Having developed a reputation for precisely detailed, exquisitely refined buildings, the Tokyo-based firm SANAA faced a very different kind of challenge with the New Museum in Lower Manhattan: Design a building for an anti-establishment museum in a scruffy-but-gentrifying part of town. Do it on a tight budget. And be careful, because the critics are weary of museums that are either formal extravagances or dull containers. Against the odds, SANAA, headed by Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa, has delivered a building that pleases both the critics and the public. Its New Museum, which rises seven stories on the Bowery, points the neighborhood in a new direction—out of a previous era of flophouses and gin mills and toward a time of creative engagement. Whether by design or coincidence, its off-kilter arrangement of stacked boxes alludes to a moment of instability—in New York’s cultural scene, economic future, and demographic mix. Instead of glossing over the city’s reckoning with unsettling forces, the New Museum brings it front and center—an attitude that seems just right for an organization founded in 1977 by a curator, Marcia Tucker, the day after she was fired by the Whitney Museum of American Art. For the next three decades, the New Museum bounced around Lower Manhattan, carrying out its mission to show provocative contemporary artwork.

SANAA won the commission in an invited competition in 2002 (beating out David Adjaye, Reiser Umemoto, Abalos-Herreros, and Gigon/Guyer) with a scheme that would make any New York City developer blanch—purposefully using less square-footage than allowed by the local zoning ordinance. By pulling back from the zoning envelope in a series of slipped boxes, the design created the opportunity for roof terraces and long skylights along alternating edges. “We could have built another 20,000 square feet,” says Lisa Phillips, the current director, who took over the museum from Tucker in 1999. “But in return, we got a [60,000-square-foot] building that’s open and has light.” While the final building sports only one roof terrace (on the seventh floor), skylights run along at least one side of each of the three gallery floors, bringing filtered daylight into all of the main exhibition spaces.

Best known for buildings with perfectly honed skins—such as the Glass Pavilion at the Toledo Museum of Art, in Ohio [RECORD, January 2007], and the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, in Kanazawa, Japan [RECORD, February 2005]—SANAA struggled with the wrapping for the New Museum. Originally, the architects thought they would tightly clad each of the stacked boxes in a different metal with hairline joints in between. But this proved too expensive for the $50 million budget and seemed too elegant for the neighborhood and the client. So they tried an approach at odds with their earlier works, something they called “beautiful rough,” says Toshihiro Oki, a project architect for SANAA.

“We moved away from a flat surface and explored ways of getting a rough, blurry effect,” says Oki. Eventually, they developed a skin made of expanded metal mesh set an inch and a half in front of corrugated aluminum panels. Although the aluminum mesh is an industrial standard, the architects expanded its proportions beyond anything commercially available and gave it an anodized finish. To attach it to the corrugated backing, they customized off-the-shelf clips. The result is a building dressed in a metal-mesh stocking, exuding a slightly hazy sexiness that’s neither too classy nor too trashy for the new Lower East Side.


City of New York


Kazuyo Sejima + Ryue Nishizawa / SANAA
7-A, 2-2-35, Higashi-Shinagawa, Shinagawa-ku
Tokyo, 140-0002
Tel: +81.33450.1780


Associate Architect
Gensler, New York City
Madeline Burke-Vigeland, Principal
William Rice, Project Manager
Karen Pedrazzi, Kazuyo Sejima + Ryue Nishizawa / SANAA
Kristian Gregerson
John Chow
Will Rohde
Sohee Moon
Christopher Duisberg
Edgar Papazian


Client Representative:
Zubatkin Owner Representation, New York City
Marty Zubatkin, President
Andy Bast


Project Management
Plaza Construction Corporation, New York City
Richard Wood, President
Christopher Mills, John Nowak Sr.


Construction Management
Sciame, New York City
Frank J. Sciame, Principal

Construction Team: Michael Porcelli, Mark Pankoff, Susan Ospina, Lou Silbert, Kyle Rolf, Anthony Turturro, Rich Bergen, Andrew Sciame, Charles Hsu, Ralph Thompson, Darrin McIntyre, Adam Giusti


Executive Structural Engineer:
Simpson Gumperts & Heger Inc., New York City
James C. Parker, Principal
Kevin Poulin, Project Engineer
Fillipo Masetti

Structural Engineer:
Guy Nordenson and Associates, New York City
Guy Nordenson, Principal
Brett Schneider, Project Engineer
SAPS - Sasaki and Partners (competition)

Mechanical/Hvac Engineer:
Raymond Quinn, Principal
Camille Allocca


Plumbing:  Arup

Fire Protection: Victor Gomez

Electrical Systems:
Elizabeth Perez, Swan Foo

Code Consultant:
Jerome S. Gillman Consulting Architect, P.C.
Jerome Gillman,
Larry Gillman, Orlando Diaz, Jozef Vasko

Facade Consultants:
Simpson Gumperts & Heger Inc., New York City
James C. Parker, Principal
Sean O'Brien

Jenkins & Huntington, Inc.
Transportation    Kevin Huntington, President
Tom Terhaar

Audio/ Visual And I.T. Consultant:
Peter Berry
Raj Patel, Chris Taylor, Adriana Sangeorzan

Security Consultant:
Ducibella Venter & Santore
Philip Santore, Principal
Brian Coulombe

Lighting Consultant:
Tillotson Design
Suzan Tillotson, Principal
David Buyra

Food Facilities Consultant:
Post & Grossbard         
Henry Grossbard, Principal
Cody Hicks

Waterproofing/ Roofing Consultant:
Henshell & Buccellato   
Justin Henshell
Paul Buccellato

Cost Estimators:           
Stuart-Lynn Company, Inc.
Breck Perkins, Principal

Fire Alarm Consultant:   
Acotech Services
Sid Aconsky

Geotechnical Engineer: 
Langan Engineering & Environmental Services
Brian Ladd

Concrete Consultant:
Alan Bouknight

Education Center Interiors 5th Floor:
Christoff: Finio Architecture
Martin Finio and Taryn Christoff, Principals


Cord Contracting Company. Inc., NY

Structural steel stud framing: Marino Ware

Gypsum sheathing: DensGlass Gold, Georgia Pacific

Waterproofing: Henry Air-Block, Henry Company



Steel structure with concrete slab on composite steel deck. Concrete foundation walls and mat foundation.

Exterior Materials         
Expanded aluminum mesh (anodized) mounted with stainless steel clips on painted extruded aluminum liner panel, Structural stud exterior wall; Glass windows in painted aluminum frames;
Low iron glass storefront with anodized aluminum mullion system; Glass fritted skylights covered with aluminum grating

Interior Finishes
Public Areas: Polished concrete floors, drywall, metal mesh ceilings
Galleries: Polished concrete floors, drywall, exposed ceilings

Offices: Carpeted floors, drywall, drywall Ceilings

Multi-purpose Room 7th floor: Poured epoxy floor, low iron glass storefront windows wrapping space to terrace, drywall, acoustical plaster Ceiling

Façade Cladding          
Contractor: McGrath Inc., Minneapolis, USA

Expanded aluminum mesh with anodized finish (custom):
Expanded Metal Company, UK  

Stainless steel mesh clips (custom): James & Taylor, UK

Mesh and clip engineering / procurement: James & Taylor, UK

Extruded aluminum liner panel (custom): McGrath Inc.

Contractor: Competition Architectural Metals Inc., NY

Aluminum frame windows: Wausau Windows
Glass: Viracon

Contractor: Competition Architectural Metals Inc., NY

Curtain Wall
Aluminum curtainwall mullion: US Aluminum

Glass: Starphire

Glass door pivot hardware: Rixson

Glass door handles: C.R. Laurence Co.

Loading dock doors (custom): Competition Architectural Metals Inc.

Interior Wall    
Contractor: Cord Contracting Company. Inc., NY

Gypsum board: USG

Stud framing: Marino Ware

Paint: Sherwin Williams

Contractor: Atlantech

Skylight system: Supersky

Glass: Solarban, PPG

Contractor: Dooley Electric, NY

Fluorescent lighting: Bartco Lighting

Gallery busway lighting: LSI

Downlights: Lucifer Lighting Company

Custom Millwork          
Miller Blaker Inc., NY
Lobby, Café
Museum Store


Epoxy Floor 7th Floor:
Tennant Flooring

Glass Tiles: Bathrooms

Acoustical Plaster Ceiling 7th Floor:
Star-Silent, Pyrok

Faucets: Vola

Toilets/urinals: Toto

Doors/Frames:   Michbi Doors Inc., NY