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“Art makes people better people,” began Renzo Piano when he spoke at a recent hard hat tour of the Whitney Museum’s new building, before adding, “and cultural buildings make spaces better places.”
Piano is the Italian architect recruited to design the mammoth new site, and after years of expansion plans, fundraising galas, and a heavy battering from Hurricane Sandy, construction is finally in full swing.
Situated at the corner of Washington and Gansevoort streets in the Meatpacking District, the 220,000 square foot building straddles the High Line, with an outdoor space that meets seamlessly with the elevated park. The new, nine-story design is, as Piano puts it, a “monolith flying above ground.”
The museum is still very much a construction site, slated to open to the public in 2015. But while it may only consist of steel walls and orange fencing that cordons off a stomach-churning drop down to the street, the sweeping view is breathtaking; with the Hudson river to the west and the One World Trade Center to the south.
The neighborhood may seem a long way from the Whitney’s current 75th street location on the Upper East Side, but the move is actually somewhat of a homecoming. The new design will be the fourth building in the museum’s history, the original having been located a stone’s throw away on West 8th street. The museum’s director Adam D. Weinberg described the relocation as a “return to the Whitney’s roots, but in a fresh way.”
And fresh it is, with the $422 million structure set to house 50,000 square feet of exhibition space (three times more than at present). Two floors of the building will hold a vast portion of the museum’s permanent collection dating from 1900 to the present, while the fifth floor will be home to temporary exhibitions and installations. The entire space will also be column free, making it the largest of that style in New York, and allowing for installations of all shapes and sizes to be shown. Importantly, no work will be stored on the lower levels, so if another storm does hit the city the museum’s extensive collection will be kept safe and dry.
Weinberg calls the new design a “perfect marriage of art and architecture” and the structure’s striking elevator design is set to be a testament to that, with four interior elevators with art by the late Richard Artschwager, the only commissioned work in the new building.
The building’s vast range of capabilities are already clear, even with its unfinished walls, and dust-covered floors. The new space is set to become an intrinsic part of the downtown community with, in Weinberg’s words, “doors which open to the city.”