We’ve built you a better ArchDaily. Learn more and let us know what you think. Send us your feedback »

Renzo Piano on the Whitney Museum and the Value of Public Space

Throughout his career, Renzo Piano has designed dozens of museum buildings becoming the most prolific museum designer of our time. Yet, it has been some time since one of his designs has been as widely discussed and analyzed as his latest, the Whitney Museum in New York. In this interview, originally published on The Value of Architecture as "A House for Freedom: an Interview with Renzo Piano," David Plick speaks with Piano about the many inspirations of the Whitney Museum, from the previous Whitney Museum by Marcel Breuer to the neighboring High Line, the city on one side and the river on the other.

Renzo Piano is the great champion of public space. Whether the visitors and citizens of the city are aware of it or not, he improves their quality of life by sharing with them a living space designed specifically for the cultivation and dispersion of ideas and the enrichment of civic life. He’s the architect who cares about the individual’s experience of a building, who cares about how people interact with the space, and how the space then interacts with the world. At the Whitney Museum of American Art, much like the Centre Pompidou, or Beaubourg as he would say, he showed this by including a large area in front—a “piazza” he calls it—for people to meet, congregate, chat, and even loiter. He’s somehow simultaneously innovative and selfless. And because of this, he can masterfully fuse form and function, creating beauty for himself because he loves it and thinks it will save people, yet it all means nothing to him if he can’t share in this emotion with others.

The Relationship between the Whitney Museum and the Southern End of the High Line. Image © Nic Lehoux © Nic Lehoux © Nic Lehoux © Nic Lehoux

Video: Renzo Piano Reveals the Story Behind the Whitney Museum on Charlie Rose

Said to be the most long-awaited museum of the 21st century, the new Whitney Museum of American Art by Renzo Piano officially opened its doors in New York this May after a 30 year endeavor to expand its capacity. An unusual scenario, Charlie Rose sat down with Piano and the museum's director Adam Weinberg to discuss the "remarkable story" behind the expansion and how its design incorporates, what Piano believes to be, seven elements that represent the essence of architecture: social life, urbanity, invention, construction, technology, poetry and light.

We've provided a clip of the talk above. Watch the full 30-minute discussion, after the break. 

Renzo Piano Designs New Handbag Inspired by the Whitney Museum

Renzo Piano has designed a limited-edition handbag for the Italian fashion brand Max Mara to match his newly completed Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. The leather, top-handle bag, inspired by the "pure design and sophisticated materials" of the Whitney, features distinct ribbing inspired by the museum's facade.

"Our aim was to apply one of the most characteristic elements of the museum project - the facade - to the bag: hence the idea of the modular strips enveloping the exterior," said Piano in an interview with Max Mara. "We tried to maintain a simple, pure design, working only on the details by applying a creative use of technology and placing the accent on respect for the materials."

Critical Round-Up: Renzo Piano's Whitney Museum

Depending on how you measure it, Renzo Piano's new building for the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York (designed in collaboration with New York practice Cooper Robertson) could be the most long-awaited museum of the 21st century. At just a fraction under seven years since the first designs of the building were released, the incubation period has been long enough on its own - but in fact the project has its roots in a scrapped 1981 design by Michael Graves, when the Whitney was instead planning an extension to their previous home in Marcel Breuer's 1966 masterpiece on Madison Avenue. With such a highly anticipated building, the Whitney could hardly have a better man for the job; Piano is one of the most prodigious museum builders of our time. Yet despite this, since construction began in 2011 the design has been beset by criticism for its ungainly external appearance.

Ahead of the Whitney's grand opening on May 1st, this past Sunday saw a slew of reviews from New York's many reputable art and architecture critics, who attempted to make sense of the institution's long-overdue move from their idiosyncratic but endearing former home. We've rounded up some of the best of them, after the break.

© Flickr CC user Payton Chung © Flickr CC user Steven Severinghaus © Flickr CC user Steven Severinghaus © Flickr CC user Bill Benzon

Piano's Progress

© Renzo Piano Building Workshop
© Renzo Piano Building Workshop

In honor of Renzo Piano’s 75th (gasp!) birthday, we offer an update on his latest projects.  The septuagenarian has several large-scale works in various stages of construction scattered across the world, and has celebrated the opening of others within this past year.  While we have been continuously following the conceptualization, construction and completion of the Shard, Renzo’s talent is sweeping across major cities both in the States and Europe, including: a satellite museum in New York; a cultural hub for Athens; an urban cultural catalyst for Santander, Spain; an interior renovation for Los Angeles; a recently completed museum wing for Boston; plus, a redeveloped brownfield site turned science center for Trento, Italy.  No matter the project location, scale, or program, Piano’s  ability to craft an architecture with a sense of lightness, strong attention to detail and overall aesthetic elegance sets him in a very particular category of the profession. So, here’s to a happy 75th and 75 more years of great architecture, Renzo! More after the break.

Whitney Museum Groundbreaking Celebration

© Renzo Piano Building Workshop in collaboration with Cooper, Robertson & Partners
© Renzo Piano Building Workshop in collaboration with Cooper, Robertson & Partners

On May 24th the Whitney Museum of American Art will break ground on a 200,000 sqf facility, designed by Pritzker Prize–winning architect Renzo Piano. Located in the Meatpacking District adjacent to the southern entrance to the High Line, the building will provide the Whitney with essential new space for its collection, exhibitions, and education and performing arts programs in one of New York’s most vibrant neighborhoods. To celebrate this historic moment for the Museum, from May 19 to 27 they will host a series of events, programs, performances, and public art initiatives.  A special Community Day on Saturday May 21st will feature a variety of activities free and open to the public. The invitation only ground breaking event begins at 11 am (doors open at 10:30 am) and will include appearances by Adam D. Weinberg, the Whitney’s Alice Pratt Brown Director, architect Renzo Piano, as well as the Whitney’s Board of Trustees and city officials, friends, artists, and other supporters. Special performances by Elizabeth Streb and the STREB Extreme Action Company and So Percussion. The Whitney Museum of American Art’s new building is anticipated to open in 2015. More information can be found here.

Update: Satellite Whitney Museum / Renzo Piano

During the summer months, Renzo Piano’s satellite design for the Whitney was in the midst of juggling a touch combination of obstacles (as we reported earlier) – the economic downturn, pressure from the community and of course, the indecisiveness of the museum board. Piano had been redesigning his original vision – a stone clad museum which floated above a glass lobby – to lower construction costs. After selling property, including six brownstones on Madison Avenue and two on 74th Street, for an estimated $100 million, the Whitney has raised $475 million of its $680 million goal. Finally, the expansion – an idea which has been 25 years in the making – will breakground on the 24th of May. More about the updated museum after the break.

Alternative to Piano's Whitney Museum / Axis Mundi

© Axis Mundi
© Axis Mundi

Axis Mundi … remember that firm?  Back when controversy surrounded Jean Nouvel’s proposed tower for the MoMA’s expansion, the firm offered an alternative stacked design highly different from Nouvel’s metallic creation. It seems  Axis Mundi is back for the shock value as the firm has just released images for their version of the new Whitney Museum of American Art.    The current design, led by Renzo Piano, utilizes his characteristically light and technical aesthetics (check out his Shard which is under construction) to create an elegant addition critics have challenge may be too “timid” – Axis Mundi’s design is anything but.  Their proposal incorporates a loud exoskeleton that not only seems completely out of scale, but also fights with its neighborhood for attention rather than settling into its context.   The geometry, which has been shaped by the sight lines and street grid of the city, intends to reference Breuer’s Whitney on Madison Avenue.   As The Architect’s Newspaper Blog noted, the proposal mentions nothing of cost – one of the biggest obstacles Piano is facing. Check out more images of Axis Mundi’s proposal after the break.