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What do you personally do to promote diversity and equity within architecture? What can be done collectively towards this goal, within our industry and beyond?Visitors can share their own perspective in a digital survey and listen to the views of leaders like Sharon Sutton, Beverly Wills, Jack Travis, and Guy Geier. Unfortunately, we’re still struggling with iterated versions of the same issues Young called out fifty years ago, but the show encourages you to consider how you might be an activist within your own firm in order to eradicate these issues once and for all. A Call to Act(ivism): Echoing Whitney Young, 50 Years Later is on view at the Center for Architecture through September 15. It was curated by Danei Cesario, AIA NCARB and designed by graphic artist Manuel Miranda.
Whitney announces exhibition on immersive cinema and art
When the new Whitney Museum of American Art opened on Manhattan’s West Side a little over a year ago, critical reactions were mixed. Like the majority of contemporary commentary, much of the critique was aimed at the outside of the building. There was also praise for an interior that defers to the art and a bit of positivity about the views. Some gushed about how daring it was for a building to physically engage with its surroundings at ground level.
However, a year after the initial “wait and see,” it is time to call the Renzo Piano–designed Whitney building what it really is: An architectural tourist trap. It is the conceptual built equivalent of Guy’s American Kitchen and Bar (GAKB) in Times Square.
What does a tourist trap do? Like any good tourist trap, the Whitney relies too much on its surroundings. The site at the apex of the High Line along the Hudson River is one of the best in the city. An architect would have to try hard to not have great views. Putting a few couches along floor-to-ceiling windows is not a world-class experience—most locals can get sixth-floor views from a friend’s roof or balcony. Like GAKB in Times Square, the Whitney has such a good location for its purpose that it doesn’t actually need to do anything to attract visitors. It is just there, housing an awkward collection of early modern art—good Hoppers and mediocre Ruschas.
Because it is a tourist trap, it also doesn’t need to inspire anyone to come back. What about this museum makes us want to visit again? We come for Piano, much like diners come for Guy. At GAKB, there is not decadent, diner-inspired food, only limp lettuce and uninspiring Caesar dressing. At the Whitney, where are Piano’s poetic details? Where is the tectonic novelty? What happened to the inventive, integrated systems and materials? The Whitney is all of the bad things about Piano’s work: It is washed-out and soulless, without any of the Piano magic. How can we connect to it?
The outdoor spaces seem arbitrarily proportioned and like afterthoughts. We might find the under-designed railings at an institutional building or a second-rate theme park. The oft-heard excuse is that this is part of the industrial heritage of the site, and is meant to evoke being on a fire escape. Yes, beloved industrial buildings and fire escapes have fine characteristics—materiality, the patina and layers of time, spatial experiences with compression, release, and difficult corners, and odd juxtapositions of railings and stairs—the Whitney has none of these. Instead, it is all out of scale, sterile, and unengaging.
The tourist trap analogy is not one of immediate political context. Yes, many of the visitors to the Whitney are tourists. But the point is that the building has nothing to offer beyond its celebrity status.
Deferring to the art is not an excuse. What if the Four Seasons had “deferred” to the food? What if the Ford Foundation had “deferred” to people working? An off-the-shelf metal shed can do a fine job protecting farm equipment, but isn’t the landscape better off with some actual design? The condos on the Williamsburg waterfront are amazing places to hang out, cook, and enjoy the views. It doesn’t mean they are great architecture.
Connecting with the city and functioning properly should be baseline requirements of a building, not something to hold up as great architecture. We should demand more exciting design and value it as part of the gesamtkunstwerk of a museum: art, architecture, and city in harmony to create a place, as well as an experience. Manhattan already has a problem with stale homogeneity; we need to demand that architects and clients not contribute to it. After all, no one ever said it was form or function.
Beyer Blinder Belle restoring Marcel Breuer’s Whitney building for 2016 reopening under the Metropolitan Museum
The inaugural season of The Met Breuer features a major cross-departmental curatorial initiative to present a historic examination of unfinished works of art; the largest exhibition to date dedicated to Indian modernist Nasreen Mohamedi; and a month-long performance installation, by Artist in Residence Vijay Iyer. Upcoming exhibitions include a presentation of Diane Arbus’s rarely seen early photographic works (July 11– November 27, 2016), and the first museum retrospective dedicated to Kerry James Marshall (October 25, 2016 – January 22, 2017).The building has been vacant since the Whitney decamped for its new Renzo Piano–designed Meatpacking outpost perches astride the High Line. Meanwhile Uptown, Richard Morris Hunt's grand Beaux Arts beauty is in the midst of a conceptual plan by David Chipperfield Architects that will eventually guide the redesign of the complex's Southwest Wing.
It has been a long winter in New York. Spring is finally burning off the fog of malaise that has seemed to settle on many New Yorkers. Fatigued by crowded subways with increasingly frequent delays and endless talk about skyrocketing rents and rising costs of living, New York hasn’t seemed like the vibrant, stimulating urban caldron that it used to be.
In cultural circles there has been endless hand-wringing about the state of the city’s museums, most exemplified by the many critical freak-outs about the current Björk exhibition at MoMA, which most art writers have dismissed as both cynical and superficial—symptomatic of a slavish drive for spectacle events over serious artistic or scholarly engagement. Playful yet earnest, the Whitney Museum has often served as a foil to MoMA’s high gloss enterprises. So the Whitney’s confident return in a new Renzo Piano-designed home at the foot of the High Line feels like a refreshing and edifying corrective.
Jeff Goldberg / ESTO
Whitney officials have touted the new building as a “playground for artists.” A small historical show in the museum’s free gallery off the lobby documents this artist-centric tradition, which dates to the museum’s founding by the sculptor and heiress Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney. The museum’s smart, low-key curators want to keep that tradition alive even as they join the big leagues, and they have had a direct hand in the shaping of the building to suit their needs. The museum has gained a tremendous amount of new gallery space (50 percent more than in their old Marcel Breuer–designed home) of differing scales and lighting conditions, all of which are designed to be easily reconfigured as needed. They also have, for the first time, a small auditorium and theater for film and performance events, which opens out to a large terrace. Even better, the art looks great on the walls. Now we get to see much more of the Whitney’s important collection, and the museum can better examine and interrogate the history and future of American art.
Just as important, the museum and its architects (Renzo Piano Building Workshop partnered with Cooper Robertson & Partners) have created a viewer-centric space. It’s a big building that never succumbs to gigantism. It offers many places for reflection, refreshment, and repose, like sofas facing out to the High Line or the Hudson. It also offers options to relax and avoid museum fatigue, like a pleasant café on the eighth floor, or a series of terraces overlooking the world famous elevated park. You can also take the exterior stairs from terrace to terrace for still more fresh air and remarkable city views.
Many have complained about the building’s somewhat ungainly exterior, which has two very different faces. The Hudson-facing side is canted and ship-like except for a protruding rectangular volume. The High Line facing side is even more of a jumble, with the stepped back terraces and spindly staircases and catwalks. Given the context of the formerly industrial Meatpacking District, Piano’s building doesn’t seem entirely out of place. He seems to have designed the building from the inside out, putting function first and capitalizing on the surprisingly spectacular site.
It is also built to withstand Sandy-scale or worse weather events, a necessity given its riverside location. No art is held below the third floor, save for a small (again, free to the public!) gallery on the ground floor, which could easily be evacuated.
Piano’s building lacks the rich tectonics and the memorable heft of the vacated Breuer building uptown. While moving through Breuer’s building was a profound architectural experience imbued with a sense of craft and traces of the hand of the architect, Piano’s Whitney is more like a machine for viewing. Piano and the Whitney curators understand that viewing art is not a static act, but rather a sequence of experiences of looking, focusing and unfocusing, thinking, moving, standing, sitting, etc. Its gently lit galleries, carefully framed views of city and river, and moments for reflection, combine to create perhaps the most satisfying museum environment among the city’s large art museums. It’s enriching rather than exhausting.
Piano may not have made a building to love, but he has made a building that will allow the Whitney to evolve and grow in its ambitions, and possibly to become an institution about which weary New Yorkers can rejoice.