The Modern Wing

by | 03. Aug 2012

Cultural | Project

Photo: Chuck Choi



Photo: Campbell, © The Art Institute of Chicago

With its serene limestone, glass facade and innovative sun-screen canopy, that floats over the roof like a flying carpet, the Modern Wing already has a significant presence in a city defined by its rich architectural heritage.

The new Modern Wing is located at the northeast corner of the Art Institute’s existing complex, at a site that is one block east of Michigan Avenue and directly across Monroe Street from Millennium Park. The addition completes the cultural, urban campus of the museum.


Photo: Dave Jordano, © The Art Institute of Chicago

The building is a composition of three attached elements. On the east side, a three-story pavilion houses galleries and the new Ryan Education Center, on the west side, another three-story pavilion houses galleries, visitors’ services, a restaurant, and the sculpture terrace that connects with the Nichols Bridgeway from Millennium Park.


Photo: Nic Leoux, © RPBW



Photo: Nic Leoux, © RPBW



Photo: Chuck Choi



Photo: Chuck Choi

Joining these two pavilions is the double-height “street” (Griffin Court), which takes visitors into the Art Institute from the new Monroe Street entrance, leads them through the Modern Wing, and brings them directly to the central axis of the existing museum.


Photo: Chuck Choi



Photo: Chuck Choi



Photo: Nic Leoux, © RPBW


The clarity of this scheme is matched by the simplicity of the Modern Wing’s exterior. The east and west facades are clad in Indiana limestone, matching the material of the museum’s original building and earlier wings and conveying the same robust strength. Above the building stands light, transparent, and permeable in steel and glass, in the great tradition of Chicago buildings: solid and robust yet at the same time light and crisp.

Chicago is known everywhere as the first city of modern architecture, here you are building within the great tradition of our own time, but also within sight of the immense open lakeshore, within steps of a vital city center, just across from Millennium Park.

My desire was to root the Art Institute’s building deeply in this ground, but at the same time to give the Modern Wing air and lightness-to let it levitate. A continuation of an urban fabric, a flight into new experiences: this is what I have hoped to achieve, for Chicago and for one of the world’s best-loved museums.

/Renzo Piano

Photo: Charles G. Young, Interactive design architects, © RPBW

Adding to the impression of lightness is Renzo Piano’s “flying carpet” canopy, which soars above the skylit galleries of the east pavilion and extends over a large portion of the adjacent garden courtyard.


Photo: Charles G. Young, Interactive design architects, © RPBW

The white, extruded aluminum sun-screen is a novel system of cantilevered blades that capture the north light and deliver it to the east pavilion’s third-floor galleries while gently shading the garden.


Photo: Chuck Choi



Photo: Chuck Choi



Photo: Chuck Choi

The Modern Wing is attached to the Nichols Bridgeway, crossing high above Monroe Street like a fine blade, connecting the heart of Millennium Park to the sculpture terrace of the Modern Wing. The sharp metal is a reminder of the bold structures characteristic of Chicago.


Photo: Chuck Choi



Drawing © RPBWSite Plan


Sketch © RPBW


Drawing © RPBW


Drawing © RPBW Photographed by Chuck Choi (unless otherwise indicated)


Photo: Michelle Litvin

The design was inspired by the hull of a boat or sleek racing shell. It is a long, thin structure with a rounded bottom made of structural steel painted white.

The Art Institute is applying for silver LEED certification with the Estimated energy use for the Modern Wing being half that of the existing building.

Innovative light filtration system, in the form of the “flying carpet” roof works in tandem with automated dimming system in galleries to take advantage of as much natural light as possible. Finely calibrated dimming system uses photo cells to accommodate fluctuations in light levels according to time of day, season, and weather. Double curtainwall construction saves energy by insulating the galleries. Construction debris is recycled.

New museum gardens and plantings around the Modern Wing will increase the green space on the city block by 21,075 square feet.

Located on the third floor of the Modern Wing’s west pavilion, Terzo Piano is the endpoint of the new Nichols Bridgeway from Millennium Park.  The restaurant design respects the aesthetic of Renzo Piano’s Modern Wing, creating an open, light-filled dining experience that celebrates its setting.

Dirk Denison Architects
Terzo Piano Restaurant
The Art Institute of Chicago
Chicago, Illinois


Photo: Michelle Litvin

Dirk Denison, FAIA, envisioned a space for Terzo Piano in which the experience of the museum continues into the dining area.  The architects added a series of fixed elements, organized as nodes of activity, that stand free from the walls, allowing Piano’s architecture to maintain its full integrity.

A curved garde manger floats near the entry; a display kitchen where cheese plates, meat selections and salads are prepared. Display vitrines, installed with British artist Andrew Lord’s ceramics, bring character to the various seating areas. None of these elements touches the ceiling, and all are dressed in a light palette of white, gray, and beige.

White allows the views to be the color and texture in the space, the presence of natural light at this restaurant, bouncing off of multiple reflective surfaces, is prime.
/Dirk Denison

Terzo Piano, seating 246 guests, is helmed by Chef Tony Mantuano of Chicago’s four-star Spiaggia.

Architect: Dirk Denison Architects


CITYChicago, Illinois
ARCHITECTInterActive Design
LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTGustafson Guthrie Nichol Ltd.