The Modern Wing by Renzo Piano 18.05.09

Written by 

words Johanna Agerman

Overlooking Gehry's Pritzker pavilion in Chicago's Millennium Park and Studio Gang's Aqua Tower beyond that, Renzo Piano's extension to the Art Institute is the latest addition to Chicago's contemporary landscape. But the building is not as flamboyant as its neighbours.

"This building is industrial," says Piano. "I know that in English industrial doesn't sound good, it's basic, but why not? This building is basic. It is actually trying to work with the language and aesthetic of industry." All for the sake of the world-class collection of modern and contemporary art on display inside.

Piano's umpteenth museum commission in the United States, the 264,000 square feet Modern Wing is his largest in the US to date. And considering its size it was Piano's main concern to create a museum that reflects what he describes as "the fragility and lightness of Chicago's architecture".

It is a relatively low building that connects to the original 1893 Beaux Arts museum at its north-eastern corner and is organised over three floors with the glass-roofed Griffin Court slicing through the building. Its exterior walls are in limestone on the east and west sides, while the entry facade to the north and the southern facade are glass and steel. The building is crowned by a canopy, constructed from aluminium blades, which captures the daylight from the north and reflects it down onto the third-floor gallery.

Another effort to connect to the city is the Nichols bridgeway, also designed by Piano, which takes people from the heart of Millennium Park to the third-floor terrace and restaurant of the Modern Wing.

image The Richter gallery in the Modern Wing overlooks Chicago’s skyline and Millennium Park

image One of the galleries in the Modern Wing

image Griffin Court slices through the building

image Nichols bridgeway leads to the third floor terrace and restaurant from Millennium Park

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