New Whitney Museum; What Do You Think?

Photo : The Wall Street Journal

As the major buildings go, the new Whitney Museum gets reviewed in the press few weeks ahead of its official opening to the public in New York, anchoring the south end of highly gentrified High Line Park. As it is usual with this kind of large spectacle projects culturally significant to a major city, it gets boostered reviews from the print media powerhouses. Everybody drops what they are doing and talk about the building. The Whitney appears to be a mishmash and the resultant of various ideas and gallery spaces as if they were designed by different curator or artist in mind. Is it a result of indecisiveness or a brilliant way to eject an all iconic "beautiful building" all around the outside that has been the staple of museum architecture?

What do you think of this new museum designed by Renzo Piano who, in my opinion and words, has earned the title of "The Museum Man"? Has anybody been in it yet? 


New York Times review by Michael Kimmelman (with clever video works)

The Wall street Journal review by Kelly Crow

Apr 19, 15 11:40 am

I love the Kimmelman review! The graphic integration really helps understand what he is referencing and how the building fits into the city. Unfortunately the small images didn't work for me, but the fly-throughs did, and are really good.

I also like that the review isn't hardline opinionated about anything but "This will likely be considered a good building, in time, and here is cultural context for why that will likely be true."

I wonder what Schumacher thinks of the review? 

Apr 19, 15 2:34 pm

As for the building, it seems (from the Kimmelman graphics) to relate to the city really well, both at ground plane and in views from the High Line, but overall seems to not be the slightest bit elegant, which is surprising for Piano. I wonder if, and assume this to be the case, it is finely tuned and taut and elegant in the close-up bodily experience, as his project at Art Institute of Chicago is.

Apr 19, 15 2:49 pm

The interiors look well designed for exhibition and flexible staging of diverse large scale installations. The view from the High Line is romantic industrial (which I enjoy) while the view from 10th Ave / Gansevoort St. looks like an accident with an ill-proportioned series of indiscriminate shapes related only through a drab material palette. I find it odd that reviews lead with this shot, which is clearly the most unappealing view. Loading dock, cheap column support, etc.

Apr 19, 15 5:13 pm
Olaf Design Ninja_

Orhan, I will check it out in person over the next few weeks....Donna I agree that was a very helpful piece by Kimmelman.....a few years back my background on my computer was an old Whitney Museum photo from when it was built, I will try and find it again....the gravity and alien existence of the building in the photo blew me away, so far this Whitney building regardless of photo angle has yet to make an impression on me.

Apr 19, 15 5:17 pm
Olaf Design Ninja_

found it

this photo got me out of bed for months!  Look at the cars, the baby carriage, and then the building!  One of my first employers was DeVido who worked for Breuer and noted he spent months on stairs for Breuer...and guess what the stairs in this building are fantastic!

Apr 19, 15 6:04 pm

Wow, great shot. Really puts the design in historical perspective.

Apr 19, 15 6:47 pm

Reminds me of James Stirling... 

Apr 19, 15 7:21 pm
Olaf Design Ninja_

James Stirling...surrealism in Vals (jla-x you know)....

reminds me of this L. Woods post on Raimund Abraham's dreams

look at the demising wall on the north end of the Whitney.  It says, I will be here a long time.

anyway, James Stirling's color choice for the floor in the Stuttgart museum did funny things to my eyes....I've had a fast ball and a fly ball via baseball hit both eyes...could explain my slight hallucinations! it was a trip.

Apr 19, 15 7:52 pm
Olaf Design Ninja_

it appears the german travel agency won't let me link that here you go, a couple.....


Apr 19, 15 8:09 pm

Best to wait till I get there in few weeks…. Viewing things in fly-thru’s is one thing, viewing in person another, however think Kimmelman got it right wondering if it was something “nautical”? Maybe a “factory”? Perhaps a “hospital”?…. Don’t think you should have to go inside a building and ask the receptionist if you’re in the right place..…a clue would be helpful…. Buildings don’t need to be signs, but should reflect purpose, and this doesn’t… inside, you may as well be in a warehouse in New Jersey…. No connection whatever to the exterior…. Don’t want a flare-up but it’s a starchitect thing again, just because Piano did it, it’s notable…. Sorry, it’s not…..”The new museum isn’t a masterpiece”.

Apr 19, 15 8:22 pm

Chris, that devising wall is downtown, to the south. And yes, it is absolutely brilliant.

Apr 19, 15 8:30 pm

Probably should have waited, just went to the Whitney site to get my tickets.... had great photos of the actual structure... nothing that changed my mind except a night time shot from the river.... can't wait to see THE ART.

Apr 19, 15 8:51 pm

I'm guessing the admin is on the north, facing the Neil Denari hotel? I imagine the view of the nudists, and semi-pro pornstars will keep the work environment, let's say, jumping?

Apr 19, 15 9:01 pm

jla-x, you're thinking of the Leicester Engineering School, yes? That's what I thought of immediately.

Apr 19, 15 9:13 pm
Olaf Design Ninja_

ha Miles, I got that inverted...something I do a lot.

but yeah, that wall man...never mind the building, what does that wall say!

look at the windows.  it's something Zaha and Neil Denari might do today, right?

I remember Al (DeVido) telling me about the stairs he worked on for Breuer and ever since I look at the risers everywhere I go and look for variations, like recessed riser kicks, etc...all that stuff became copy paste eventually, but when you trace it's source that's when you are blown away by what those guys were doing....years ago.

that's why the picture to me is so amazing.  it's 1966, nearly 50 years ago, and by all standards it is still alien.

Apr 19, 15 9:15 pm

i think jla-x spotted right  away


Apr 19, 15 9:38 pm
Olaf Design Ninja_

maybe Renzo had a James Stirling cameo like Raimund Abraham in a dream?

Apr 19, 15 9:49 pm


There's no such word as "devising". Although it divides the word is " demising".

Apr 19, 15 10:01 pm

That is one well devised devising wall.

Devising is a word, and autocorrect sucks. It once changed a friend's name to foreskin.

Apr 19, 15 10:48 pm

Devising. Demising. #@^*•&$!

Apr 19, 15 11:34 pm

Still a pity OMA's Whitney never made it:

Apr 20, 15 3:15 am

I think it's helpful to look at this new Whitney as a way to make "industrial jumble" look well designed and well thought. Many of the buildings around the high line do a good job of this. There is a certain handmade quality to all of the spaces--looking forward to seeing it in person. It looks like a very nice building for art. The MoMA is also a great building, apart from all of the critical hand wringing now. That it is now branded as "mall-like" is a discredit to the Taniguchi design and has more to do with the organization and brand. 

The Kimmelman review was a bit jarring--the computer renderings are more distracting than anything. Seemed more like whiz bang pyrotechnics...or worse like a giant advertisement. Why do you need those for a finished building? Why not real photography or video? The diagrams in the WSJ are a bit more helpful. And I don't really trust Kimmelman at all anymore--there is so much historical hand wringing here--let's go back and look at every bad proposal and do a meta Ada House Huxtable quote about the old Whitney to distract the reader from your absense of an original thought about the actual building in front of you. Kimmelman being Kimmelman--they fly him back from the middle east or haiti whenever there is a museum opening. 

The architecture review as developer marketing website? 

Apr 20, 15 9:17 am

My question is, would the building be reviewed differently if it were a new museum outside of the 'brand' of the Whitney? It's interesting how everything we talk about it all about metareferences and history layered on history. Most of the conversation about architecture seems to only be relevant if it has some connection to the 'masters' of the modern movement. 

Apr 20, 15 9:44 am

Come on Light, the last time I was at the MoMa, the escalators, and the way people moved from floor to floor, reminded me of Christmas sales at MoA = Mall of America. It's absurd trying to move around that building. The only place for respite was the sculpture garden, which was vastly improved from the 1990's.

Apr 20, 15 9:48 am

The visual similarities to the Stirling Leicester building are actually pretty intense.  "Visual" meaning material, massing, outward appearance, texture of complexity, etc., not necessarily how it functions.

"The work of James Stirling is permeated by a mannerist taste for distortion and paradox, especially at the Engineering School in Leicester (1960-3), where the diversity of forms, expressive of the internal functions of the building, is a pretext for the liveliest interplay of masses." — Mitchell Beazley. The World Atlas of Architecture. p389.

Lightperson, I think that's an interesting question but kind of impossible to parse. If it were *not* a Whitney project, would Piano have been the architect?

How I like to consider it is this: the Whitney building was an expression of a forward-looking institution. Can an institution that is trying to remain forward-looking continue that mission in a structure that has become both historic and historically significant? Or does it need necessarily to move into a new surrounding to keep itself relevant?

I think  the answer could easily go both ways.

Apr 20, 15 9:55 am

Devising wall = something Ricky would say! Nice synch up between profile pic and comment.

Two lines from the Kimmelman review stuck out to me:

I’m baffled that museums today, worried about adaptability, so rarely opt for fixed and varied spaces, rooms with character. The best example of a museum that had fixed, varied spaces with character was the Folk Art Museum, and we see what happened there. I guess to last museums should be built as aesthetically minimal Wal-Marts with large structural spans and infinitely flexible shelving for selling products to consumers I mean flexible walls for hanging art for consumers I mean tourists I mean for the children.

But buildings take time to reveal their true selves. Preach. Withholding judgement is just as valid as passing hasty judgement with respect to this building. Let's see it with some art in place!

Apr 20, 15 10:04 am

Yes it is impossible to ignore history, but whatever success and future the new Whitney has will have little to do with any qualities present in the old building and everything to do with the qualities of the new one. Piano, or any other big name architect may not have designed it--but perhaps the solution would have been comparable (industrial chic) givin the site and context. Perhaps the mission of the Whitney lives on to an extent, though it will probably have more in common with the MoMA than the old Whitney due to the economic climate of art and real estate now (and 22 dollar admission to boot).  

Apr 20, 15 10:06 am

A long read, but a very good one, on the new Whitney by Jerry Saltz. Some quotes:

Let’s start with the building. I don’t care what it looks like. It’s “likable enough,” but my only concern as an art lover is with the inside of museums. Were I to judge the new Whitney exterior, I’d say it looks like a hospital or a pharmaceutical company. (Our architecture critic, Justin Davidson, gives his opinion of the new Whitney.) But, for me, the genericism of the building suggests that what matters to the Whitney isn’t vanity, grandeur, showboating, celebrity, or destination architecture — it’s what goes on under its auspices.

... the Whitney has had the brilliant instinct to make the setting, not the building, the spectacle, which is the next reason for optimism.

Apr 20, 15 11:13 am

I read something else regarding a protest some group had outside of the building last week.  It gave a nice angle, or a better story to the project than just the architectural particulars.  Apparently the building was built atop a large natural gas line/transfer station, with plans of having an "accident" sometime down the line, in turn destruction a large swatch of American art, therefore driving the price of American art through the roof.  I guess only time will tell if this conspiracy plays out that way...

Apr 20, 15 11:24 am

Yeah, Saltz's quotes are good--I think he has been the most consistant critic of the art world's excesses. Architecture and art doesn't have to be hollywood/silicon valley spectacle clickbait... especially if it is on the high line, which is its own source of crowds. The rest of the critics you can take or leave--it's funny how the music critics, design critics, and political controversy seekers suddenly become architecture critics when a big new building comes along. 

Apr 20, 15 11:42 am

That's a great video, Carerra, thanks for linking to it.

Apr 20, 15 12:16 pm

Weird that NYTimes opted for a bunch of early stage design process renderings than perhaps one high quality shot. Maybe it was a memory/loading decision.... 

Apr 20, 15 1:31 pm

I would tend to believe Piano's project is far better than  Stirling's project.  I only say that because years ago I recall being in Portland Maine at a museum designed by Pei's Office  and the following day going to the Arthur M. Sackler Museum designed by  Sterling and going what the "F"  the detailing was really really bad.  Then years later while having dinner with a friend and his wife having a discussion about the building. She was at that time on the Staff at Harvard and said it was the worst place to work, as the building didn't function very well at all.  Piano I have a feeling is far superior in going way beyond the general elements and really making projects great because he is thoughtful about his work.  It is just not the splash. 

Apr 20, 15 3:29 pm

I agree, snook. I think Piano likely did apply that incredible rigor of construction and finish to this building, the same as at Chicago.

Apr 20, 15 4:10 pm

pianos details are usually really good...

Apr 20, 15 4:53 pm

is not a coincidence his firm is called RP Building Workshop; btw, have you seen the pritzker's house in aspen?

Apr 20, 15 5:36 pm

JLC-1, is this it?

Apr 20, 15 6:41 pm

You know you have had a rough week when your wisdom tooth decides to cause troubles, which include severe headaches, someone runs into the side of you slightly less than a year old addition with their SUV "Envoy",   you plan a date with you wife to take her to see the Woman in Gold, on the way there your  car craps out on you with an overheating car engine, so you have to have it toed home after waiting 3 hours for a tow truck. Then to start the new week with having that wisdom tooth pulled......It has been an OUCH WEEK in our household.   Guess we will give the movie another try this week as long as I can scrap together enough money from the "Piggy Bank."

Apr 20, 15 6:48 pm

Yes, his only residential design, although I have the impression is more of an art gallery than a "home"; you can see it from the top of highlands ski area but not form the road where it is. I love the way he lays the structure. and the roof is bright red standing seam.

Apr 20, 15 6:51 pm

Not sure about this view....there is a motel chain that invented this.....

Apr 20, 15 7:08 pm

The quality of detail in both the house and the museum are outstanding.

Apr 20, 15 7:10 pm

I'm more impressed by Renzo's ability to make a suburban shopping mall look like architecture. Just for that he takes the title as greatest living architect. 

Apr 20, 15 7:25 pm

this is perhaps the most interesting factoid i have read re: the building

"The pipeline, installed and operated by the Houston company Spectra Energy, stretches through New Jersey, under the Hudson River and across the West Side Highway, terminating in a vault beneath the Whitney’s cantilevered" ...

i would love to see pictures of that vault. a piece of infrastructure and banking as it were...

Apr 20, 15 7:50 pm

The Marcel Breur (sp?) one was so much better.

Apr 21, 15 5:34 pm
Erik Evens (EKE)

The gallery spaces look like nice gallery spaces.

The building looks like a dry ice processing plant.  Can't you just imagine the steam billowing out of the exhausts on the roof?

I'll visit the building when I go to NYC next week.  I'll reserve judgement until then.  But I'm guessing that the same nice gallery spaces could have been enclosed in something that doesn't look like a dry ice processing plant.  

Between this project, and the horrific Borg cube appendage he scabbed onto the side of the Fogg at Harvard, and the alien space tick parasite theater he's proposed for LACMA West in LA, I think Piano is a tad out of control.

Apr 22, 15 1:35 am

EKE - One of the hazards of being famous is that people let you do whatever you want.

Apr 22, 15 2:23 am
Erik Evens (EKE)

"One of the hazards of being famous is that people let you do whatever you want."

True. It's a tremendous burden. 

Apr 22, 15 8:47 am

EKE, how would you know?

Apr 22, 15 10:57 am

One of the hazards of being famous is that people let you do whatever you want.

Or think that everything you do is or will automatically be a stroke of genius. 

High levels of success have a tendency to induce delusion, both in the audience and the individual. 

Apr 22, 15 10:59 am

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