Modern Wing - Art Institute of Chicago
by: chicago designslinger
[Modern Wing - Art Institute of Chicago (2009) Renzo Piano Building Workshop, architects, InterActive Design, associate architects /Image & Artwork: designslinger]
On May 16, 2009 the Art Institute of Chicago opened their new Modern Wing to the public. The 264,000 square foot extension pushed the facility into the number two slot of largest museums in the U.S. and garnered the museum and its architect Renzo Piano much critical acclaim. Covered by Piano's self-described "floating carpet, umbrella" roof, the addition was the largest expansion the museum had ever undertaken in its 130 year structure-stretching history.
[Modern Wing - Art Institute of Chicago, East Monroe Street, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
The museum began growing in and around its original Michigan Avenue-facing building soon after the Beaux-Arts edifice was ready for occupancy. The classical temple-like structure had been designed to first serve as a temporary lecture hall for the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition. When the Fair was over, the museum folks immediately made a few alterations to the u-shaped building, and continued on an expansion program that increased the amount of gallery space.
[Modern Wing - Art Institute of Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
When the museum opened for business in 1893, the rear, east-face of the museum building butted-up against a strip of land owned by the Illinois Central Railroad lined with steel train track. As the Lake-Front Park morphed into today's Grant Park, the city dumped tons of debris and dirt into Lake Michigan out past the eastern edge of the rail road line. By 1915 mounds of dirt were piled high far beyond the IC tracks, and the trustees saw opportunity in that bumpy terrain. So in 1916 they undertook one of their more audacious expansion adventures when they gave the okay to build a long, narrow gallery bridging the below grade Illinois Central rail road tracks. This decision connected the museum to a large piece of newly created landfill and the potential for even more future building programs. The in 1923 under the direction of the Institute's 40-year-term president Charles L. Hutchinson, the museum made their first foray onto the now leveled fill area and began construction on Hutchinson Hall and the outdoor garden of McKinlock Court.
[Modern Wing - Art Institute of Chicago, Griffin Court /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
The exterior limestone facade of the Gunsaulus Hall bridge copied the design of the Beaux-Arts temple arch for columned arch. The expansions on the east side of the tracks however stayed low to the ground, and never climbed beyond one-story, hidden behind a large granite wall. However, the Kenneth Sawyer Goodman Memorial Theater on the far northeast corner of the property at Monroe Street and Columbus Drive, broke the wall plane with a very restrained, two-story entryway which lead theater goers to a long stairway down to a subterranean performance space. In 1976 architect Walter Netsch's Rubloff Building for the School of the Art Institute made a very prominent late-20th-century architectural statement along the complex's eastern border on Columbus Drive. And in a nod to the past, Netsch covered the solid surfaces of his contemporary facade with the same Indiana limestone that had been used to clad the original Michigan Avenue building six decades earlier. In 1999 James Wood, the museum's director at the time, announced plans to bridge the tracks once again with a 75,000 square foot addition. This was the seed that grew into Piano's Modern Wing.
[Gallery, Modern Wing - Art Institute of Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
An new opportunity presented itself in 2000 when the Goodman Theater decided to leave their 75-year-old digs and move into a newly recreated entertainment district in Chicago's Loop area. Piano was brought in to come-up with some preliminary designs for the bridge spanning addition and any ideas he had for the vacated Goodman site. In a city famous for its "Make No Little Plans" reputation, the museum went for the gusto and announced their plans to build at the corner of Monroe and Columbus. The idea of bridging the tracks in some way was put on hold, and the original 290,000-square-foot structure was reduced down to 264,000-square-feet. The price increased as time went on, and the 75,000 square feet of gallery space shrunk to 64,000. And in a move similar to Netsch's nod to history, Piano used the same Indiana limestone covering Shelpey, Rutan & Coolidge's 1893 building, on his solid exterior surfaces.