Chicago Facility Case Study: An Exquisite Expansion

By Anne Cosgrove

Published in the April 2006 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

When it opens in the summer of 2009, the Modern Wing of The Art Institute of Chicago will transform the museum in more ways than one. Designed by internationally recognized architect Renzo Piano, the new building will increase gallery space by 63,000 square feet, add 18,000 square feet of education space, include a museum shop and cafe, and connect to Millennium Park, a popular Chicago attraction that opened in July 2004. In both function and appearance, the 260,000 square foot building will help launch the Art Institute into a new era.

Built in 1893 on Chicago’s Michigan Avenue, The Art Institute experienced growth and change for the better part of the 20th century. During the 1920s, Gunsaulus Hall—spanning over the Illinois Central railway tracks on the site—was added onto the back of the original building. Several years later, another building was added to the other side of Gunsaulus Hall, creating an H-shaped complex. During the 1950s, 60s, 70s, and 80s, various structures were built on the campus to accommodate evolving needs.

This newest project, for which the groundbreaking occurred in May 2005, is the largest undertaking in the history of The Art Institute. Composed of glass, limestone, and steel, The Modern Wing is a notable departure from more traditional museum designs, mainly because of its open and airy appearance. A curtainwall spanning both the north and south sides of the building will allow daylight into all three above ground levels. (An underground level will be used for art storage and other operations.)

Additionally, sunlight will shine down into the top level of the building through a sun shading structure Piano describes as a “flying carpet.” (He has incorporated this element into several other projects.) Supported by a series of steel beams, the 216′ wide extruded aluminum “shade” will appear to hover atop the building.

But the structure will do more than act as a distinct visual element. It will filter the direct light before that light reaches the building interior.

“The top floor will have a series of skylights,” explains Meredith Mack, vice president for finance and operations at the Art Institute. “Sunlight will shine through the flying carpet, through the skylights, and then be further filtered by a vellum fabric screen system in the galleries. The combination of these systems will effectively filter sunlight down to 1% natural light when it reaches the gallery space on the top level.

“The Art Institute, as with most old museums, was built essentially as a giant limestone box,” explains Mack. “Light is a danger to art, and therefore all the light used is artificial light. But the new wing will have natural light, which will be very exciting for viewing the art.”

Planning The Project

Officials at The Institute began discussing a new wing in 1998. More gallery space was needed, and the museum’s education spaces were also due for expansion and upgrade.

“We have one of the three largest collections of contemporary art in the country, and we needed to expand gallery space,” says Mack. “That was the driving force behind the decision to build the addition. When the building is complete and we move art already on display into the new wing, it will open up gallery space in the existing building. Nearly every department will gain space.”

Piano was commissioned to design the facility in 1999. InterActive Design, in Chicago, was chosen as the local architect.

Currently in the excavation and demolition phase, The Modern Wing is sited on the northeast quadrant of the Art Institute property. The north-facing curtainwall will overlook Millennium Park, located directly across the street.

“Several locations on the site were considered for the new wing,” Mack says. “A fair amount of design work was done for a location just south of the existing building. However, Millennium Park has been extremely popular since it opened. It became clear the north side of our campus would have more people present,” she says.

A bridge will span the adjacent roadway from The Modern Wing down into Millennium Park to foster movement of visitors between The Art Institute and the park.

Green Initiatives

The Modern Wing project marks a significant foray into sustainability for The Art Institute. The team is pursuing LEED-NC (new construction) silver certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. Areas of focus include mechanical systems, lighting, and using local materials.

“Pursuing LEED is unusual for a museum,” notes Mack. “We have very specific temperature and humidity criteria to protect the artwork. So to achieve the silver certification is quite a feat. We’ve received a grant from the Illinois Clean Energy Foundation to help in design work.”

The grant will also be used to commission the building systems. These will feature carbon dioxide monitors to allow the HVAC system to adjust the amount of outside air introduced into the building based on occupancy. Also included in the design is a water side economizer system to take advantage of outside temperatures in the spring and fall to provide “free cooling” via the campus chilled water system.

In speaking about the mechanical systems, Barry Quinn, project manager and vice president of The RISE Group in Chicago explains, “Because of the temperature and humidity requirements, the mechanical systems will put out a fairly sizable volume of moist air to maintain humidity. This tends to be inefficient. We will implement a sophisticated control system to manage the HVAC system as efficiently as possible.”

One way lighting efficiencies are being addressed is through the widespread use of exterior glazing for daylight illumination. The double curtainwall will also help to meet the temperature and relative humidity conditions required and prevent condensation on the exterior glass.

“The curtainwall system will hold heat and humidity in, while also keeping out heat gain,” explains Quinn. This is expected to result in energy efficiencies beyond what is required by Chicago Energy Code.

In addition, a photo cell on the flying carpet will link to an interior lighting system that will adjust incandescent fixtures automatically to compensate for diminishing levels of natural light during the day.

“We’re also using a lot of local materials,” says Mack. “The building will be constructed using Indiana limestone, so it will be sourced from quarries within the distance required by LEED.”

The project also involves recycling demolition materials. Quinn says, “Brandenburg, the subcontractor performing the demolition and excavation, is doing a very good job of sorting the materials and sending them to appropriate facilities.”

Sustainable practices are not completely new to The Art Institute. In the 1980s, an array of solar panels was installed on the roof with a second installation done in 2002. Mack notes, “It’s the largest array of solar panels in the city of Chicago.”

Behind The Scenes

Visitors to The Art Institute will see how construction is progressing. In addition, an ongoing exhibit, “Zero Gravity: The Art Institute, Renzo Piano, and Building for a New Century,” provides insight into Piano’s vision for the facility. Among the items featured are three-dimensional models, architectural drawings, and photographs of Piano’s staff at work in his Paris studio.

Information for this article was obtained through an interview with Mack and Quinn as well as information from The Art Institute of Chicago Web site (

Project Information:

Client: The Art Institute of Chicago. Type of Facility: New Construction. Function of Facility: Museum/ Institutional. Owner: The Art Institute of Chicago. Location: Chicago, IL. Square Footage: 260,000. Budget: $258 million. Timetable: Opening 2009. Project Manager: The Rise Group, LLC. Architect: Renzo Piano Building Workshop, Design Architect; Interactive Design, Architect of Record. Electrical Engineer: Ove Arup & Partners, Engineer of Record; Jose DeAvila and Assoc. Structural Engineer: Wiss Janney Elstner. Civil Engineer: Patrick Engineering. General Contractor: Turner Construction Company. Landscape Architect: Gustafson, Guthrie, Nichol Ltd. Commissioning and LEED Consultant: Carter & Burgess.