This past Thursday, Jailee took a break from the OHNY office to join Archtober’s tour of the building of the day: The Whitney Studio. This temporary 2-story structure was designed and built by LOT-EK and sits in the South sculpture garden, one floor below the ground level. The tour of the Whitney Studio was led by Ada Tolla, one of the principals of LOT-EK. Find out what Jailee learned on her visit to see this intriguing addition to the Whitney’s Upper East Side space.


Whitney Studio

As most readers probably know, the Whitney Museum of American Art will be moving soon to a new space in the Meatpacking District, just adjacent to the High Line. Because of the move, the museum has started to consolidate and has lost much of the space that they used for programming and studio art classes. The museum wanted to continue to provide these programs during the transition but needed a new space to do so.


The museum decided as opposed to renting space, they would like to create a new, temporary space to conduct their studio art classes. They needed it fast and they needed it to be as cost effective as possible. That’s when they contacted LOT-EK architects. The firm is well-known for re-purposing industrial materials, most notably shipping containers. The museum identified the south side of the sculpture garden located below ground level as a space that was under-utilized and asked LOT-EK to develop a design plan.


Ada Tolla explained to the tour group that the space measured about 24 feet by 21 feet. Since shipping containers come in two sizes – 20 feet long or 40 feet long – the architects immediately decided to use small sized containers for the structure. Because of the height of the available space, the architects also decided to create a 2-story structure. Therefore, the completed design consists of 6 shipping containers boxed together.


Another important requirement laid out by the museum was to not have a closed, boxed up space. They wanted the studio to create a dialogue with the building and visitors coming through the museum. To address this, the architects developed a diagonal cut through the containers with large glass panels color treated in yellow. This allowed the structure to have some transparency without creating what Tolla described as a “fish bowl effect.” The cut is oriented towards the museum (not towards the street) and also provides a skylight so as to let natural light into the studio.


Tolla talked about how much the firm adores the Whitney’s Marcel Breuer building. The architects felt that the cut harmonizes well  with the strong geometrical elements of Bruer’s modernist design. Tolla also mentioned how fabulous it is to view the Whitney Studio from the inside of the museum on the lower level with the repeated reflections of the distinctive light fixtures of the Breuer interior. And I have to agree!


Here is Tolla inside the Whitney Studio explaining the complicated process of installing the Whitney Studio. On Vimeo you can view a 3 minute video demonstrating how the project began and how it was installed. Much of the structure was pre-fabricated off-site and then installed at the museum over two weekends. Because the containers are a tight fit in the space, the installation required lowering two containers down at a time and then rolling them back into place. The interior was finished once the containers were in place. The inside was designed to be as functional as possible and all of the structure of the Whitney Studio is exposed.

On the top left of the photo above you can see some piping. Luckily for the architects, a utility closet is located just behind the Studio wall inside the museum. Therefore, the architects could easily tap into the electrical and water lines to service the temporary space.


The most impressive part of the project for me was the incredibly fast turn around. Tolla explained that the Whitney approached them beginning in October of 2011 and the installation began in February 2012. Wow! A contributing factor in the streamlining of the process was both the unseasonably nice winter, which allowed the architects to progress quickly as much of the construction was done outside, and also the Whitney’s large building project downtown. Since the Whitney was already involved with another project, they had the people in place to make quick decisions and to get fast approvals.


When asked what will be the fate of the Whitney Studio once the museum moves downtown, Tolla smiled and said that she is not sure but it has always been part of the plan to make sure that the Studio has a continued life, whether it stays with the Whitney, becomes part of the space used by the Metropolitan Museum (the Whitney Building will be run by the Met in 2015) or is given to another institution.

She coyly added that the small-scale model of the project (that you can see in the photo further above on the table) was designed in the same scale as the Renzo Piano model of the new museum building that the Whitney has put on display in hopes that the Whitney Studio might eventually be part of the museum’s new home.


The Whitney Studio can be viewed from the ground level street entrance of the museum and will be there at least until the Whitney Museum moves out of the space in 2015. After my tour, I forgot to ask if museum visitors can enter the Studio with museum admission but it seems as though they leave the door open as long as there are no classes taking place. Even if you just happen to be walking by, make sure to take a look!

The Whitney Studio
945 Madison Avenue at 75th Street


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