Whitney unveils designs for new building

NEW YORK. The Whitney Museum has revealed architect Renzo Piano’s preliminary design for the institution’s new building in Manhattan’s Meatpacking Dist­rict, and announced a $680m fundraising campaign to pay for the facility and increase the museum’s endowment. The museum is completing a contract with the New York City Economic Development Corp­oration to acquire the City-owned site on Gansevoort and West Streets south of the Chelsea gallery district. Land-use and zoning permits are still to be granted, but Whitney officials expect to break ground next spring and to open the building in late 2012.

Whitney director Adam Weinberg says the museum needs to expand because its collection and attendance have long outgrown its current home uptown, a 1966 Brutalist-style landmark designed by Marcel Breuer. There has been speculation that the Whitney might sell or lease the Breuer building, but Mr Weinberg says the current plan is to operate both facilities: “The board has demonstrated its support for both Breuer and the downtown project, and we have developed a series of studies of what is financially feasible for the Whitney. We now have to determine the best way to programmatically operate uptown in relationship to downtown and the best way to appropriately balance those costs.”

The downtown building will have 185,000 sq. ft on six floors, triple the space of the uptown museum, including 50,000 sq. ft of galleries compared with 32,000 sq. ft uptown. The top three floors will show the permanent collection of American art, and the third floor will house temporary exhibitions in a 17,500 sq. ft space that will be the largest column-free gallery in New York. Four rooftop terraces provide another 15,000 sq. ft for outdoor installations. Lower floors contain a 175-seat theatre—the museum’s first dedicated performing arts space—a library and study centre, education spaces, conservation studio and offices.

The new building is the fourth commissioned by the Whitney. Architects Michael Graves, Rem Koolhaas and Mr. Piano completed proposals to expand uptown, but the schemes were either rejected by the City’s Landmarks Preservation Com­mission or abandoned by the trustees. When Dia Art Foundation relinquished an option for the Gansevoort Street site, the Whitney decided to take it over.

To operate two facilities, the museum must complete the largest campaign in the institution’s 77-year history. Chairman Leonard Lauder recently pledged the lead gift of $125m through his American Contemp­orary Art Foundation which will increase the museum’s endowment from approximately $70m to more than $190m. Mr. Lauder, the billionaire head of the Estée Lauder Companies, stipulated that as a condition of the gift the Whitney must not sell its Breuer flagship for an undisclosed amount of time. It is not clear if the terms of his gift prevent the museum from selling or leasing the Breuer building in the future. Neither Mr Lauder nor other board members would disclose any terms of the gift, which Mr. Weinberg says are “private”. Neither is the museum releasing information on the progress of the campaign, but Mr Weinberg says: “We anticipate significant financial support from the City in order to bring this project to fruition.” J.E.K.

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