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Neighbors cry foul over Whitney expansion plan.

The Whitney Museum of American Art may have to put up a fight to expand its space on Madison Avenue, if their more than 600 neighbors have their way.

The residents who oppose the expansion that would require the demolition of two 19th Century brownstones and the alteration of five additional buildings met with the City's Landmark Preservation Committee last week along with museum officials.

The museum needs the approval of the commission to begin the plan it announced last November to raze or alter the buildings it has owned since the early 1980s.

But residents say the proposed expansion is too high for the neighboring buildings.

Museum officials contend that Renzo Piano's design maintains the individual architectural identities of the Whitney's existing buildings including its Marcel Breuer-designed flagship building, four storefront buildings on Madison Avenue and two townhouse office buildings on East 74th Street.

A new structure will sit within the brownstones, integrated into the mixed residential commercial neighborhood.

The design, says Piano, is scaled to the residential buildings on Manhattan's Upper East Side, and that the expansion will simultaneously provide a sense of architectural evolution and historical continuity while strengthening the Whitney's role as a vital cultural and civic center that contributes to the neighborhood.

"It does not want to be a gigantic museum, it wants to remain intimate," said Piano. "We have designed an extension that is mindful of the Whitney's size and of its environment. We don't want the proportions of the new building to be overbearing. It isn't about making the Whitney big, it is about giving it the space it needs to present its collection and operate effectively."

The project is to add new space for galleries and education programs, an auditorium, and research center--including a conservation laboratory, a works on paper study room and a library. It will also create retail and restaurant amenities as well as administrative offices within the footprint of the existing Whitney facilities.

The project will solve the Museum's long-term critical need for space for its permanent collection, special exhibitions and programs, and enhance the visitor experience throughout the entire museum.

The Landmarks Preservation Commission will meet again next month with officials from the museum to discuss possible alterations to the expansion plan.
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Title Annotation:Construction & Design; Whitney Museum of American Art
Author:Nelson, Barbara
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Geographic Code:1U2NY
Date:Mar 23, 2005
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