On a recent Sunday afternoon, my friend and I were having brunch in the Meatpacking district and discussing our favorite architects and their buildings, such as the Pompidou in Paris, Tadao Ando’s buildings in Japan, and, of course, Calatrava’s new building in downtown NYC. We then decided to go to the Whitney, a 5 minute walk from where we were.
This was exciting for both of us, as we hadn’t found the time to visit the new Whitney since it opened in 2015. On the way over, we discussed Renzo Piano’s amazing projects, such as the masterplan for Potsdamer Platz in Berlin and the New York Times building, among others.
Once we arrived at the Whitney, the line was manageable and the ticket purchase was pretty easy, but nevertheless, we were surprised by how few ticket stations were open on a Sunday afternoon. After buying our tickets, our excitement began to wane, eventually dwindling down to “not worth it.” 🙁
We started on the 8th floor, where the Alexander Calder exhibit was on display. Only 3 public elevators and 1 service elevator were operating (the service elevator ended up being our favorite, as it’s super fancy!), plus no public staircases were usable except for an emergency staircase and an outer staircase from floors 8 to 5!
This created a super annoying bottleneck effect, with people confused and upset about the museum’s very unhelpful navigation system.
Then, the Calder show turned out to be a big letdown, as there were far too many pieces cramped into the tiny, poorly-lit space with clashing blue walls.
The museum’s flow was also off, as there were no orientation areas with clear, directional signs as to where to go next after being “dumped off” the elevators. The cafe/bar space also felt a bit odd, as it was unclear whether it was part of the Calder’s exhibit or not. There was a weird space planning vibe on the 8th floor that seemed poorly thought out (or was a last minute fix/change). I couldn’t help wondering, did a last minute bar/restaurant deal fall though, leaving the 8th floor to become a bar/restaurant/exhibit space that no one seems to understand and is hard to get to?
I’m not sure what to say, but one quick fix would be to move the 8th floor restaurant to the ground floor as a bar and snack area to serve as the “overflow” (or overbooked exhibits), thus rescuing the unsuccessful, untitled restaurant on the ground floor. This would make visitors aware of the museum’s services and give them the opportunity to stop in before or after visiting the exhibits. There is plenty of space in the ground floor area, and if needed, the gift shop could become a gift stand, similar to those in airports. Honestly, I didn’t see anyone exiting the packed freight elevator and entering the gift shop on the way out. This is a pity, of course, but consumers shop differently than they did 5-10 years ago—myself included.
The directional signage needs to be a lot clearer at elevator exit points and inside the exhibits.
Staircases need to be re-worked in order to better guide visitors to the staircases. Making them more visible by tearing down some walls and replacing them with glass walls might help.
Last, but not least, change the lighting system: proper lighting is necessary to clearly illuminate any artist’s work. You want to make sure that visitors get the best view of the art on display, and therefore you should spend more dollars on the lighting system rather than the fancy painted freight elevator (though again, I thought it was the best part of my visit along with the staircase—once I found it ;-).