In the heart of New York’s Meatpacking district in Southwest Manhattan, the new building of the Whitney Museum of American Art stands majestically.

50,000 square feet of indoor galleries, 13,000 square feet of outdoor exhibition space wand a $680 million budget; the Museum dedicated to American art opened its doors at the beginning of 2015 with First Lady Michelle Obama giving the inaugural speech. Italian architect, Renzo Piano, is the mind behind this monumental project, which, not only aims at housing a collection of over 18,000 artworks from all media, but also intends to protect them from storms, climate change and other natural catastrophes such as Hurricane Sandy, which slammed into New York in October, 2012.

First Lady Michelle Obama giving the inaugural speech at New Whitney Museum

First Lady Michelle Obama giving the inaugural speech at New Whitney Museum

The Whitney Museum of American Art was founded in 1914, thanks to the initiative of sculptor Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, who established the Whitney Studio in Greenwich Village in an attempt to help Avant-guard American artists gain recognition; the museum changed location several times until 1963 when it settled at Madison Avenue and 75th street. The 20th of October 2014 was the last day of the Whitney’s residence there; on May 1st 2015, the new building was inaugurated with a gala opening in 99 Gansevoort Street.

The impressive new structure resembles a space shuttle about to launch – however, architect Renzo Piano assures us that, due to its massive weight (28,000 tons), it will not take off. The new Whitney is divided on eight floors with works of art by 3000 American artists that span a time frame of almost two centuries; not only is it possible to visit the inside galleries, but there are also outside terraces where visitors can enjoy Manhattan’s remarkable skyline.

Not surprisingly, the most amazing feature of this building is its flood-proof structure that can protect the works of art from natural disasters such as Hurricane Sandy, which caused a five million gallon flood in that precise location. A 15,500-pound door has been installed, and the lobby has been constructed 10 feet above sea level as well as a 500-foot long mobile wall that can be erected in seven hours. According to Kevin Shorn, one of the assistants of Renzo Piano, most buildings being constructed now require the same protection as submarines.

It seems as if the architects of the Whitney have taken the debate over climate change one step forward and made a meaningful statement. The affluence has been quite impressive also due to the excellent location: the Meatpacking District is one of the most sought-after tourist destinations together with the High Line, a park built on a historic elevated rail line in the Chelsea neighborhood.

Will the New Whitney surpass the MOMA as far as the “must-see museum” goes?

Deborah Galante


Cover image: Credits Whitney Museum

This post is also available in: Italian