The Whitney Museum
of American Art was designed by Marcel Breuer and is a major Brutalist
The Whitney Museum of American
out in Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney's studio on Macdougal Place
in Greenwich Village and moved into a very handsome new building
at 8-12 West Eighth Street designed by Miller & Noel in 1931.
According to a February 17, 2005 article in The New York Sun
by Francis Morronne, Augustus Noel was Whitney's son-in-law. In
1954, eight years after Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney died, the
museum moved to 22 West 54th Street into a building also designed
by Miller & Noel. It faced on the sculpture garden of the
Museum of Modern Art and was on land owned by MoMA. According
to Mr. Morrone, "to ensure architectural harmony between
the Whitney and MoMa, Philip Johnson consulted with Miller &
Noel on the Whitney's design [which]...also coincided with Johnson's
radical redesign of MoMA's Sculpture Garden....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 rejected, Louis I. Kahn.)"
Although originally conceived
to be a museum
that covered the full breadth of American art, it increasingly
over the years focused on more modern periods and became world-famous
for its biennial exhibitions of contemporary art.
It eventually began buying
on the block for possible future expansion. Although the Landmarks
Preservation Commission maintained that one of them was of "historical"
merit, basically all of them were in poor condition and not very
In 1978, when it was clear that
should be considering expansion and when it was beginning to open
"satellite" museums in Lower Manhattan and midtown,
Norman Foster designed a mixed-use tower that would provide museum
expansion and for-sale apartments in a tower of about 30 stories
on the south side of the avenue block. It had a slanted glass
base and its tower was to be faced with interchangeable, black-metal
panels with different geometric cut-outs. The top of the tower
was supposed to be a glass-enclosed, multi-faceted "jewel"
crown. It was a sensational design, perhaps Foster's best and
one of the greatest modern towers ever planned. Sadly, the museum
was not interested.
Not long thereafter, however,
the museum turned
to Michael Graves, the country's leading "Post Modern"
architect" best known for his very fine drawings and tea-kettle
designs and later for large fanciful hotels at Disneyland in Florida,
for its expansion plans.
Graves's designs were not
In his discussion of Michael
proposals, shown above, to expand the Marcel Breuer building of
the Whitney Museum of American Art on Madison Avenue in New York,
Paul Spencer Byard wrote in his superb book "The Architecture of Additions
W. Norton & Company, 1999, see The
City Review article), that Graves's
"start was promising."
"Taking off from the original's
Bauhaus objectness, he made a point of it, combining the original
with more objects, ending its isolation and making it participate,
however, reluctantly, with new mates. As in much of Graves's work,
there was a question of scale; it was hard to know how big anything
was supposed to be. In drawings his buildings often seem comically
small, like piles of colorful toys. The Whitney too was made to
seem like a toy, a gray grumpy, reluctant old boy at the bottom
of a jolly game of colorful new lumps, a game that it might have
set in motion but no longer controlled. Subject to regulation
in the historic district, Graves's proposal was denounced as big
and aggressive and progressively reduced in size, complexity and
character...The proposal got drabber and drabber and the components
less objectlike, which allowed Breuer, to a degree, to resume
command as the principal object in a combined work of ever-decreasing
interest....Reaction to the abandonment of the project depended
in part on the degree of affection for the original; if Breuer's
Whitney always seemed rather pompous, one might not have minded
seeing it in a combination in which it had to work a bit, which
prodded it to cheer up. But taking the Whitney with all the high
seriousness with which it was originally offfered, and accepting
its significance as one of the principal and most public built
representatives of the ideas of its school, the new composition
at its freshest did much to demean, not celebrate it. Even as
the addition was dumbed down, Breuer never quite got out from
under the impact of what would have been an unworthy new group
of neighboring forms."
The Breuer building is one of
New York's few
great modern buildings and Byard's analysis of Graves's schemes
is very fine.
More than a decade after the
the last of the Graves's schemes, the museum turned to Rem Koolhaas
and he came up with one of his typically wild, adventurous, avant-garde
and unexpected designs. It kept the facades of the low-rise buildings
adjacent to the museum on the avenue and built a mid-rise building
behind their facades that cantilevered partially over the Breuer
building. Aesthetically, it wasn't pretty but its gray color and
bold massing worked pretty effectively with the Breuer building.
It was very contextual with the Breuer building, but it was pretty
startling, if not terrifying, to the good preservation ladies
of the Upper East Side historic districts.
Rem Koolhaas's design for Whitney Museum expansion
Koolhaas's design never gained
even though it was scaled back from 11 to 9 stories and in 2004
the museum turned to Renzo Piano, who recently did the expansion
for The Morgan Library two miles south on Madison Avenue. The
design by Koolhaas ratcheted up the architectural gambit in New York:
its was a battleship roaring into the tepid architectural waters of the
city with all guns booming - a thoroughly original, daring design that
incredibly managed to try to throw a motherly, protective arm about the
wound-up spring of Breuer's original masterpiece.
Piano's design was safe and
In a June 16, 2004 article in The
Carol Vogel said that the museum had selected Mr. Piano and that
his plan "is far more modest in size and scale than the ambitious
$200 million proposal of the Rotterdam architect Rem Koolhaas,
which the board abandoned last year, saying it would have been
too expensive both to build and to operate."
"'We knew we needed to hire an
who could get a museum building built,' said Melva Bucksbaum,
who headed the selection committee. 'We didn't feel we needed
a destination building that would compete with the Breuer building.
The Whitney already is a destination. Renzo saw the limitations
and was interested in using them, not fighting them,'" the
article said, adding that in an interview Mr. Piano, who was involved
in the design of the great Pompidou Center known as Beaubourg
in Paris, said that while "it won't compete with the Breuer
building, it will have character."
Mr. Renzo's popularity in New
York was substantial
as he designed a new headquarters building for The New York Times
on Eighth Avenue at 41st Street (see The
City Review article) and a major renovation at the Jacob
Convention Center. The latter plan was not carried out.
In an article in The Art
Newspaper, Jason Edward Kaufman wrote
that in January 2004, "the trustees hired architecture consultant
Reed Kroloff (now dean of Tulane University School of Architecture)
to help compile a list of around 50 architects. An architecture
selection committee chaired by trustee Melva Bucksbaum narrowed
the field to a shortlist of 12 and interviewed the candidates
in March and April. They included Herzog & De Meuron,
David Chipperfield, Todd Williams Billie Tsien &
Mr Gluckman, and a number of younger firms. But the board opted
for Mr Piano, a Pritzker Prize winner who is currently the architect
of choice for American museums. The Whitney board was so sure
of their choice that when Piano refused to participate in a
they cancelled it and handed him the job anyway."
"They were looking for function, not flash, Mr Weinberg explains,
" the article said, noting that '“First and foremost
is not the spectacle of the museum, but the spectacle of the art.'
Artist Chuck Close, another trustee who served on the architecture
selection, strongly supports the choice, noting that 'Renzo Piano
creates spaces that allow works of art to live and breathe.'...'I
love the Breuer building,' Mr Piano says. 'It has a very strong
presence, and the new one won’t be in competition with it,'
"The Whitney Museum of American
Art's on-again, off-again expansion
plan," Nicolai Ouroussoff wrote in a November 11, 2004 article in The New York Times,
"has been lurching along for more than two decades now. In
that time, the museum has gone through four directors and flirted
with ill-fated designs ranging from the bold to the grotesque.
The worst, a 1985 proposal by Michael Graves, would have smothered
the existing building in a pastiche of pseudoclassical references.
A more promising proposal by the Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas
was dropped a year and a half ago amid post-9/11 uncertainty and
a growing sense that the design was inappropriately aggressive.
To many, it seemed as if the museum had simply lost its nerve."
"Now," the article continued, "the Whitney is trying a gentler
approach. A new design by
the Italian architect Renzo Piano, approved last week by the museum's
board, is conceived as a stoical nine-story tower that would rise
alongside the existing 1966 landmark. The tower's simple form
and silvery copper-and-aluminum-alloy skin would be a dignified
counterpoint to Marcel Breuer's brutal dark granite masterpiece.
Respectful of its context, the proposal is about incremental progress,
not radical change. The design, which would double the size
of the museum, is still
in its earliest stages; the Whitney plans to present a refined
version to the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission in January.
The aim clearly is to placate the preservationists and community
leaders who have stymied the Whitney's expansion plans in the
past. Such humility may seem laudable. Who doesn't want to preserve
the city's architectural legacy? But great design is never cautious;
it cannot arise amid a climate of fear. The risk is that the building
will ultimately be too subdued, as if it is trying too hard to
fit in. If the city is to get the full benefit of Mr. Piano's
talent, the Whitney will have to grant him the freedom to follow
his ideas, wherever they lead."
"The design starts confidently enoug," the article maintained, adding
that "Breuer's Whitney, with its
inverted ziggurat-shaped facade and moatlike sculpture garden,
is a portrait of monastic seclusion. Mr. Piano seeks to open the
museum up to the surrounding street life by demolishing two town
houses just to the south on Madison Avenue and replacing them
with a glass-covered entry vestibule and a small garden. From
here visitors will slip under the cantilevered corner of the new
building before turning into a new lobby and cafe area. The addition
rises above this space behind the remaining brownstones on
Mr. Piano, whose New York
projects also include additions to the
Pierpont Morgan Library and a new headquarters for The New York
Times, has always brought a remarkable sense of clarity to
work. The son of a Genovese builder, he is a master of structural
detail, which in his hands typically has a clean modern
sensibility....The biggest problems, however, arise when you sense that
is deferring to Breuer - for example, with the
panels that would clad the addition. Mr. Piano compares the panels'
silvery overlapping forms to textured fish scales that are meant
to play off the smooth, polished granite panels of Breuer's façade.
But the contrast doesn't feel strong enough. Because the panels
are roughly of the same size and proportions as Breuer's, they
risk making the addition look like a towering shingle-style barn.
Another issue is how you enter the museum. In creating his new
entry point, Mr. Piano has made Breuer's existing entry bridge
over the Whitney's sculpture court somewhat redundant. In truth,
the bridge has never worked. Its heavy concrete form casts a dark
shadow across the court below, making it an oppressive place to
view sculpture; its concrete canopy blocks the view from the bridge
to the main facade so that you never feel the full force of its
weight. Mr. Piano has toyed with the idea of tearing out the bridge and
replacing it with a narrower lightweight structure. The solution
- an obvious one - would help shift the focus to the new entry
and open up the glorious view to Breuer's facade. It would also
go a long way in tying the two buildings together into a cohesive
composition. But so far the museum's board has refused to even
discuss the idea for fear of incurring the wrath of
preservationists....Breuer's building is
no shrinking flower. The building's aggressive forms capture the
museum's ethos as a place for creative expression - it acknowledges
that most new ideas are by nature impolite. In its time, it was
also a slap, conscious or not, against the confining traditions
of polite Upper East Side society. It was that sense of irreverence
that Mr. Koolhaas sought to tap
into. His design - a bold composition of faceted concrete forms
that loomed over the Whitney as if it were about to devour it
- was brash, playful and bizarre. It was too much for the Whitney
to swallow. Mr. Piano is more cautious by nature, but his work, at its
has a wonderfully human quality. To stand up to Breuer, he will
have to show a bit more bravado. He should respect the past, but
he should challenge it, too."
"Still," the article continued,
Whitney’s latest about-face points to an underlying malady.
Architects are only as good as their clients. They can give conceptual
form to an institution’s identity, but they can’t invent
it. The Whitney’s endless false starts are a symptom of self-doubt
and internal confusion. Unless its board, led by Leonard A. Lauder,
is able to muster some courage and conviction, a sudden change
in site is not going to fix the problem. The
Whitney’s argument is simple enough. Adam Weinberg, the museum’s
director, says the price tag for the Piano addition, estimated
at $200 million-plus, is too high for a building that will only
add another 30,000 square feet of gallery space. (The museum’s
current 1966 Marcel Breuer building has 32,000 square feet of
galleries.) He contends that stacking the galleries on seven floors,
with relatively small floor plates, is too confining. At a new
site, he hopes, the museum could carve out larger, wide-open galleries
on fewer floors. But this
be an epiphany. That the galleries in a Madison Avenue addition
would have to be stacked in a vertical composition was as true
five years ago, when the museum hired Mr. Koolhaas to develop
his proposal, as it is today. And the estimated cost for both
was virtually the same - $200 million or so - and both designs
provided the same 30,000 square feet of new gallery space.
Through its indecision, the Whitney has
a lot of time and money. Maxwell Anderson, the Whitney’s
previous director, said the museum spent nearly $6 million in
architectural, engineering and legal fees to develop the Koolhaas
design. One can safely assume that it has spent far more on its
collaboration with Mr. Piano (who is to be retained for whatever
project it pursues, the museum says). "
"The strangest thing about the
various approaches," Mr. Ouroussoff wrote, "is that
they express radically different architectural and curatorial
points of view. Mr. Koolhaas’s addition would have been one
of the boldest pieces of architecture to emerge in years, while
offering a powerful lesson in how to deal responsibly with historical
context. By accepting existing landmark constraints, including
the preservation of a row of brownstones along Madison Avenue,
Mr. Koolhaas seemed to imply that past, present and future need
not be in violent opposition to one another. Rising in aggressive
contortions behind the brownstones, his design seemed to shelter
the old granite Breuer building even as it loomed over it like
a gigantic cat’s paw. Equally important, he used the design
to meld a strong curatorial vision. The bulk of the museum’s
prewar collections would have been displayed in the late-19th-century
brownstones, bigger postwar art in the Breuer building, and
art in a new tower."
In April, 2003, when the
it was scraping the Koolhaus plan, Maxwell Anderson's, the museum's
director at the time, said "we're feeling the pinch,"
adding "a project like this would be a big challenge, and
we're not in a position to proceed with it."
In an April 15, 2003 article in
Carol Vogel noted that "this is not the first time the Whitney
has abandoned expansion plans. In 1985, in the face of an uproar
from neighbors, architects and civic groups, the museum gave up
plans to build a $37.5 million 134,000-square-foot addition that
was to have been designed by the Princeton architect Michael Graves.
Mr. Graves's postmodern design would have radically altered the
facade of the Breuer building. Since
the Whitney has proceeded gingerly. Five years ago it expanded
from within, providing 30 percent more exhibition space by moving
its library, archives and offices from the fifth floor of the
Breuer building to an adjoining brownstone at 31-33 East 74th
In a March 16, 2005 article in The New York Times,
Pogrebin wrote that at the Landmarks Preservation Commision public
hearing on the Piano expansion plan some commissioners said it
should be altered to preserve the brownstone buildings and "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.'"
In a May 25, 2005 article in The Times, Ms.
that "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
On January 11, 2006, the land-use committee of Community Board
8 voted 25 to 11 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 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.
The proposed expansion, designed by Renzo Piano Building Workshop
with Cooper Robertson & Partners as associate architects,
would use only 128,176 square feet of the 230,380 permissible
square feet on its site under existing zoning, Michael T. Sillerman
of the law firm of Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP, which
is representing the museum, told a subsequent meeting of the Board
of Standards & Appeals. Adam Weinberg, the director of the
museum, told the meeting that the expansion program will provide
the museum not only with additional exhibition space, but also
a 260-seat auditorium, dedicated educational spaces, a loading
dock, restoration of the facades of the brownstone buildings and
needed renovation work to the Breuer building. In a letter to
the board, Elizabeth Ashby, co-chairman of the Defenders of the
Upper East Side, which is opposed to the variances, maintained
that “This application doesn’t shoot the Special Madison
Avenue District in the foot; it shoots it in the heart.”
On July 25, 2006, the board approved the seven variances.
A September 1, 2006 article in The New York Sun by
Taylor said that two association of residents in the museum's
neighborhood and the owners of the nearby Carlyle Hotel filed
suit against the city hoping the overturn the variances and force
the museum to scale back its plan.
"'They granted seven variances; it's almost as if they rewrote
the zoning law just to fit the Whitney,' a member of the Coalition
of Concerned Whitney Neighbors, a party to the lawsuit, Edward
Klimerman, said. In interviews, individuals involved in the suit
were most vociferous in their objections to the height and appearance
of Mr. Piano's tower. 'This is an 18-story filing cabinet, a metal
building with basically no windows whatsoever, standing amid beautiful
townhouses,' the president of the Coalition of Concerned Whitney
Neighbors, Donald Gringer, said. 'A steel-paneled building really
belongs in an industrial park,' he added. 'I wouldn't up a building
like that in the Bronx,' where he owns a factory. 'He's putting
it up in a beautiful landmarked district,'" the article continued.
Then, on October 31, 2006, Ms.
an article in The Times that said that the museum,
fighting for more than a year to have an addition to its Madison
Avenue building approved, has all but decided that moving its
expansion to another site would make more sense, people involved
in the process say."
"The museum," the article said, "won its struggle
to have the city approve a tower designed by the architect Renzo
Piano. But after weighing the pros and cons, those familiar with
the process say, the Whitney has determined that the Piano project
may not get the museum sufficient additional space for the money.
The museum has instead set its sights on a location downtown at
the entrance to the High Line, an abandoned elevated railway that
is to become a landscaped esplanade. The Dia Art Foundation announced
last week that it no longer planned to build a museum there. This
marks a striking turn of events for the Whitney, since the museum
has tried for 20 years to add onto its 1966 Marcel Breuer building.
In July the museum finally completed the public approvals process
and was allowed to go forward."
"Building at the downtown site would allow the Whitney to
keep operating at its uptown location throughout the construction.
To build the Piano addition, it would have been forced to close
for two years, losing its presence at precisely the time that
the New Museum of Contemporary Art was reopening in its new building
on the Bowery," the article said.
On November 2, 2006, architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff of
The New York Times wrote an article about the
"When will the Whitney learn its lesson? Over the last two
decades the museum has trotted out architectural proposals by
Michael Graves, Rem Koolhaas and Renzo Piano for an expansion
of its site on Madison Avenue at 75th Street. The designs have
ranged wildly, from kitschy to audacious. All have been dumped
with little ceremony, the victims of a hostile neighborhood and
a fickle board of trustees. But only now has the process turned
truly comical. The recent admission by the Whitney Museum of American
Art that it is considering the addition of a downtown branch instead
of proceeding with its on-site expansion effectively sounds the
death knell for Mr. Piano’s project just three months after
the addition won final approval from the city’s Board of
Standards and Appeals. After years of stop-and-go plans and public
soul searching, the museum is evidently still seeking an identity."
"As strange as it seems," the article continued, "the
museum may be better off giving up on the Piano expansion. The
Whitney has been worn down by battles with local preservationists,
who never wanted any kind of addition on Madison Avenue anyway.
A new site with bigger floor plates could give the curators more
flexibility for exhibitions. And the city is offering the museum
a choice location: a sprawling site in the meatpacking district
at the foot of the High Line, an elevated public park that is
one of the most intriguing urban projects in Manhattan today.
Still, the Whitney’s latest about-face points to an underlying
malady. Architects are only as good as their clients. They can
give conceptual form to an institution’s identity, but they
can’t invent it. The Whitney’s endless false starts
are a symptom of self-doubt and internal confusion. Unless its
board, led by Leonard A. Lauder, is able to muster some courage
and conviction, a sudden change in site is not going to fix the
problem. The Whitney’s argument is simple enough. Adam Weinberg,
the museum’s director, says the price tag for the Piano addition,
estimated at $200 million-plus, is too high for a building that
will only add another 30,000 square feet of gallery space. (The
museum’s current 1966 Marcel Breuer building has 32,000 square
feet of galleries.) He contends that stacking the galleries on
seven floors, with relatively small floor plates, is too confining.
At a new site, he hopes, the museum could carve out larger, wide-open
galleries on fewer floors."
"Through its indecision," Mr. Ouroussoff wrote, "the
Whitney has squandered a lot of time and money. Maxwell Anderson,
the Whitney’s previous director, said the museum spent nearly
$6 million in architectural, engineering and legal fees to develop
the Koolhaas design. One can safely assume that it has spent far
more on its collaboration with Mr. Piano (who is to be retained
for whatever project it pursues, the museum says). The strangest
thing about the Whitney’s various approaches is that they
express radically different architectural and curatorial points
of view. Mr. Koolhaas’s addition would have been one of the
boldest pieces of architecture to emerge in years, while offering
a powerful lesson in how to deal responsibly with historical context.
By accepting existing landmark constraints, including the preservation
of a row of brownstones along Madison Avenue, Mr. Koolhaas seemed
to imply that past, present and future need not be in violent
opposition to one another. Rising in aggressive contortions behind
the brownstones, his design seemed to shelter the old granite
Breuer building even as it loomed over it like a gigantic cat’s
paw. Equally important, he used the design to meld a strong curatorial
vision. The bulk of the museum’s prewar collections would
have been displayed in the late-19th-century brownstones, bigger
postwar art in the Breuer building, and contemporary art in a
"Unlike Mr. Koolhaas," Mr. Ouroussoff wrote, "Mr.
Piano is not the kind of architect who will impose a strong vision
on a timid board. And his design, which never quite attained the
same level of imaginative power, could in some ways could be said
to reflect the compromised nature of the institution. In their
desire to appease local preservation advocates, museum trustees
asked Mr. Piano to make some unwanted compromises, like suggesting
he retain a brownstone he hoped to demolish to make way for a
more generous public entrance. Most of Mr. Piano’s galleries
were big generic boxes stacked one atop the next, more a reflection
of the Whitney’s wishy-washy thinking than a clearly articulated
position on how to display contemporary art."
the article continued, "makes it virtually impossible for
the museum to expand in the neighborhood it has called home since
1966. 'This is a major step toward the realization of a
new facility that will better serve our artists and the community,'
said Adam D. Weinberg, the Whitney’s director."
"With the sale, Mr. Weinberg said, the Whitney has raised
$475 million of its $680 million goal. The buildings’ buyer
- JZS Madison LLC - is owned by Daniel E. Straus, who operates
a family investment business, said Kathleen Cudahy, his spokeswoman.
Mr. Straus plans commercial and residential uses for the property,"
the article said.
museum has had many plans
to expand on Madison Avenue including three proposed by Michael
Graves, then a plan by Rem Koolhaus and finally a plan by Renzo
Piano. Mr. Piano is designing the meatpacking district
at the foot of the HighLine Park.
of the brownstones date
from the 1890s and the article said they are "considered
architecturally important enough that their facades must remain
intact" because they are in the Upper East Side Historic
article said that Ms.
Cudahy said that “Mr. Straus is well aware of the public
review process for this historic district,” and has "hired
Beyer Blinder Belle, a Manhattan architecture firm that specializes
in preservation, to advise him on the site’s possibilities."
fate of the Breuer
building is uncertain. The Whitney cannot simply sell it, as some
people involved with the museum would like to do. When Leonard
A. Lauder, the Whitney’s chairman emeritus and its largest
benefactor, gave the museum $131 million in 2008 - the biggest
donation in its history - the money came with the stipulation
that the building could not be sold for the foreseeable future,
although he declined to specify for how long. Realizing that it
cannot afford to run two buildings, the Whitney is in discussions
with the Metropolitan Museum of Art about a possible partnership.
The arrangement would not take place until the Whitney’s
new museum is completed in 2015, at which point the Met could
embark on a much-needed renovation of its own galleries for modern
and contemporary art, temporarily parking its collections at the
Whitney," the article said.
series of the Princeton Architectural Press contains a volume
of the museum with a brief 1963 essay on Mr. Breuer, the architect
of its very unusual and wonderful and important building:
should a museum
look like, a museum in Manhattan? Surely it should work,
it should fulfill its requirements, bujt what is its relationship
to the New York landscape? What does it express, what is
its architectural message?
easier to say first
what it should not look like. It should not look like a
business or office building, nor should it look like a place of
light entertainment. Its form and its material should have
identity and weight in the neighborhood of fifty-story skyscrapers,
of mile-long bridges, in the midst of a dynamic jungle of our
colorful city. It should be an independent and self-relying
unit, exposed to history, and at the same time it should have
visual connection to the street, as it deems to the housing of
twentieth-century art. It should transform the vitality
of the street into the sincerity and profundity of art.
conception of the project
shows a sunken sculpture court between the sidewalk and the building
- spanned over by the entrance bridge and it shows the Madison
Avenue glass front of the lobby and sculpture gallery; contact
with the passersby. While the inverted pyramid of the
mass calls attention to the museum and to its special dedication,
the mass is surfaced with a most durable, retiring and serene
material: a warm gray granite, rather dark. The structure,
reaching out high over the sculpture yard, does not stop the daylight
and the west sun, and receives the visitor before he actually
enters the interior of the building. One sees the sunken
yard and its sculptures from the sidewalk and the entrance bridge.
Also one sees the lobby and the sculpture gallery through
the glass walls. To emphasize the completeness of the
form, the granite facades on both streets are separated from the
neighboring fronts: an attempt to solve the inherent problem of
a corner building which otherwise could easily look like a quarter
part of something. The project transforms the building into
a unit, an element, a nucleus, and lends it a direction toward
Madison Avenue. The overall granite facing, homogeneous,
extending out and over toward Madison Avenue, reaching down into
the sunken garden with openings that grow out of the surface,
with the modulations of the Madison Avenue gap between it and
the neighboring buildings, with the granite parapet along the
sidewalk, and with the sculpture concrete form of the bridge
- all this to form the building itself as a sculpture...."
New York Times
article by Carol Vogel after the sale of the brownstones wrote that
their sale "will effectively end any chance of the Whitney expanding
in its current space, where it has been since 1966 and which it
has been trying to enlarge since the architect Michael Graves
unveiled the first of many expansion plans in 1985. Without room to
grow uptown, and without the income necessary
to run two museums, the Whitney now faces the question of what
to do with the Breuer building - which may end up being shared,
at least temporarily, by another institution, perhaps the Metropolitan
Museum of Art. The board met not at the museum, as it usually does, but
conference room at the Standard Hotel on Washington Street, a
block and a half from the new site. During the two-hour meeting,
Leonard A. Lauder - the Whitney’s chairman emeritus
and largest benefactor, and until now an opponent of the project
- surprised everyone by voting in favor of the new building.
Indeed, although there have been rumors for weeks that Mr. Lauder
was considering resigning if the project went ahead, he spoke
passionately in favor of it at the meeting....In 2008, when he gave the
institution $131 million
- the biggest donation in its history - the gift came
with the stipulation that the building could not be sold for the
foreseeable future. And that summer, concerned about the financial
pressure that maintaining
both the uptown museum and a possible downtown one would put on
the Whitney, he met for lunch with Philippe de Montebello, then
the Met’s director, and broached the subject of a possible
partnership. Thomas P. Campbell, Mr. de Montebello’s successor,
took up the discussion after he became director."
The new downtown plan is an
improvement over Piano's Madison Avenue expansion scheme but it is
worrisome that the Whitney might abandon Breuer's building.
It operated satellites for many years and the Guggenheim
still does so there is no reason that it cannot use both facilities.
It shouldn't throw the baby out with the bath water!