The New Whitney: NYC’s Newest Architectural Wonder
First, the new Whitney is not just a simply stunning building with a tremendous art collection fortuitously located on the High Line. It is a place to see and be seen. Don’t go there unless you are wearing your coolest clothes. It doesn’t matter that you will be on your feet for a couple of hours looking at art. Zip yourself into a tight dress and wear the most outlandish heels you own. Sometimes it’s fashion first, and this is one of those times. Otherwise, you will look like a dowager dropped into the art scene.
The new Whitney is more than just the old Whitney transported from a somewhat drab building at the corner of Madison Avenue and 75th Street. Sort of dark and dank and smelling of damp concrete, the old Whitney had the effect of deadening the art it contained. That said, the former building, designed by Marcel Breuer, who also designed the famous Wassily chair, is a classic. As the Whitney’s Web site says, Breuer created “a strong modernist statement in a neighborhood of traditional limestone, brownstone, and brick row houses and postwar apartment buildings. Considered somber, heavy, and even brutal at the time of its completion in 1966, Breuer’s building is now recognized as daring, strong, and innovative.”
All that is true, yet a trip to the old Whitney left you feeling a little down. The new iteration is just the opposite. Not only do the high-ceilinged boxy new galleries allow more of the collection to be displayed, they enliven it. The lighting is just right, the wood floors are luminous, and the works are carefully curated.
Just as important though is the opportunity to step outside at each floor, rest your feet while sitting on the colorful furnishings, and overlook the scenery below—the High Line, street vendors, people who seem impossibly cool and well-dressed, and the shimmery Hudson. The views refresh you and make you want to step back inside and digest more spectacular art. Just in case you need more encouragement, there’s a restaurant on the first floor and a café on the eighth.
Designed by Renzo Piano Building Workship, in cooperation with Cooper, Robertson & Partners (the second firm was perhaps as important to the success of the building as Mr. Piano and company), the grayed-out glass and metal panels, zigzagging balconies, and cut-away entry area which connects the building to the High Line combine to make a simple, stunning structure.
Take a moment as you depart to appreciate the building’s geometric lines and slightly industrial aesthetic. It is yet another example of Piano’s mastery. For more of his work, see The New York Times Building and the Renovation and Expansion of the Morgan Library. And more to come as Piano brings his imprint to Columbia University’s new Manhattanville campus.