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Disaster Proofing Museums

Whitney Museum. Source: The Atlantic Photo: Nic Lehoux

John Whitaker, Protecting Priceless Art from Natural Disasters, The Atlantic, 27 May 2015

The new Whitney Museum in Manhattan has been lauded for its cutting-edge architecture, but the most intriguing feature is the one that kicks in in case of emergency.

The reviews of the new design have been glowing (The New York Times called it a “glittery emblem of a new urban capital.”) But the new Whitney’s most intriguing feature might be one that’s gone largely unnoticed: its custom flood-mitigation system, which was designed halfway through the museum’s construction, in the aftermath of 2012’s Hurricane Sandy, when more than five million gallons of water flooded the site.

The system’s features include a 15,500-pound door designed by engineers who build water-tight latches for the U.S. Navy’s Destroyers. “Buildings now have to be designed like submarines,” said Kevin Schorn, an assistant to Piano, reflecting on the demands of a warming world and what it might mean for design. “Do we have to completely rethink our infrastructure? Do we have to completely rethink everything?”

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