemian heyday in the 1910s. Bohemians colonized the Village in part for its low rents. The diaspora of uptown plutocrats' children made "gentrification" a feature of the New York scene. Whitney herself was a sculptor. We see her work in the statue of Peter Stuyvesant in Stuyvesant Square, and in the Washington Heights World War I memorial at Broadway and 168th Street. We remember her, however, for her efforts to promote American artists, efforts that culminated in the Whitney Museum of American Art.

    The museum grew out of the provisional institutions (the Whitney Studio, the Whitney Studio Club, the Whitney Studio Galleries) created by Whitney and her friend and adviser Juliana Force. Force became the first director of the final Whitney Museum of American Art, which opened in 1931 at 8-12 West 8th Street in the buildings now occupied by the New York Studio School of Drawing, Painting, and Sculpture. (These three 1830s houses stood behind Whitney's own studio in MacDougal Alley, the charming cul-de-sac of stables extending west from MacDougal Street between 8th Street and Washington Square North.)

    The quintessential institution of Greenwich Village moved in 1954, eight years after Whitney's death, to 22 West 54th Street. The architects Miller & Noel designed both the 8th Street and 54th Street Whitneys. (That firm's Augustus Noel happened to be Whitney's son-in-law.) The 54th Street Whitney, which stood on land owned by the Museum of Modern Art, faced north onto 54th and, to the west, onto MoMA's Sculpture Garden. To ensure architectural harmony between the Whitney and MoMA, Philip Johnson consulted with Miller & Noel on the Whitney's design. The Whitney's construction also coincided with Johnson's radical redesign of MoMA's Sculpture Garden. In general, critics found few words of praise for the Whitney's new building.

    In 1963 the Whitney, under director Lloyd Goodrich, announced its intention to move to Madison Avenue and 75th Street. The museum felt its space on 54th Street to be inadequate, and disliked being overshadowed by MoMA. The Whitney hired Marcel Breuer to design its new building. (The museum had considered, then reject ed, Louis I. Kahn.) Though today we are inured to the aggressive Modernist geometries of Breuer's "moated," dark-granite-clad "ziggurat," it was once one of the most talked about buildings in New York. Oddly for a building of such aggressive stance, perhaps its most admired element was, and remains, its elegant and rather intimate teak-hand railed, granite-stepped interior stairways.

    Breuer said, "I didn't try to fit the building to its neighbors because the neighboring buildings aren't any good." It does not surprise us that Breuer served as Penn Central's architect when, in the 1970s, it proposed a gigantic Modernist tower to be built atop Grand Central Terminal. (Alas, nowadays, the Breuer tower would be called a "parabuilding" and would probably be approved.)

    Now the Whitney feels it has outgrown its Breuer building. Roger Kimball of the New Criterion has written that these museum expansions have got to stop, and that the Whitney could lead the way by simply not enlarging itself. I agree. But if the Whitney does feel it needs to expand, why might it not move for a third time, and let the Upper East Side Historic District be?

    I think the Whitney could serve both an urban and economic purpose by relocating to Brooklyn, to the neighborhood of the Brooklyn Academy of Music, where the museum could take its place in the new cultural nucleus that includes Frank Gehry's Theater for a New Audience, Enrique Norten's Brooklyn Public Library Visual and Performing Arts Library, the Mark Morris Dance Center, and BAM itself.

    In fact, Bruce Ratner could be the link. This developer has shown a notable interest in that part of Brooklyn. He also knows from Renzo Piano, as Mr. Ratner is the developer of the New York Times Building. Having brought Target to the neighborhood, surely he could bring the Whitney. Maybe Target could even start a new line of Whitney branded merchandise.

    February 17, 2005 Edition > Section: Arts and Letters >

  4. #19
    Forum Veteran
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    Garden City, LI


    I agree the Whitney should move. I do not agree that museums should stop expanding. They are too valuable to the city on a number of levels. I am also not sure about the move to Brooklyn. While I think it would be an amazing coup for Brooklyn, I don't think a high-profile NYC museum on Mad. Ave. will go across the river. Now, across the park, maybe they would consider...have them build on the "new" West Side. Either have them build where the Gugg rumors have been, or close to it. Have a new museum mile on the west side as even more of a development draw. The old Whitney, I'm sure, would be taken by another institution that is trying to climb up the ladder of NY culture. But, iut would be cool if it moved to Brooklyn.

  5. #20
    Banned Member
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    Dec 2002
    Park Slope, Brooklyn, NY


    I think a move by the Whitney to Brooklyn would be brilliant and defensible. The BAM "cultural district", however, has a waaaaaay to go. We are seeing all of the buildings they are proposing for the east side of Flatbush Ave, but right across the street are a stretch of horrendous - HORRENDOUS! - commercial office buildings.

  6. #21

    Red face Where?

    Where was the guggenheim thinking of moving?

  7. #22


    Lower Manhattan on the East River waterfront. There was some discussion about them thinking about moving to the Far West Side also.
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  8. #23


    Oh, in reading the message above I thought the guggenheim considered a west-side site as well...

    It is ironic that with all the psuedo-historical crap going up on the UES, it's the one shiningly beautiful, simple, modern, yet sensitively discreet building the MAS takes issue with...

    I guess they think that as long as it has fake GFRC medallions on its side it's ok...

  9. #24
    Forum Veteran
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    Quote Originally Posted by elfgam
    Where was the guggenheim thinking of moving?
    The west side on a site diagonal to the Jets stadium. The site by South St. was cancelled.

  10. #25
    Moderator NYatKNIGHT's Avatar
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    Manhattan - South Village


    March 16, 2005

    Landmarks Panel Questions Whitney Plan


    embers of the Landmarks Preservation Commission suggested at a public hearing yesterday that the Whitney Museum of American Art had so far failed to persuade them of the need to demolish two Madison Avenue brownstones to make way for a museum expansion designed by the architect Renzo Piano.

    "When we are being asked to demolish a historic building, I think we should be shown that it is really necessary for the programmatic function - not just a design function," Roberta Brandes Gratz, a commission member, said. The Whitney, she added, "doesn't seem to be making a compelling case for the loss."

    Mr. Piano's design includes a 172-foot tower that would rise behind a row of six brownstones next to the Whitney's current 1966 Marcel Breuer building on Madison Avenue and connect to the original with a series of glass bridges. The design would require razing two of the brownstones to make way for a new, 32-foot-wide entrance that would lead to a public piazza. The new entrance is to be used for the general public, and the original one for school groups.

    The commission called the hearings because the buildings that would be razed lie within the protected Upper East Side Historic District. One of those brownstones, two doors to the right of the Breuer, is a so-called contributing building: one that has been deemed to be of artistic, historic or cultural importance. Approval of the Whitney plan would mark the first time that the commission had issued a "certificate of appropriateness" allowing the demolition of a contributing brownstone in a historic district.

    Robert B. Tierney, the chairman of the commission, said that another public meeting would be held in the next few weeks before the commission votes on whether to approve the expansion.

    Ms. Gratz suggested that the Whitney seek an alternative plan that would preserve the entire street front of brownstones and have visitors pass through one of them to enter the museum.

    Visibly agitated, Mr. Piano countered that retaining the brownstones would undermine the essential notion of his design, which is to open the Whitney to the street and invite people into the piazza. "I'm a bit at a loss," he said. "How can you make a piazza - create a sense of connection - if you have to enter through a shop window?"

    "It's not going to work," he said. "You need somebody who will invent something else, because I don't see how to solve the problem."

    Mr. Piano also argued that retaining the brownstones would disrupt the balance between the Breuer building, the brownstones and his new nine-story addition, making the new tower essentially "disappear."

    The exchange suggested that the Whitney faces a tougher battle than it had expected in gaining the commission's approval for the design, the third expansion plan it has commissioned since the 1980's. The museum previously abandoned two other plans, one by Michael Graves and another by Rem Koolhaas.

    The Whitney addition would give the cramped museum more space to display its collection and to provide education programs.

    Members of the commission questioned the advisability of creating a second entrance, suggesting that the new one would compete with the old one.

    "I'm concerned that the iconographic entrance will be a relic that will not be functional," Pablo E. Vengoechea, the commission's vice chairman, said of the Breuer entrance.

    Rather than building a new entrance, Christopher Moore, another commission member, asked whether adjustments could be made to the original to better accommodate crowds. "I'm not convinced you really have explained how to make the Breuer entrance useful," he said.

    Adam D. Weinberg, the director of the museum, said that the Breuer entrance, roughly six feet wide, was routinely congested by the mix of large school groups and the general public, and that he did not feel the new entrance would undermine the original. "I don't think people are going to say, 'Gee, this one is the busy entrance and this is the lonely entrance,' " he said.

    When Mr. Piano first drafted plans for the Whitney's two entrances, Mr. Weinberg said, he drew an apple and a pear side by side, with a space between them. "The idea was, let Breuer be Breuer," Mr. Weinberg said. "It doesn't lessen one or the other. It just gives them two different functions. It lets the apple be the apple and the pear be the pear."

    Mr. Piano's current projects in Manhattan also include a new building for the New York Times Company, an expansion of the Columbia University campus and an addition to the Pierpont Morgan Library.

    Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

  11. #26


    I'm pleased with this. There are plenty of white brick buildings that the Whitney can raise to build a supplemental building.

  12. #27


    May 25, 2005
    Revised Whitney Plan Wins Panel's Approval

    The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission voted yesterday to approve a modified expansion plan for the Whitney Museum of American Art that would prevent the razing of one Madison Avenue brownstone.

    The vote, which was unanimous, was a mixed victory of sorts for the architect, Renzo Piano. After heated arguments from preservationists in previous hearings, he submitted an alternative plan halving the size of a proposed new entrance for the museum so he could spare the brownstone and win the commission's approval.

    In a telephone interview from his Genoa office yesterday, Mr. Piano said he was not disappointed by the outcome. "I don't think this is a compromise," he said, although he added, "It is a limitation."

    Leonard A. Lauder, the Whitney's chairman, described the commission's vote as "a real victory for the city." Over the last two decades, two previous designs for a Whitney expansion were commissioned and abandoned.

    Now that the museum entrance will be half the width of Mr. Piano's original plan - 16 feet wide instead of 32 feet - only one brownstone rather than two will be demolished: the one closer to the Whitney's 1966 Marcel Breuer building on Madison at 75th Street.

    Some neighborhood residents expressed surprise yesterday that the Whitney had not put up more of a fight for its original design. "They seemed to have the votes to go with plan A, but I guess they didn't want any dissent," said Edward Klimerman, the president of the co-op board at 14 East 75th Street.

    But the brownstone that was ostensibly spared will not survive intact: its depth will be reduced from 31 feet to 17 feet to allow more room for the entranceway behind it. Mr. Piano has also doubled the height of a public piazza to which the new entrance will lead.

    A nine-story tower will rise behind a row of six brownstones owned by the Whitney on that block of Madison Avenue between 74th and 75th Streets, connecting to the original building with a series of glass bridges.

    The brownstone that was saved, at 942 Madison Avenue, is designated as a "contributing" building - one with artistic, historic or cultural value - in a historic district.

    The director of the Whitney, Adam D. Weinberg, said yesterday that the museum had felt it had no choice but to present an alternative. "We were just getting very, very strong messages that there were a lot of commissioners who were highly resistant to taking down a contributing" brownstone, he said.

    While he said he was satisfied with the new design aesthetically, "I am concerned about the functional and programmatic structure of that entrance," Mr. Weinberg continued, adding, "I don't know how it's going to work."

    Mr. Piano said he now had his work cut out for him. "I will put more energy into creating a sense of discovery as soon as you cross the threshold," he said. "In some ways it will be even more surprising, what you see after the compression - to have a kind of expansion."

    Several commission members expressed a preference for the original design yesterday. But all agreed that the new plan was worthy of approval, whatever the size of the entrance. Indeed, the consistently effusive praise for the project from the commissioners yesterday was in striking contrast to their remarks at two often-contentious hearings earlier this year.

    "I couldn't be more pleased with where we have come out," said Roberta Brandes Gratz, a commission member.

    Another commission member, Richard M. Olcott, said the design "honors and preserves the past and is sensitive to its context." At the same time, he said, it is "very inventive and very forward-looking."

    The commission also commended other recent adjustments to the design: the enclosing of a fire escape in a brownstone at 74th Street and Madison Avenue, and a deeper setback for a rooftop addition to the Breuer building so that it will not be visible from Madison.

    Although the original Breuer entrance will be intended mostly for school groups, Mr. Weinberg said members of the general public could enter there if they chose.

    While some neighborhood residents were relieved that a brownstone facade was saved, they still object to the 176-foot height of the tower. A banner brought to the hearing by some neighborhood residents said: "Save our historic neighborhood. Stop the monster on Madison!"

    Yet the artist Chuck Close, who sits on the Whitney board and attended yesterday's hearing, said he was "disappointed that we couldn't build the best building that we could have built."

    He said he found it "outrageous" that 2 Columbus Circle, a building from 1965 designed by Edward Durell Stone, will be reconstructed without even a Landmarks Preservation Commission hearing, "while we're not allowed to take down one crummy brownstone."

    The Whitney proposed shrinking its planned 32-foot-wide entrance, left, to 16 feet, right, to save a brownstone facade and gain approval.

  13. #28


    Hurdles Persist for Whitney's Expansion
    Published: December 10, 2005

  14. #29


    If this project occurs, I hope that Piano does a better job for the Whitney than he did for the Morgan Library. His work there looks like crap from the 60's. It mars that magnificent old structure.

  15. #30
    Forum Veteran krulltime's Avatar
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    Community Board committee approves Whitney expansion


    The land-use committee of Community Board 8 voted last night to approve plans by the Whitney Museum of American Art to ask for seven zoning variances from the city’s Board of Standards and Appeals for a major expansion of the museum.

    The 25 to 11 vote is likely to be the last major hurdle for the museum as the institutional expansion and landmarks committees of the board were evenly split last month over the endorsement of the plans, which were approved in May by the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission. The museum is presently housed in a masterpiece of Brutalist architecture by Marcel Breuer on the southeast corner of Madison Avenue and 75th Street.

    The proposed expansion, designed by Renzo Piano, would be on the remainder of the blockfront on the avenue where the museum owns several brownstones. The initial plan by Mr. Piano called for demolition of the two brownstones closest to the museum to create an entrance to a tower that would be setback about 30 feet from the avenue and behind the facades of the remaining brownstones. The landmarks commission requested that the plan be revised to permit the demolition of only one of the brownstones and the museum revised its plans accordingly.

    The museum acquired the brownstones not long after it moved into the Breuer building in the late 1960s. One well-known English architect not long after had proposed a sensational tower to replace the brownstones with a slanted glass base topped by a black-metal clad tower with interchangeable panels with different geometric window patterns.

    The museum later commissioned Michael Graves to design an expansion and several of his designs that included building next to and over the Breuer building met with considerable controversy and were eventually abandoned.

    The design approved by the landmarks commission cannot be built within existing zoning regulations relating to street wall, setbacks, height, and rear yards.

    Howard Zipser, a land-use attorney who is a member of the Coalition of Concerned Whitney Neighbors, told the meeting last night that it was highly unusual for any project to seek 7 variances and that several of them could be resolved by reducing the bulk of the planned expansion.

    Elizabeth Ashby, a member of the community board and co-chairman of the Defenders of the Historic East Side, proposed a resolution that would deny the variances unless the new building was no taller than the existing Breuer building, arguing that the variances effectively waive “all the features of the Special Madison Avenue District zoning.” The Breuer building is 97 feet high 8 inches high on the avenue and the proposed addition setback from the avenue is 178 feet high. Her resolution was defeated by a vote of 24 to 12.

    The museum’s plan uses “little more than half of what is permitted” under existing zoning regulations.

    Adam D. Weinberg, the director of the museum, told the meeting that the expansion program will provide the museum not only with additional 4,000-square feet of exhibition space, but also a 260-seat auditorium, a loading dock and restoration of the facades of the brownstone buildings. In response to earlier comments from speakers in opposition to the plan about a rooftop crane, sidewalk trees, and potential loss of retail space in the brownstones, Mr. Weinberg told the meeting that a 27-foot-high rooftop crane was always in the drawings, that the museum must have retail activity on the avenue or it would need to raise an extra $40 or $50 million, that Marcel Breuer did not want trees blocking his building but that the plan will add three trees to the six that already exist in front of the other properties, and that the loading dock will accommodate large trucks only a few times a year.

    Mr. Weinberg told that Mr. Piano’s design for the tower calls for it to be clad in gray-colored, matte, metal panels.

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