Search results for "whitney"

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Archtober Building of the Day 20> Renzo Piano's Whitney Museum of American Art
Whitney Museum of American Art 99 Gansevoort Street, Manhattan Renzo Piano Building Workshop in collaboration with Cooper Robertson When the Whitney Museum made the move from its iconic Breuer Building to a new location in Manhattan's Meatpacking District, the institution was “returning to our downtown roots,” Larissa Gentile, New Building Project Director for the Whitney, told today’s Archtober Building of the Day Tour attendees. The museum’s shiny new steel-clad, Renzo Piano–designed building, which opened in May, is situated between two linear parks running through Manhattan. Piano conceived of the building as a link between the High Line, just east of the museum, and Hudson River Park, just west. Visitors to the Whitney never feel far from either of these green spaces—on each of the eight floors of the museum, strategically located windows frame scenes of the Hudson River and out onto the city skyline. The interplay between interior and exterior is a defining element of the new Whitney. Gentile described the institution and the architect’s intentions for the building to engage in a dialogue with its urban context. The building has eastward-facing terraces on each level of the museum, connected by an outdoor staircase. These “outdoor galleries” not only give museum-goers iconic views of stretching across Manhattan, but also allows those strolling down the High Line, or driving down the West Side Highway, an opportunity to see some of the museum’s impressive collection. The exterior staircase allows visitors to move between gallery floors outside, so as to alleviate some internal circulation issues that might arise given the museum’s record-breaking number of visitors. On the ground level, the museum lobby is a porous and open glass space, meant to feel like an extension of the pedestrian streetscape. Passersby glimpse what is going on in the museum—indeed, today, although the museum was closed to the public, people walking by were privy to the installation process of the new Frank Stella exhibition underway. “Exposing the machine of building, and revealing the institution as an entire organism, was an exciting opportunity for the museum,” Gentile told us. Throughout the building, staff offices, research spaces, conservation labs, and educational facilities, that, in the old building, were either non-existent or tucked away, are now revealed to museum-goers. The new Whitney has greatly increased gallery space. Each gallery was designed to be column-free and highly flexible, so as to allow curators and artists to reimagine the space with every show. The gallery size and ceiling height varies from floor to floor, giving the museum a distinctly different feel as you travel throughout it. The top floor gallery is bathed in natural light from a skylight above. Some galleries are much more intimate, displaying smaller paintings and works on paper, while more spacious areas of the museum house impressive sculptures and installations. In addition to adding more gallery space for the museum to display its 22,000-object permanent collection and creating new educational and conservation facilities, the new, soon-to-be certified LEED Gold museum building also houses a flexible theater space with multiple projection options, and retractable seating, allowing the museum to host lectures, performances, and installations. As Gentile told our tour, “No space here has one function.” The highly mutable building provides the opportunity for the institution and visitors alike to engage intimately with both the cultural and urban milieus this city has to offer. Alex Tell is the Committee's Coordinator for the AIANY | Center for Architecture.
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Roadside Renzo
Kum & Go HQ gets the Renzo Piano treatment.
Courtesy Renzo Piano Building Workshop

The Menil Collection. Parco della Musica Auditorium. The new Whitney Museum. The Art Institute of Chicago. And, now, Kum & Go Headquarters.

Renzo Piano’s latest client is the family-owned, Des Moines, Iowa-based convenience store chain Kum & Go. His contribution to Des Moines will further move one of the region’s most prominent businesses from a suburban campus choked by cars and cul-de-sacs into a redeveloping district featuring a public library by David Chipperfield and a sculpture park by New York-based architects Mario Gandelsonas and Diana Agrest.

Piano’s design packages all the features that an ever-widening base of clients come to him for. Its strong, terraced horizontal lines hint at the indigenous Prairie Style, lightened with span after span of floor-to-ceiling glass. The five-story building (complete with rooftop garden) is suspended over a glass-walled entrance pavilion via a series of thin steel columns, offering Piano’s best chance in this project for his hallmark structural poetry.

Boasting expansive Prairie Style terraces and a wealth of glass, Piano’s building is expected to open in 2018.

Project manager Danielle Hermann of OPN Architects (the local architects of record) says the plan is intended to have the “building floating over the landscape.” The approximately $100 million project will begin construction late this fall, and is expected to be complete by 2018.

“Lightness, simplicity, and openness are the main concepts expressed in the design,” said Piano in a press release. “The four vast planes flying over the site will emphasize the lightness and the transparency of the building, and will dialogue with the sculpture park nearby.”


A third of the four-acre site will be taken up by Piano’s building, leaving ample room for a landscaped, privately-owned public park space that will serve as an extension to Gandelsonas and Agrest’s Pappajohn Sculpture Park across the street. Piano’s plan is designed to defer to the sculpture garden, while offering cool, shady outdoor space that complement the topography next door.

The Kum & Go building “should serve as a community connector and really fit well in the site—to serve as a natural, artful extension of the Pappajohn Sculpture Park,” said Kum & Go CEO Kyle Krause.


The neighborhood, called Gateway West, is a master-planned area of redevelopment, and a building by a Pritzker Prize–winning architect could be its crown jewel. Beyond Kum & Go and the sculpture park, it hosts the Chipperfield library, several other corporate headquarters, and a raft of new restaurants, several of which have been installed into adaptively reused buildings. Previously an undefined edge-zone abutting the corporate, modernist highrises of downtown, “It’s creating a new place in the city of Des Moines,” said Erin Olson-Douglas, an architect with the city who works on economic development and urban planning.

Krause’s family will own the building, with Kum & Go (who operate 100 LEED-certified gas stations) as a tenant. Krause proffered the vision for moving the company into the city center from the suburban campus they were rapidly outgrowing. Inspired by Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh (who moved his company from the suburban fringe of Las Vegas to its downtown), Krause wanted to harness the same urban energy that comes through chance encounters in active, vibrant places, according to the company’s senior vice president of store development Nikki DePhillips.

The attention Piano has focused on the city is reason to be proud, said Olson-Douglas, but it is also an opportunity to exorcise some fly-over-country anxiety. When Piano was selected, Olson-Douglas wondered, “Are we really good enough for that?” But, with an art museum by Eliel Saarinen, IM Pei, and Richard Meier, and Drake University’s Eliel and Eero Saarinen master plan, “There’s always been a culture of high architecture,” she said. “The decision the Krauses made ups that ante, and reinforces that history.”

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Pictorial> Conservation work at New York City's St. Patrick's Cathedral is finally (almost) complete
Shrouded in scaffolding for three years, renovations on St. Patrick's Cathedral are nearly complete. Initiated in 2006, renovations stalled due to the 2007 economic recession, but began again in earnest in 2012. Pope Francis' upcoming New York visit advanced the project timeline. The Archdiocese of New York commissioned Murphy Burnham & Buttrick to spearhead the renovation. Built in 1879, the original structure was designed by James Renwick, Jr., one of 19th century America's preeminent architects. Jeffery Murphy, the renovation's lead architect, stresses that St. Patrick's Cathedral is "conservation, not restoration." While restoration brings a building back to a specific time, conservation incorporates features from multiple time periods to display a full history of the space. Commenting on the renovations, Monsignor Robert Ritchie referenced Cardinal Dolan's opinion that "the conservation of St. Patrick's Cathedral is about spiritual renewal." During renovations, the church welcomed visitors and held its usual seven masses per day. The project is also a financial commitment: the Archdiocese estimates that interior and exterior renovations have cost $175 million so far. Over nine years, approximately 140 designers and consultants, along with a team of 20 engineers, oversaw more than 30,000 interior and exterior repairs and modifications. Raymond Pepi, founder and president of Building Conservation Associates, led the forensic analysis of the Cathedral. That analysis enabled the design team to make restoration and conservation decisions on the basis of the strength and integrity of the building's woodwork, plaster, stone, and glass. So far, around 150 masons, painters, carpenters, and other builders have labored on the project. At times, there were over 100 people working at once on the Cathedral. To coordinate the activity, architect Mary Burnham says the team used BIM 360 Field, an app that allows each team member to identify problems, flag repairs, suggest conservation methods, and allow the design team to follow up on the work as it's completed. Transparency is a salient feature of the new design. New programmatic elements include sliding glass doors at the main entrance on Fifth Avenue so that, even in cold weather, the 9,000 pound bronze doors to the cathedral are always open. The team blasted the facade with a mixture of glass and water to reveal any damage to the building. The original building, says Murphy, was supposed to look as if it was "poured into a mold and deposited on the sidewalk." Uneven aging of the stone and grout caused the exterior to appear more variegated than intended. The current, cleaned facade recaptures the 1879 look of the building. The interiors were curated to increase the space's comfort and reduce visual clutter. The design team worked with the clergy to eliminate plastic signage and statuary placed haphazardly in the interior. Signs and statuary were repositioned to harmonize with the space. Preservationists restored the glass and glazing on 3,200–3,300 stained glass panels in situ. Approximately 5 to 6 percent of panels were removed and restored by Ettore Christopher Botti of Botti Studios. Significantly, the Archdiocese of New York has invested in green energy, with ten geothermal wells planned for the site. The wells extend 2,200 feet underground and will provide 30 percent of energy for cathedral.    
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Remember the Battery Park City wheatfield? Conceptual artist is back with a horticultural pyramid in Queens
  [Editor's Note: Socrates Sculpture Park on the Queens waterfront installed The Living Pyramid, a public sculpture by Agnes Denes in May, when this article was originally published. They have just announced that they will extend the life of the sculpture through the end of October. The work is Denes’ first since her iconic Wheatfield – A Confrontation in 1982, sited on a waterfront landfill in what is now Battery Park City in Lower Manhattan. Do not miss this chance to see this important artwork before it comes down next month.] Monuments of pre-civilization feats in construction and engineering, pyramids are the latest muse of conceptual artist Agnes Denes who, in 1982, transformed what is now Battery Park City into a two-acre wheatfield. Titled Wheatfield - A Confrontation and featuring the backdrop of a construction site and jostling Manhattan skyscrapers, it’s not difficult to surmise Denes’ intentions. Likewise, her latest project, Living Pyramid resonates with a rebellious call to the wild. Made from soil and thousands of seeds, the pyramid will be erected in late April at the Socrates Sculpture Park in Long Island City, Queens. On May 17, the public is invited to plant the seeds, which, by early June, will have bloomed into wildflowers and leafy plants. Living Pyramid itself will remain on view until August 30, when cooler weather begins to encroach once again. The sculptural exhibition is Denes’ first major exhibition in the city since Wheatfield, although her work has been displayed at New York City’s prime museums including MoMA, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Whitney Museum. “What [pyramids] all convey is the human drama, our hopes and dreams against great odds,” Denes said in a press release. “Transformed into blossoms, the pyramid renews itself as evolution does to our species.” Long a fixture in Denes’ work, pyramids are also central to her exhibition In the Realm of Pyramids: The Visual Philosophy of Agnes Denes on view at the Leslie Tonkonow Artworks + Projects from March 14–May 9.
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Beyer Blinder Belle restoring Marcel Breuer's Whitney building for 2016 reopening under the Metropolitan Museum
The Met Breuer will throw open its doors in March 2016 for the first season of contemporary art programming under the banner of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Breuer's iconic building, formerly the Whitney Museum of American Art, is currently being "invigorated by renovations that will support a fluid, integrated experience of art and architecture," as the Met's press release proudly declares. The renovation seeks to integrate art throughout the entire museum. Immediately upon entering, visitors will be greeted by artist-in-residence Vijay Iyer, who will be conducting a performance installation. It's a short elevator ride up to four additional floors of "contemporary art in dialogue with historic works" in the Met's collection. “The Met is proud to become the steward of this iconic building and to preserve Marcel Breuer’s bold vision,” said Thomas P. Campbell, director and CEO of the Met, said in a statement. “Our approach to inhabiting and interpreting the building honors Breuer’s intent for the space, highlighting its unique character as an environment for the presentation of modern and contemporary art. The wonderfully scaled galleries and interior spaces of The Met Breuer provide a range of opportunities to present our modern and contemporary program, in addition to our galleries in the Fifth Avenue building.” Beyer Blinder Belle is spearheading the restoration efforts, including touching up Breuer's distinct concrete walls, stone floors, bronze fixtures, and lighting. The architects are working hard to preserve the building's weathered patina rather than scrubbing and polishing its history away. A streamlined entry sequence, new restaurant, sunken garden, and "book bar" retail shop are also planned. "What should a museum look like, a museum in Manhattan?" Breuer asked in 1963 upon receiving the commission to design the new Whitney. "It is easier to say first what it should not look like. It should not look like a business or office building, nor should it look like a place of light entertainment. Its form and its material should have identity and weight in the neighborhood of 50-story skyscrapers, of mile-long bridges, in the midst of the dynamic jungle of our colorful city. It should be an independent and self-relying unit, exposed to history, and at the same time it should transform the vitality of the street into the sincerity and profundity of art." The inaugural showing includes free entry to the lobby and lower-level galleries. According to the Met:
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.
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Israeli fashion student Danit Peleg creates the world's first 3D-printed ready-to-wear collection
Genius starts small: The world’s first 3D-printed fashion collection was created in the bedroom of a soon-to-be college grad. Starting with a less than rudimentary grasp of 3D printing, Israeli fashion student Danit Peleg rendered an entire ready-to-wear collection, initially feeding polyactic acid plastics (PLA) into a desktop 3D printer. However, the material proved brittle and inflexible, and for the next nine months Peleg cast around for an alternative. She then discovered FilaFlex, a strong and flexible plastic, with which she printed her first piece: a triangular-latticed red jacket called ‘Liberté,’ (the word is woven into the design) which was inspired by the painting ‘Liberty Leading the People’ by Eugène Delacroix. “I modified [the painting] so it would look like a 3D picture. I was inspired to work with the many triangles present in the painting’s composition,” Peleg wrote on her website. For this piece, she used 3D rendering software called Blender. Subsequently, Peleg began to experiment with an array of materials and printers, happening upon Andreas Bastian’s Mesostructured Cellular Materials, a synclastic material with snowflake-like patterning. She then enlisted the help of 3D printing experts TechFactoryPlus and XLN to acquire different printers and go all nine yards on her vision, which she would present for her graduate collection required to obtain her fashion degree from Shenkar College of Engineering and Design in Israel. It took 2,000 hours to print the collection using her Witbox FDM desktop 3D printer and flexible FilaFlex filaments. “I wanted to create a ready-to-wear collection printed entirely at home using printers that anyone can get,” said Peleg. Each A4-sized textile sheet took at least 20 hours to print, and each dress an average of 4,000 hours. The lace-like geometric detailing of each dress is strikingly three-dimensional, so that the dresses “have a topography and aren’t just flat textiles.” Peleg wanted her models to walk the runway in head-to-toe 3D prints, so she printed fire engine-red high-heeled shoes inspired by designer Michele Badia. Although ecstatic about the design potential she has unearthed, Peleg concedes that 3D-printed fashion is still conceptual. “I don’t think that people mostly would like to wear rubber for daily life,” she told the Times of Israel. “But I’m sure these structures will look much nicer if we can do it from cotton. In a few years, the material that we can put into the machines will be polyester maybe, and then it will feel better.”
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Optimism Finds a Home
John Dooley

Crestwood Hills: The Chronicle of a Modern Utopia
By Cory Buckner
Angel City Press, $35

A long time ago, in the wake of World War II, Los Angeles appeared as a welcoming paradise for returning veterans and footloose others in search of new beginnings.

Jobs beckoned and commuting by car or transit was manageable. There was not yet heavy traffic or smog; there was only sunny days and the promise of suburbia—the good life.

The only thing missing was affordable housing. People slept in makeshift Quonset huts and tents in city parks, while lines to purchase new makeshift houses formed over night and snaked for blocks. Then, as now, city government expressed concern and did little.

Crestwood Hills: The Chronicle of a Modern Utopia by Cory Buckner tells the story of an optimistic approach to housing from the period, when four returning veterans who bonded as studio musicians decided to build a cluster of neighboring homes for themselves, sharing some common play space and a swimming pool.  Other musicians became interested, and the group, christened as the Mutual Housing Association (MHA), grew to 25, then 100, and after some publicity, to 500. People eagerly signed up, and by the end of 1946, with some bickering and conservative diatribes, Los Angeles had its first large-scale cooperative housing development.

Courtesy Angel City Press; John Dooley

As author—and not incidentally architect—Buckner astutely writes, the goal of the MHA was not to build tacky houses, but rather “innovative structures that could be erected simply and cheaply and that reflected the politically progressive visions of the founding members.”  A design team consisting of Whitney R. Smith, A. Quincy Jones, and Edgardo Contini was selected, and plans grew to include—in addition to the community swimming pool—tennis courts, nursery schools, and a cooperative market. In time, other architects became involved, retained by individual cooperative members with designated sites.

The living room of the Hamma House in Brentwood, a model of modern design guidelines.
Courtesy Crestwood Hills Archive

A hilly, raw 1,800-acre tract above then-rural Brentwood was purchased, and 350 lots were bulldozed. Construction began by 1950, despite a recalcitrant Federal Housing Administration (FHA) and its insistence on discriminatory race restrictions—supposedly meant to protect their investment, but eventually ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. Several members resigned from the MHA over this issue, which also undermined several similar efforts at the time in northern California.

The FHA also initially opposed the cooperative’s modernist design guidelines, which were based in part on LA’s famed Case Study Houses. Only a delegation of architects and others lobbying in Washington D.C. reversed that restriction, and today, despite the ravages of fires and insensitive owners, 47 remaining designs distinguish Crestwood Hills as a designated Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument.

Buckner, who with her late architect husband Nick Roberts restored three of the landmark homes, details the community’s architecture, aided by a wealth of photos and illustrations. The total is a rich history of a unique community that distinguishes Southern California’s oft-overlooked social and architectural heritage.

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Here's what happens when Zaha Hadid and Pharrell get together to design sneakers
From the strange bedfellows files: Musician Pharrell Williams has enlisted Zaha Hadid as a partner to rejuvenate a rather staid athletic shoe. The rubber toecap of Adidas' Superstar design has been remodeled by Hadid. The white version of the shoe features a fan-like 3D motif, while a raised pattern of dots and dashes decorates the black kicks. While AN doesn't pretend to dictate high fashion, we can definitely see pairing up Zaha's sneakers with Renzo Piano's Whitney handbag for an au courant look. The shoes are slated to be in stores August 7. Hadid and other notable architects are no strangers to the world of footwear design. Take a look at our past of architect-designed shoes here.
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Whitney Museum of American Art
The new Whitney in the Meat Packing District affords views of both the High Line and Hudson River from different perches and terraces.
Jeff Goldberg / ESTO

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.

Nic Lehoux

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.

Jeff Goldberg / ESTO
Nic Lehoux

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.

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Vestiges of Bohemian New York
Courtesy New York Studio School

The beloved Marcel Breuer headquarters for the Whitney Museum of American Art at Madison Avenue and 75th Street was in fact the institution’s third home since Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney founded it in 1931.

With the May 1 opening of a fourth, Renzo Piano–designed Whitney location at the southern Gansevoort Street source of the High Line (and with the Breuer building secure in the operating and contemporary curatorial hands of the Metropolitan Museum), the time is right to understand its architectural origins and creative pedigree.

Miss Vanderbilt grew up in what still holds the record as New York’s biggest residence: the 103-room 1893 Renaissance Revival house built for her father Cornelius II. It stood until 1925 on the Grand Army Plaza site that now features the Bergdorf Goodman flagship as opened in 1928, designed by the 20th century maverick Ely Jacques Kahn.


The Mansion was designed by the Beaux Arts trained architect George Browne Post, whose greatest surviving trace is the newly glistening, hipster-haven Williamsburgh Savings Bank at the foot of its name-sharing Bridge. (If still standing, the old Vanderbilt mansion could by birthright be home to great-grandson Anderson Cooper…)

As a wealthy self-defined bohemian and skilled sculptor, daughter Gertrude set out in 1907 for Greenwich Village, where she created her first studio in a former stable at 19 MacDougal Alley, the mews-like cul-de-sac between West 8th Street and Washington Square North. This first burst of gentrification was steadily followed by the acquisition of four 1830s Greek Revival brownstones, numbered 8 to 14 along West 8th Street proper, as well as the alleyway stables attached to each.

As her real estate footprint grew, so did her circle of fellow contemporary artists and the impulse to collect and display this collective accomplishment. The amalgamation of now interlaced buildings, which she started to call the Whitney Studio Club, set the stage. It was her home, her workplace, her personal kunsthalle, and a welcoming salon for artist friends often shunned elsewhere. Here was held, for example, the first exhibitions of John Sloane and Edward Hopper.


Perhaps of foremost initial design importance was her own personal sculpting studio built atop 19 MacDougal, conceived by her artistic fellow traveler, Robert Winthrop Chanler, as multi-media gesamtkunstwerk of painted bas-relief, decorated surfaces, and stained glass windows. (The Chanler Studio in particular has been on the World Monuments Fund’s renowned Watch List since 2012.)

When the by then Mrs. Vanderbilt Whitney’s offer to donate 700 contemporary artworks by Americans was refused by the Metropolitan Museum (Hopper? No thank you.), as well as soon after by the Euro-centric Museum of Modern Art, she created the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1931. Taking matters into her own hands, Gertrude launched it for the display and appreciation of contemporary art—the 20th-century up until then and proceeding onward. She did so with her long-time assistant, Juliana Force, recognized ever after as the Whitney Museum’s first director.

These two women—besides their art collecting—were also an important, unsung catalyst for modern interior design and the evenly-illuminated white cube aesthetic that still sets the standard of museums worldwide, even as they keep growing in scale and room-denying flexibility. This architecture unfolded in a warren of early 19th century domestic residential interiors with attached stables, whose generous volumes emerged with the removal of stalls and haylofts. The result helped foretell the formal future of museums, even as its historic role goes largely unnoticed today.


Mrs. Whitney and Ms. Force did so in partnership with the design team consisting first and foremost of her son-in-law, architect Auguste Noël, and his umlaut-free firm of Noel & Miller Architects. Like Jacques Kahn, this team was Beaux Arts trained, yielding to the classically descended vocabulary of art deco and especially its later offshoot, moderne, which heralded capital-M Modernism. They worked with a society interior designer of like urbanity, Bruce Buttfield.

In 1954, the Museum decamped for its second home, which was a building on West 54th Street just west of Philip Johnson’s reconfigured MoMA sculpture garden, west of where the Taniguchi’s Lewis B. and Dorothy Cullman Educational and Research Center stands today. It too was designed for the Whitney/Force duo by Philip Johnson, but it turned out the shadow of its ziggurat neighbor was too strong both physically and metaphorically and off they went to commission the great Breuer reverse juggernaut masterpiece, which opened in 1967 as an instant landmark on the Upper East Side. Contextual it was not.

It was at this time that the old Whitney Studio and Museum crucible on West 8th Street became the New York Studio School (NYSS), opening in the academic year 1964/65. Now at the half-century mark, this Whitney legacy holds a place as a leading independent school of fine art pedagogy grounded in the traditional atelier of life study and a rigorous pedagogy to provide the springboard for a professional career. It resolutely does so in the heart of Greenwich Village, existing today as a precious trace of New York’s first Bohemia on what is now a street undergoing rapid commercial and residential gentrification. Stepping inside, the visitor today discovers a fascinating palimpsest of the old townhouses and former stable voids altered as galleries with then-radical recessed bands of ceiling lights and moderne details of travertine floors, aluminum railings, and jazzy doorjamb thresholds. This glimpse of design modernism and its tie to American art of the 20th century as it prepared for global supremacy in the wake of World War II is a sort of secret cultural treasure, living and breathing still as a place for making art.

The Whitney’s return downtown brings it closer to home as still evident to the roving architectural eye. Take a look when next passing by.

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Michael Graves, 1934-2015
The Denver Public Library.
Courtesy Michael Graves Architectur & Design

He was a master of invention, and his ability to adapt propelled him to become not only a household name, but one of the most influential architects of his time. Over a 50-year career, he produced a body of work that both reflected and raised questions about the transitional era of which he was a part. In a global market increasingly driven by social media and visual imagery, he showed a way for architects and designers to distinguish themselves through branding, and to help their clients do the same.

Michael Graves.

Architect Michael Graves, who died on March 12 at 80, started as a wipe-the-slate-clean modernist but grew dissatisfied with the sterility of modern design and eventually embraced history and precedent as a way to add richness and meaning to architecture. He became one of America’s leading representatives of the architectural movement known as postmodernism. He was part of an early wave of “starchitects” who were recognized and won commissions because they had a distinctive, identifiable style. Some of Graves’ best work evinced a warmth and playfulness that echoed the exuberance of the 1980s and captivated clients, such as Michael Eisner at Disney.

Graves was equally well known for designing toasters, tea kettles, and other household products for manufacturers and retailers including Alessi, Target, and JCPenney. He promoted his designer housewares with such aplomb that he became as well known as the stores that stocked them. His showmanship helped pave the way for other celebrity designers to create product lines for retailers, including Martha Stewart for Macy’s, Diane von Furstenberg for GapKids, and Karl Lagerfeld for H&M.

Confined to a wheelchair for the last 12 years of his life due to a spinal cord infection, Graves reinvented himself as a “reluctant healthcare expert.” In that capacity, he focused on improving products and healing environments for the sick, the elderly, and the disabled, including America’s “wounded warriors” returning from military service.


In one area Graves did not change over time: As a Princeton University architecture professor for 39 years, during the advent of computer-aided design, he remained a staunch advocate of freehand drawing as the best way to think about and design buildings. His own lavish drawings and paintings offered a beguiling counterpoint to AutoCAD. He also refused to cede the job of designing building interiors to interior designers and space planners, preferring to design the whole building whenever possible.

Through it all Graves remained a strong willed provocateur and change agent, who gained an almost cult like following at Princeton and came to national prominence by questioning the status quo. Why can’t buildings be more welcoming? Why are hospitals so depressing? Why can’t good design be for everyone, at every scale? His timing was impeccable, in that he began his career at a time when modernism was no longer new and many architects were ready to explore other directions. Though he is associated with postmodernism, a label he resisted, Graves might more usefully be remembered as a proponent of humanistic design, an approach rooted firmly in the awareness and study of the human body, historic precedent, and context.


Graves became acquainted with the limelight early in his career, largely because of his education and connections. Born in Indianapolis in 1934, he studied architecture at the University of Cincinnati and Harvard University in the 1950s. He won the Rome Prize in 1960 and spent two years studying at the American Academy in Rome. After returning to the U.S., he began teaching at Princeton University in 1962 and founded his architecture practice in 1964. Early in his career, along with Richard Meier, John Hejduk, Charles Gwathmey, and Peter Eisenman, he was named one of the New York Five, a group of architects who adhered to modern design tenets. By the late 1970s, he had broken away from that approach and began designing buildings known for their color, ornament, and classicist forms.

Graves’ breakthrough project, and one that clearly signaled his shift away from modernism, was his competition–winning design for the 15-story Portland Municipal Services Building, which opened in 1982 and was considered the first major postmodern building in the United States. Colored in blue, green, salmon, and cream, and featuring ornamentation that some likened to gift wrapping on a holiday package, the building spoke in a new language for architecture and put Graves at the forefront of the postmodern movement, with which he was thereafter inextricably linked.

Over the course of his career, Graves designed more than 350 buildings around the world and more than 2,500 products. Besides the Portland Building, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2011, his portfolio included the Humana Building in Louisville, Kentucky, the Denver Public Library, the San Juan Capistrano Library in California; the Michael Eisner Building in Burbank, California for the Walt Disney Company, featuring the Seven Dwarves as caryatids; the Swan and Dolphin hotels for Disney in Orlando, Florida; and scaffolding for the Washington Monument while it was undergoing renovation. He drew widespread attention for his renovation of “The Warehouse,” his residence in Princeton. In the 1980s, he designed an expansion for the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City, but it drew strong opposition and was never built.

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Watch the Empire State Building put on a special light show in honor of the Whitney Museum's grand opening
The Empire State Building put on a special light show on May 1 to herald the official opening of the hotly anticipated Whitney Museum of American Art in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District designed by architect Renzo Piano. Lighting designer Marc Brickman programmed the building's LED tower lights to create a dynamic light show based on 12 iconic works from the museum’s collection, including masterpieces by Andy Warhol, Peter Halley, Georgia O’Keeffe, Edward Hopper, Barbara Kruger, and more. Starting from 8:00p.m., each of the 12 artworks were shown for 30 minutes, with the light show ending at 2:00 a.m. on May 2. Take a look at the show up above. Many of these works are also on view at the inaugural exhibition, America is Hard to See, which runs from May 1 through September 27, 2015. The new Whitney features a striking asymmetric design staggered gracefully away from the High Line. It contains a 170-seat theater facing the Hudson River, and New York City’s largest column-free exhibition space at 18,000 square feet. Located at 99 Gansevoort Street, it boasts stunning views of the Empire State Building from its four east-facing terraces. That same night, the Whitney held a special viewing and a lighting ceremony for invited guests and media. “We’re thrilled to see these incredible works from the Whitney’s collection interpreted on one of the most iconic buildings in the world—one that has been the subject of many an artist’s work,” said Donna De Salvo, Whitney Chief Curator and Deputy Director of Programs.