At Tuesday’s public hearing on its expansion plans, the Whitney Museum submitted these supportive comments from Hamilton Smith, who was Marcel Breuer‘s associate architect for the museum’s 1966 building:
[Renzo] Piano‘s design concept neither engulfs nor overshadows the original Breuer Building. Equally important, the main element of the expansion—five gallery floors set back behind the preserved contributing brownstones—creates an expressive interplay between the three elements: original 1966, now proposed, and the historic.
…Original and new contruction do not have contact, are separated by skylit open space and are connected by glazed bridges at each level. This concept comes across to me as an unusually sensitive solution.
…The exterior finish for the new gallery wing is proposed to be matte-finished, stainless-steel alloy panels, affording a quality of relative lightness, rather than of masonry weight. This too comes across to me as sensitive response, being in contrast to the original Whitney’s granite facing and the old brownstone of the rowhouses.
You can count on Piano to be sensitive and tasteful (and, lately, to include a plaza—no, make that “piazza”—as an essential part of any museum expansion). But am I parochial in thinking that a museum known for displaying edgy American art might have sought to engage an edgy American architectural firm? Where are Diller+Scofidio (the subjects of a 2003 Whitney retrospective) when we need them? (at the Boston ICA, actually) Then again, if things got too audaciously inventive on Madison Avenue, imagine what the neighbors would say!