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Inside Marcel Breuer’s Iconic Madison Avenue Building, Now a Met Museum Outpost

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Once home to the Whitney Museum, the Brutalist building will now serve as the Met's home for modern and contemporary art

The iconic Marcel Breuer designed building on the Upper East Side will make its debut at the Met Breuer Museum, the Met's contemporary and modern art wing, on March 18.
The iconic Marcel Breuer designed building on the Upper East Side will make its debut at the Met Breuer Museum, the Met's contemporary and modern art wing, on March 18.
All photos by Max Touhey for Curbed.

In just a few weeks, the Met Breuer—otherwise known as the old Whitney Museum building on the Upper East Side—will open its doors to the public. On Tuesday, Curbed got an sneak peek at the Metropolitan Museum of Art's takeover of the building, and the establishment of the space as the Met's home for modern and contemporary art, as part of a press preview.

"This is a very exciting, new chapter for the Met," Met CEO Thomas P. Campbell said at the preview. "It's been a long journey, but the reopening of this museum is significant for the city. We want to reactivate this space with a new curatorial spirit, and the restoration pays homage to Marcel Breuer and one of the most iconic and influential pieces of Modernist architecture."

The architects replaced the bulbs for this iconic light fixture in the lobby with LED lights to be more environmentally conscious.

When it acquired the space, the Met collaborated with the Whitney and chose to restore the building to its roots, as designed by celebrated Bauhaus architect Marcel Breuer (along with Hamilton P. Smith), after whom the Museum is now named. The Whitney continues to own the building, and the partnership allows the Met to use the space for the next eight years.

The coffered ceiling like the one pictured here is a theme that runs through all the floors, but the ground and lower level.

Beyer Blinder Belle, an architecture firm known for its work in historic preservation, was brought on to restore the building, which first opened its doors in 1966.

"Working on this project was similar to working on a piece of art," John Beyer, one of the founding partners of the firm, told Curbed. "We spent a long time researching Breuer, and his other works apart from this building. The goal was to be extremely careful and gentle, and not over restore the structure."

The newly created landscaped garden can be seen in the distance on the right. It will sit right across from the Estela Breuer.

The restoration specifically focused on cleaning and repair work as most of the building was already in great condition. The bluestone floors were re-waxed, and other touch-ups were carried out on the bush-hammered concrete surfaces, the wooden handrails, the bronze fixtures, and most notably replacing the lights in the iconic lobby with environmentally-friendly LED bulbs.

A sunken garden included in the original plan for the museum building was created by landscape architect Günther Vogt. Another new addition is the large electronic screen as you enter the lobby that gives you details on the current exhibits and shows.

Part of the restoration included polishing the wood on the staircase railings. However part of the staircase leading to the lower level from the lobby has been left untouched as a nod to the people who have come and gone through the building over the years.

The lower level will also be home to a restaurant, the Estela Breuer (the second location for the popular Nolita establishment), come this summer. As of the now, the five-story building has a pop-up shop run by Blue Bottle Coffee on the fifth floor.

The Met Breuer will open to the public on March 18 this year. The museum's inaugural season will include a series of visual arts and performances including newly commissioned architectural photos of four Marcel Breuer-designed buildings. The exhibit, titled Inhabiting Marcel Breuer's Architecture opens in November.

The Met Breuer

945 Madison Avenue, Manhattan, NY 10021 (212) 731-1675 Visit Website