Designed by Renzo Piano, the $220-million Modern Wing provides a new home for the museum�s collection of 20th and 21st century art. It is Piano�s first major design in Chicago.

Art Institute of Chicago, Modern Wing and Nichols Bridgeway
Photo: Courtesy of Michelle Lutvin The New York Times REDUX
Art Institute of Chicago, Modern Wing and Nichols Bridgeway

The new 264,000-sq-ft building increases the museum�s gallery space by 35%, doubles its educational space, and makes the Art Institute the second largest art museum in the United States.

The project also included building the Nichols Bridgeway, a 620-ft pedestrian bridge also designed by Renzo Piano.

The Modern Wing is a glass, steel and limestone walled structure, constructed to fit into the 19th century identity of the existing historic buildings. The limestone was extracted from the same quarry in Indiana as the original limestone used for the existing Art Institute Buildings and received a bushhammer finish, giving it a natural appearance.

The Nichols Bridgeway is a 620-ft long pedestrian bridge that rises to a height of 60 ft and crosses from the Lurie Gardens in Millennium Park over Monroe Street connecting to the public outdoor sculpture terrace on the third floor on the Modern Wing.

The materials used for this building were atypical and required extensive research and planning and Turner Construction�s ability to leverage its national and international relationships. For instance, steel for the flying carpet came from Turkey, and its fins came from Belgium. The curtainwall and glass came from Germany; the ceiling system from Canada, and the bridge deck from The Netherlands.

The building is pursuing LEED Silver certification. One of its signature architectural features also contributes to energy efficiency. The extruded-aluminum sunshade supported by steel beams (the flying carpet) hovers over the new building, captures the northern light, and delivers it to the third-floor gallery. The sunshade�s computer-modeled blades and fins filter the daylight into the upper-level gallery spaces while protecting the artwork from direct sunlight. The screen cuts electricity consumption while achieving ideal lighting conditions during the day.

The interior lighting system automatically adjusts the lights based on the amount of daylight coming in, cutting electric consumption by more than 20%, compared to a traditional system.

Key Players

Owner: Art Institute of Chicago
General Manager: Turner Construction Co., Chicago
Design Firm: Renzo Piano Building Workshop, Paris, France

Gardens and other landscaping elements surrounding the Modern Wing add more than 20,000 sq ft of green space to the museum campus.

The Modern Wing�s double-paned facade of transparent, glazed walls was constructed to meet temperature and humidity conditions required for art while also surpassing Chicago Energy Code requirements. All of the perimeter heating, shading, and lighting components were concealed in the cavity of the double wall system, giving a clean, clear view of Millennium Park�s Lurie Gardens.

The project�s urban site bordering Millennium and Grant parks made construction logistics a challenge. But effective coordination with city departments allowed construction to proceed without interfering with public events.