The New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York

Gensler cooperates with SANAA to realize innovative vision of museum architecture.

(Press release for Gensler architects, December 2006)

The highly anticipated New Museum for Contemporary Art, to open on Lower Manhattan's Bowery in the Fall of 2007, relies on Gensler's New York expertise, project management as well as experience in museum design.

- Gensler enabled Sanaa's vision of a flexible yet defined art space
- Sanaa relied on Gensler to maximize the limited exhibition space and maintain the museum's character of openness
- Gensler found the perfect façade-materials for Sanaa that would realize the architect's vision while conforming to budgetary constraints as well as building regulations

The New Museum of Contemporary Art, opening on the Bowery in the Fall of 2007, is likely to be the most notable and most exciting architectural project in Manhattan in this coming year. More than a year before its completion, the design by Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa of the Tokyo based firm Sanaa, is already being lauded by such important media as the New York Times and Vogue magazine as a radical and refreshing innovation of museum architecture. The New York Times calls it a "remarkable, sensitive exploration of the relationship between art, architecture and the human beings who animate them."

Gensler was retained to team with Sanaa as the executive local archtitect. Gensler helped Sanaa to bring in local experts and coordinate the cooperation with them, to meet construction codes and zoning regulations and to manage budgetary as well as spacial constraints. Florian Idenburg, one of Sanaa's architects working on the project out of Gensler's New York office, says the role of Gensler cannot be overstated: "The days when a single architect mastered an entire project are long gone. Architecture is an integrated effort and as far as I am concerned the New Museum is a project in which Sanaa and Gensler are equally involved."

When Sanaa began its work on the New Museum, Idenburg elaborates, Sanaa's design was still very undefined. "We only had two weeks to submit our proposal for the competition. It was only a point of departure for an exploration, which we have been embarked upon with our partners ever since." The original design was little more than the sketch of Sanaa's vision. Sanaa wanted to create a building resembling a stack of boxes. "The inside of a box", Florian Idenburg explains, "is the ultimate flexible space". And flexibility, Sanaa felt, was the single most important quality in a building exhibiting contemporary art.

According to Sanaa's philosophy, the exterior of a building is to mirror its interior: "We work from the inside to the outside", says Idenburg. The asymmetrical stacking of the boxes on the other hand implies that the New Museum aspires not only to provide a maximum of flexibility but at the same time lend the individual exhibition rooms a sense of definition – a quality that, according to Idenburg, museum curators seek.

Gensler played a pivotal in role in realizing this vision. The definition of the exhibition spaces is largely provided by the lighting. Light falls into the spaces through skylights that are, due to the asymmetry of the building, located in different places on each level, lending a different mood to each floor. Because of the New Museum's budget-constraints these skylights could not be built from glass. Gensler found the material, a synthetic polycarbonate that would produce the quality of light Sanaa was seeking while staying within the New Museum's budget.

Another important contribution of Gensler was the decorative rain screen of the façade. The material of the screen needed to be chosen in a way that produced the effects that Sanaa was seeking. It needed to be extremely strong while light, as well as rough on the surface, echoing the character of the Bowery. The galvanized zinc plate steel turned out to be the perfect solution, integrating the building into its environment of restaurant supply stores, where stainless steel is a prevalent material. Simultaneously, the material does not unify the building's front but keeps it lively. Sanaa's aesthetic vision requires that the surface of the building remains jagged and uneven all around, preserving the impression of stacked boxes in a consistent manner.

Furthermore Sanaa had no experience in constructing a museum in a dense urban context such as Manhattan's Lower East Side. Sanaa's previous museum buildings in Nagano, Wakayama, Kanazama or Toledo, Ohio are all freestanding. Gensler helped find the proper materials for the combustible walls separating the museum from its eclectic environment – a neighborhood, that the New Museum is expected to push forward decisively in its difficult process of transition.

Lastly Gensler was instrumental in minimizing the services core of the building and to maximize the openness and lightness of the exhibition space that Sanaa was seeking to create. Especially on the ground level the building is designed to be transparent, drawing people into the various activities inside from the street – a café, a shop, a seating area, an information desk. Together with Sanaa, Gensler found a solution for the services core that would create this effect.

Overall Sanaa found a partner in Gensler who brought a true dedication to collaboration and team work to the project. "Gensler", the managing principal architect of the project, Madelaine Burke-Vigeland says, "is very comfortable in its supporting role." An attitude that Sanaa as well as the New Museum deeply appreciate.

Also, Madelaine Burke-Vigeland has extensive experience in museum design. She has worked on the Clark Museum as well as on the exhibition space of Christie's at 10 Rockefeller Center. "The New Museum is not a classical institution and unique in many ways", says Burke-Vigeland. "But I think what we do bring into this from our previous experience is a true passion for and appreciation of art institutions and their work."

Go to top