Situated between New York City’s High Line linear park and the Hudson River, the Whitney Museum’s new 220,000 square feet (20,400 meters squared) precast concrete and glass facility is now home to the most expansive display of modern and contemporary American art in the country. The new building is as attractive as the art that it houses inside.
Clad in pale blue-grey enamel steel panels, the eight-story structure is demonstrably asymmetrical, with a series of terraces that step back from the adjacent elevated park. The design is organized around galleries on the south side, support spaces on the north, and an exposed precast concrete core running through the middle that contains vertical circulation and mechanical ducts. “From very early on in the design process, there was a desire to architecturally express the building’s central ‘spine’ distinctly from the volumes on either side,” says Elisabetta Trezzani, partner-in-charge from the Renzo Piano Building Workshop, the design architect for the project.
The ability to limit expensive field labor in New York was also a contributing factor in choosing precast concrete over cast-in-place concrete. Containing all of the vertical circulation and mechanical shafts, the spine of the building presented a challenge for designers. “It had to fit in the project site while still allowing ample room for the galleries and support spaces,” she says. “The use of thin precast concrete panels as cladding not only expressed the idea of the central core but also saved significant space over the alternative option of cast-in-place concrete.”
By combining the precast concrete panels with closed cell polyurethane foamed-in-place insulation and a double- silicone seal between panel joints, the design team was able to also deliver a high-performance system that responds to the strict interior temperature and humidity requirements of the museum, adds Christopher Payne, project architect from Cooper Robertson. “The durable finish of the concrete will be long-lasting and low-maintenance for the museum over the life of the building.”
Stabilized laterally by the concrete core, the building uses a steel frame for vertical loads and required cross-bracing only at the southwest corner. The facade features a combination of architectural precast concrete panels and a steel-plate-clad unitized curtain wall system, which are hung from the top of each panel and pinned at the bottom. “Using a similar structural support system for the precast concrete panels allowed both wall types to move similarly, thereby eliminating potential complex and unsightly differential movement joints,” explains Scott Newman, partner-in-charge from Cooper Robertson, the executive architect for the project. “This would not have been possible with cast-in-place concrete.”
These systems typically consist of stainless steel bolts that project a half in. (13 mm) off the face of the building to which crews tether a lanyard to lock in, level, and stabilize a platform. The team took that idea and created a denser pattern of anchors that could also be used to accommodate art installation, Newman says, noting that it further adds to the artistic beauty and functionality of this structure. “When the threaded inserts are exposed, they add visual texture and sparkle in the sunlight, adding another level of detail to the building.”