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Whitney Lovefest at City Planning Commission Hearing

Renzo Piano’s wood model for the new Downtown Whitney, displayed at today’s City Planning Commission public hearing.

Whitney Museum’s director, Adam Weinberg, explains the architecture.

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The model is wisked back into its crate before I can get a decent shot.

Cross-section of proposed Downtown Whitney. Top three galleries are for permanent collection. Gallery below them (18,000 square feet) is for temporary exhibitions. Terraces provide 15,000 square feet of outdoor gallery space. Ground level—with café, restaurant and gallery space—will be open free to the public.

What a difference a site makes.

I’ve been to a lot of city government hearings related to cultural construction projects, but I’ve never been to one where the project is unreservedly embraced, with no one raising a serious concern or objection. The rule in this town is you can’t put a spade in the ground without stirring up opposition…

…except for the Renzo Piano-designed six-floor, 185,000-square-foot Downtown Whitney project.

I attended today’s City Planning Commission hearing, where the commissioners, community board representative, borough president’s representative, neighborhood activists, and administrators for the High Line (the $170-million park under construction on Manhattan’s West Side, just north of the proposed Whitney) all lauded the project, as well the sensitivity of Whitney officials and, in particular, its director, Adam Weinberg, in addressing community concerns.

This was in marked contrast to the Board of Standards and Appeals hearing (here and here) for the aborted expansion of the Whitney at its Madison Avenue site.

Weinberg told the commissioners that he would probably know more about the composition of the skin of the building in September. It will likely be a matte, off-white metal surface (shades of Piano’s Morgan Library & Museum addition) or a rough stone surface (NY Times architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff’s material-of-choice).

Weinberg also took a jab at the building that the Whitney now calls home:

As much as I love the Breuer building, the darkness of it and the moat scare people who think there are alligators and not art in there.

No wonder Leonard Lauder had to secure an ironclad guarantee!

One thing I hadn’t previously heard is that Piano will design (and the Whitney will build for the Parks & Recreation Department, at the city’s expense) a 26,000-square-foot, four-floor Maintenance and Operations building for the High Line, which will adjoin the new Whitney building. It will include an elevator from street level to the High Line’s elevated promenade, which will be used to transport material up and garbage down.

But what will likely be the most architecturally distinguished M & O building in the city won’t be anywhere near completion when the High Line is ready: The park’s opening is expected to take place this winter. The Whitney doesn’t even plan to break ground until next spring. For now, the work of the future elevator is being done by construction cranes. (For more details on the High Line’s final design for its first phase, presented last week, go to Sewell Chan‘s  NY Times report.)

Jeff Levine, the Whitney’s chief marketing and communications officer, told me that he could not release professional photos of the Piano’s wood model. It will be exhibited at the Whitney some time in the future, he said. But I managed to snap some amateur shots (above) at the hearing. (Where’s Ed Lifson when I really need him?)

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