Conceptual extension to Whitney Museum
of American Art by Axis Mundi


Axis Mundi Imagine a Different Whitney Downtown

New York architecture practice Axis Mundi have designed a conceptual extension to the Whitney Museum of American Art in Manhattan, featuring a giant lattice structure.

Axis Mundi Imagine a Different Whitney Downtown

The existing museum is a 1960s concrete building by Marcel Breuer and Axis Mundi claim the extension’s exposed concrete frame would be a continuation of Breuer's brutalist aesthetic.

Axis Mundi Imagine a Different Whitney Downtown

The extension would have an irregular floor plan configured around sight lines that look towards landmarks such as the Empire State Building.

Axis Mundi Imagine a Different Whitney Downtown

The floors would be suspended between the lattice structure without the need for interior columns.

Axis Mundi Imagine a Different Whitney Downtown

At street level a pathway would weave between an outdoor cafe, performance space, sculptures and up to a viewing platform overlooking the Hudson River.

Axis Mundi Imagine a Different Whitney Downtown

All illustrations are by Denise Pereira and Andy Vann.

Axis Mundi Imagine a Different Whitney Downtown

Click above for larger image.

All renders by Viviane Liao and Andy Vann.

Axis Mundi Imagine a Different Whitney Downtown

Click above for larger image.

Here's some more from the architects:

Architectural Provocateurs Axis Mundi Imagine a Different Whitney Downtown

New York architects Axis Mundi have re-imagined the Whitney Downtown Museum with a self-initiated proposal that is raw and provocative, and as bold in spirit as the original Breuer building on Madison Avenue.

In the early 1960’s, when Marcel Breuer received the commission for the Whitney, he asked "What should a museum look like, a museum in Manhattan? Surely it should work, it should fulfill its requirements, but what is its relationship to the New York landscape? What does it express, what is its architectural message?” He stated "It is easier to say first what it should not look like. It should not look like a business or office building, nor should it look like a place of light entertainment. Its form and its material should have identity and weight. It should be an independent and self-relying unit, exposed to history, and at the same time it should transform the vitality of the street into the sincerity and profundity of art."

With an intense sculptural presence, the Axis Mundi design represents an historical extension of the Whitney’s commitment to innovative architecture, much as its polygonal windows and raw surfaces pay homage to the original Breuer fenestration and its formal brutalism.

Axis Mundi Imagine a Different Whitney Downtown

Click above for larger image.

Invisible Sight Lines Organize Program

The site is located at the beginning of the High Line, at the intersection of Washington and Gansevoort Streets. Axis Mundi sought to ground the new building in a web of “historical axes” which form and organize the program. The plan is based on a series of sight lines extending to 10th Avenue, the Empire State Building, the Whitney on Madison, and the location of the original Whitney on West 10th Street.

Galleries Suspended in a Lattice

A desire for column-free galleries led the architects to create a perimeter superstructure to contain the staircases, escalators, elevators, and mechanical rooms. This structural lattice allows the galleries to float freely, suspended like bridges, unimpeded by a typical grid structure. The lattice allows light to flood the building in unexpected and dramatic ways, heightening the visitor’s perception of the artwork and the city.

Axis Mundi Imagine a Different Whitney Downtown

Click above for larger image.

Intermingling Urban Fabric

Maintaining vitality at street level and reducing the distance between the street and the art itself was an important consideration for the designers at Axis Mundi. Instead of designing a large vacant lobby, an informal intermingling of public and private space occurs on the street level plinth, creating a complex folding of the urban fabric. The plinth is populated by large-scale sculptures, an outdoor cafe bridge, an info kiosk, and a performance area. A continuous path, weaving in and out of the lattice structure, leads the visitor from the entrance ramp at the corner of Washington and Gansevoort up to the panoramic viewing deck, overlooking the Hudson River and the High Line.

John Beckmann, principal of Axis Mundi stated “We imagine the contemporary museum to be a dynamic environment - a space that is less a container and more of a conduit.”

Axis Mundi Imagine a Different Whitney Downtown

Click above for larger image.

Height: varies from 75 ft to 175 ft
Floors: 6 above (2 below)
Building Footprint: 39,000 square feet
Usable square footage: 195,000 square feet

Design Credits:
Design Team: John Beckmann, Andy Vann, Denise Pereira and Marielle Vargas
Renderings: Viviane Liao and Andy Vann
Illustrations + diagrams: Denise Pereira and Andy Vann

See also:


H2O by
Axis Mundi
Ark House
by Axis Mundi
Alternative Design for
MoMA Tower by Axis Mundi

Posted on Monday September 20th 2010 at 2:52 pm by Joe Mills. Copyright policy | Comments policy

  • Aligning windows to views of urban monuments that you may or may not be able to see! I bet quite a few first year architecture students are upset that some professional architect stole their project parti…

    • dhard


  • Tim

    A lot could be said pro or con a brutalist approach and exposed concrete. However, this is just a formalist approach with an unelegant outcome: it could be much more about the meaning or function of such a spatial lattice structure: how does it interact with the neighboring (existing) building, how does it interweave in the public realm – without any considerations for that, it's just a sculpture with some windows in it…

  • ddarch

    a very bad copy of the beijing birdsnest.

  • Alex

    Let's face it, Piano's design for the Whitney was a five minute scribble over lunch, and bottle of a expensive Barolo at Cipriani's – top-lite, large-scale assembled Meccanos. Did I mention Piano's chronic fetishization of craftsmanship, and the his buildings typical lack of context? Why does he always think he's designing the Parthenon?

    Renzo and the high-society old fogies at the Whitney should be embarrassed, so much for selecting a Pritzker Prize winning architect, blah.
    I'm glad that someone has taken them all to task. Bravo!

    • Droid

      wow and you think this is a better representation of what needs to go there?Talk about lack of context, scale, conceptual clarity, and intellectural thinking.

      Anyone can poop something like this to the internet

  • Daring

    I like that people are trying to keep the herzog and de meuren stadium thing going…

  • najoo

    a nice step further

  • newfishingnet

    A squarish version of the Beijing bird nest basically….

  • Lukas

    Is this really what the world needs?

  • bubble

    Looks like a brain explosion of a character infinetly stuck in "Inception". Let's hope nightmares do not always come true.

  • Slater

    How about showing the context to the Marcel Breuer building? I'd think that you wouldn't want to totally try to out do the building you are expanding upon but rather to compliment it in some subtle way. I'm not saying to recreate it or even follow some of the cues from it, just to find some cohesion between the two buildings.


    Lines of extension taken to a regurgitating point. There's no safe place to rest one's eye unless you're looking AWAY.
    Status: FAIL.

  • Chr

    Ah yes, the firm responsible for suggesting their own "better" design for the MoMA tower, in lieu of Nouvel's. One can't make a career of stealing the formal signatures of starchitects. Look at their website: Nouvel himself, H and deM, Libeskind, Zaha, and Diller + Scofidio should contact their attorneys ASAP…

  • e.n.d.s.

    anyone know what kinda of modeling and rendering software they used to create these images?


      looks like Maxwell.

  • Who cut a slice out from the Bird’s Nest?

  • Gab Xiao

    One could hardly consider this scheme 'conceptual' when architects like Daniel Libeskind has been selling away same heaps of tilted concrete graters for years…

    Does this project reflect any spatial novelty in museum design or Whitney Museum's conceptual doctrine at all?

  • Jonathan

    Oy. Trouble from the moment they call themselves provocateurs.

  • arquiteto

    this is expensive, hard to do, do not talk with the place, and it is a copy concept.
    to hell with this kind of "architecture"… I got sick to see it .

  • Lot’s ol lock

    I don’t know what’s in the kool-aid @ axis mundi – but can you send some to me?

  • Herrmann

    looks like a shack-collage to me.

  • JuiceMajor

    OMG…this is like the birth child of Toyo Ito's Serpentine Gallery pavillion and H&dM Olympic Stadium…why is Dezeen publishing crap like this?

    P/s Bet this comment won't get publish. I win!

  • Simon

    Is it me or does it look dated already?

  • archandy

    Agreed Simon. This will NOT age well. Its trying too much.

  • beb

    Apparently a 'self-initiated' project, ie. no program to consider. So why on earth have they produced this? I don't believe anybody is an architect at that company.

  • DSN

    Does anyone realize that we are living in boring times, especially when it comes to the built environment. Visual and cultural adventure in the high streets of New York City was crushed in the last three decades and reduced it to a 'Little Leningrad' of similar styled, high rise apartment buildings, all from the same developers, drab money crunching machine. This Mundi will not be built, at least not right now, and it is full of doubt and youthful glee. But at least it has some thought behind it and actually could be a fun place to visit, in this young "tamed" town.

  • Erik

    Quite daring to design a building in NY that looks like the collapsed Twin Towers…

  • kdv

    the amount of concrete, and the thickness, in the balloon animal sculpture rendering is horrific.

  • yes we live in the age of provocative imagery. even ideas with tremendous potential are dealt with in the most transient way. this is a pity. i cant imagine this building in ny. breuers brutalism was poetic , this brutalism is simply…..brutish