Piano's new opus resonates with Chicago

June 01, 2005 |

Ground was broken May 31 on the north wing addition to the Art Institute of Chicago, located on the lakefront campus of the museum and school, adjacent to Millennium Park.

At 264,000 sf, the planned $285 million building, designed by Pritzker Prize-winner Renzo Piano of Italy, will be the largest addition to the Art Institute since its beaux-arts main building opened in 1893. Scheduled to open in 2009, the north wing will add a full third to the AIC's exhibit space. The only structure on the site is the vacant Goodman Theatre, which is scheduled for demolition this fall.

Knifelike footbridge

  • Piano designed a 900-foot-long stainless-steel pedestrian bridge that shoots over nearby Millennium Park's south end. The bridge will bring foot traffic to the glass, steel, and Indiana limestone structure's west pavilion, which houses galleries, visitor services, sculpture terrace, winter garden, dining facility with a skyline and lake view, and a boardroom. Art Institute leaders said the impetus for developing the bridge was the success of the park. The bridge will require an amendment to the expansion legislation already approved by the City Council.

  • An aluminum canopy that Piano calls the "flying carpet" will capture natural light and divert it to the north wing's top-floor galleries. Aluminum blades will divert and diffuse sunlight directly to skylights above the galleries. Supported by thin steel columns, the canopy will hang over the building.

  • The east pavilion will house 65,000 sf of exhibition space and 20,000 sf of education space—three floors above ground, one below. The design calls for a double-height court to enhance circulation between the two pavilions.

  • A glass curtain wall that will cover the north façade also emphasizes light and permeability, while reflecting the museum's original architecture.

"The design promises a wing that will give shelter to art and space for contemplation, while providing a strong link to the existing art institute," said Piano. "The design follows the tradition of well-crafted buildings in Chicago and will serve as a natural backdrop for the city's urban landscape."

Piano's finished museums include the Pompidou Center in Paris (with Richard Rogers), the Menil Collection in Houston, and the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas.

The north wing will house the Art Institute's contemporary and modern art collection, currently spread around several wings of the museum. The contemporary design of the building reflects the art it will contain.

"What we really have here is a new museum," said John Bryan, chairman of the Art Institute's board. "It's a museum of 20th-century art."

The Art Institute still needs to raise $115 million to finance the project. To date, $170 million has been raised toward the $285 million budget, which would make it the largest private-sector cultural project goal in Chicago's history.

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