Whitney Museum of American Art Achieves LEED Gold Certification
06 June 2017

The Whitney Museum of American Art, designed by Renzo Piano Building Workshop in collaboration with Cooper Robertson, has been awarded a LEED BD+C New Construction Gold Certification by the U.S. Green Building Council, making it only the second museum facility in New York City to achieve a Gold rating. In the spirit of the Whitney’s commitment to sustainability, a number of green design features are integrated into the new building, including advanced approaches to mechanical, electrical and plumbing plant infrastructure, exterior envelope performance, and interior controls.


The building contains a cogeneration plant with a reciprocating cogeneration engine at 75KW, utilizing the by-product of electricity generation for heat. The cogeneration plant operates year-round and at all hours, with an electrical generator efficiency of 29% and the thermal efficiency of 54.86%. An enthalpy economizer and VAV system for the galleries, auditorium and offices supplies free cooling when outdoor conditions allow. Variable Air Volume enables the system to modulate airflow to spaces based upon certain design criteria and loads within the space at a given time. Condensing boilers in the building achieve a high efficiency by using waste heat to pre-heat the water entering the boiler. The project has a 2.7MMBTU/h capacity condensing gas boilers with peak efficiency of 91% and an average efficiency of 88% with modulating flame burner control. The ASHRAE standard requires 82% boiler efficiency and on-off boiler control. Cooling tower fans in the building have variable speed drive and minimum turndown ratio of 30. A BMS [Building Management System] controls building systems and ties to meters installed in the building.

Envelope Performance

To allow daylight into the galleries, the Whitney’s exterior envelope uses high performance Insulating Glass Units with argon filled cavities, low-e coating, and warm edge spacers to resist condensation. The inner lite is laminated with a clear PVB interlayer that filters out 99.6% of the UV radiation that is harmful to artwork. The clerestory monitors are triple glazed with two argon-filled cavities. All windows in gallery or conservation space are equipped with at least two layers of motorized shades: one layer interior glare/solar control, one layer light diffusing. Instead of the typical 2-4 inches of insulation that might be employed in commercial buildings, the Whitney metal wall panels are equipped with 7 ½ inches of semi-rigid mineral wool fiberboard. The precast concrete panels and soffits are insulated with 4 inches of foamed-in-place insulation with containment angles that allow for a continuous vapor barrier between systems for a complete building wide vapor tight “balloon”. The roofing systems use foamed-in-place insulation that varies from a minimum of 4-inch thickness and up to 7 inches with an effective R-value of 7 per inch. Innovative drainage composite systems at multiple levels in the roofs allow for this high-performance system to be applied in terrace applications. A green roof, plaza level planters, and a storm water detention tank reduce site runoff by 55%.

Interior Controls

The Whitney team engaged an air quality-testing agent to test beyond LEED standards for gaseous pollutants that specifically challenge art conservation. A recommended period of 120 days of air flushing was undertaken in lieu of the typical 90-day practice. Required gallery lighting levels between 5 and 12 footcandles are achieved with track lighting equipped with dimmable LED lamps. Daylight dimming and occupancy sensors are employed to reduce power consumption in office and back-of-house areas.

Read more at the U.S. Green Building Council.