Whitney Museum of American Art Conservation Lab, New York, N.Y.

Size: 2,600 sf

Project Team: Cooper Robertson, in collaboration with Renzo Piano Building Workshop

Description: The Whitney conservation lab was designed to be both a treatment and a research center, and serves three specific activities—painting, objects (including sculpture) and paper conservation—in an expansive and open volume space. The programmatic idea of a single, shared lab supports the museum’s philosophy, allows for the efficient use of space, maximizes proximity requirements and facilitates the sharing of custom equipment.

“Everybody who walks in here feels that this space is an endorsement of the importance of conservation,” noted Carol Mancusi-Ungaro, who leads the Whitney conservation department.

The lab is conceived as semi-public suite and affords partial views from the adjacent galleries, as well as from the High Line park, which underscores the new position of the department within the building and the institution at large. It is open to scholars by appointment.

The lab is well-served with abundant north light via tall glazing with integral ultraviolet filtration, and motorized glare, diffusion and blackout shades. Ceiling heights, lighting conditions, wall finishes and wood flooring duplicate gallery conditions. Much of the lab equipment and fittings are flexible in terms of location and may be reconfigured to suit the various special needs of the art at hand. “One of the thought-provoking challenges presented by the conservation lab furnishings is that while some of the component parts may be found in disparate catalog sources, they must be pieced together in unlikely assemblies in order to create flexible tools for the treatment and study of art,” adds Cooper Robertson architect Greg Weithman.

All millwork is custom-designed to suit the particular methods and preferences of the conservators. The department includes a photography documentation room to record the treatment process at various intervals for historic purposes.

Importantly, the lab, including its paper conservation component, is located directly adjacent to the Works on Paper Study Center and Collection Storage areas. Works on paper comprise roughly two-thirds of the Whitney’s permanent collection. The Study Center space is also used to evaluate works of art that are candidates for acquisition.

Completion Date: May 2015

Contact: Brandon Zwagerman,