The Whitney Independent Study Program Moves to the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation

By Brian J Pape, AIA, LEED-AP

Crews are completing the exterior addition of the third floor at the street wall, instead of setting it to the back of the lot. Credit: Brian J. Pape, AIA.

Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997) was one of the most influential and innovative artists of the second half of the twentieth century. He is preeminently identified as a leading figure with Pop Art, a movement he helped originate.

When Dorothy Lichtenstein promised her late husband’s 745 Washington Street studio building as the new permanent home for The Whitney Independent Study Program (ISP), she expressed to The New York Times in February 2022, “I love the idea….that the studio which Roy loved so much will continue to have meaning.”

Now that the scaffolding has been removed from the months-long construction site, and the exterior shell is largely complete, the crews will continue with the interior alterations. Whitney Museum education programs are planned to begin in summer 2024. The renovated facility will enhance the Museum’s ability to connect and engage artists’ practice for youngsters, teens, teachers, and community groups.

On October 26, Village Preservation honored the artist’s studio at a plaque unveiling, with Adam D. Weinberg, the Alice Pratt Brown Director of the Whitney Museum of American Art, and Dorothy Lichtenstein speaking of the importance of the historic site in the Greenwich Village Historic District. Ms. Lichtenstein donated the 1912 factory building that served as Roy’s studio since the late 1980s. Since his death, it has been the home of the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation, established by Dorothy in1998 to support Lichtenstein scholarship and to continue Roy’s legacy as a New York artist.

Every year since its founding in 1968, the Whitney ISP has graduated a cohort of 25 students in three areas of foacus: Studio Practice, Curatorial and Critical Studies. Lacking a permanent home for the past five decades, the ISP has had to relocate to seven different locations across Manhattan. After an extensive search with five firms, the Whitney Museum selected the Los Angeles-based firm Johnston Marklee to address the infrastructural upgrade needs. The ISP will provide studio and seminar spaces.

Although architecture partners Sharon Johnston and Mark Lee have diverse experience, unfortunately they are strangers to the West Village. In their public hearing presentations, they had to be convinced to keep a balanced street front. The architects documented how the building has evolved over time with its changing uses, a series of alterations, including four additions, all executed in brick. Yet, the façade remained a two-story brick street front from its origins.

The surrounding block represents the great variety of building types, scales, and styles that characterize the West Village. Large commercial buildings framing the project site to the north, west and south are juxtaposed with Greek Revival row houses and late-nineteenth century tenements. The context illustrates that commercial buildings are not defined by a specific height or scale, but they are defined by their own history.

Forever changing the 745 Washington street façade, the architects insisted on adding a full top-floor right up to the front of the building, instead of respecting the current historic façade and moving the addition to the back of the site. This was a missed opportunity to preserve the street appearance. Visible elements from the public right-of-way, such as a sidewalk, are required to be preserved by landmark codes.

We rely on the LPC (city’s Landmark Preservation Commission) to enforce the rules when the architects aren’t sensitive enough to the historic character.

This disappointment detracts from an otherwise worthy addition to our community.