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Whitney Downtown Is Taking No Chances With Future Floods

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When Hurricane Sandy hit last October, the construction site of the new Whitney Museum filled with 6.5 million gallons of water. Thankfully, work hadn't progressed that far, and museum officials realized they needed to rethink their plans to incorporate some serious flood protection measures in the Renzo Piano-designed building. During a construction tour yesterday, the Times got the rundown on all of these features, which museum director Adam D. Weinberg says make the building able to "withstand far beyond what happened in Sandy."

Given that the river is just a block away, the museum had already taken some precautions. Instead of putting its art handling in the basement like most institutions, it's located on the fifth floor, some 60 feet above the lobby. ("If the water comes up that high," said Weinberg, "I'm sure Manhattan is gone. And we'll have a lot more to worry about than art.") To create the more intense means of protection, the Whitney enlisted German firm WTM, experts in storm modeling, who partnered with the Franzius Institute at Hanover University. The team created a system that sounds like the Whitney would emerge unscathed from a nuclear bomb, let alone the next flood.

The museum will have an aluminum and steel barrier that can be quickly assembled around the perimeter, and the entire northern glass wall will be waterproof. The loading dock and west entrance will have watertight doors, created by the same folks who build watertight hatches for the Canadian Coast Guard and offshore oil rigs. To cover costs, the Whitney upped its capital funding goal by $40 million to $760 million. About $20 million of that will pay for the flood protection, while the other $20 million is a cushion for unforeseen costs.

Opening sometime in 2015, the museum will hold 63,000 square feet of exhibition space, including four outdoor terraces and the largest column-free exhibit space in the city. The ground level will be open to the public with a free gallery, a cafe, and a Danny Meyer-run restaurant. Given that the Whitney will be one of the most flood-proofed buildings in the city, perhaps the museum should consider hosting stay-dry-and-safe-and-see-some-art events during the next storm.
· One Eye on Art, the Other on Water [NYT]
· Whitney Downtown coverage [Curbed]
Photo by Marco Anelli via Whitney Museum