Modern Wing at the Art Institute of Chicago/ Renzo Piano

Architects: Renzo Piano Building Workshop in collaboration with Interactive Design Inc.
Location: Chicago, USA
Design Team: J. Moolhuijzen (partner in charge), D.Rat, C.Maxwell-Mahon with A.Belvedere, D.Colas, P.Colonna, O.Foucher, A.Gallissian, S.Giorgio-Marrano, H.Lee, W.Matthews, T.Mikdashi, J.B.Mothes, Y.Pagès, B.Payson, M.Reale, J.Rousseau, A.Stern, A.Vachette, C.von Däniken and K.Doerr, M.Gomes, J.Nakagawa; Y.Kyrkos, C.Colson, O.Aubert (models)
Structure: Ove Arup & Partners
Services: Ove Arup & Partners + Sebesta Blomberg
Civil Engineering: Patrick Engineering
Landscaping: Gustafson Guthrie Nichol Ltd.
LEED Consultant: Carter Burgess
Project Year: 2009
Photographs: Nic Leoux

The new Modern Wing is being built between Michigan Avenue and Columbus Drive, at the northeast corner of the block the Art Institute of Chicago currently occupies. The addition will complete the cultural, urban campus of the museum. The new street-level entrance on Monroe Street will connect Millennium Park to the heart of the existing museum through the new Griffin Court. On the first floor, this daylit court will be flanked by new educational facilities, public amenities, galleries, and a garden, all of which will better actively link the Art Institute with urban life. The second and third floors will be dedicated to art and the viewing of art. The third floor will be completely lit by natural light. Below street level will be mechanical systems, art storage, and support facilities for the entire Art Institute.


Flying above the art pavilion will be a shelter that filters the sun to create the natural shaded light conditions ideal for the enjoyment of art. This shelter is a kind of flying carpet made of aluminum leaves that perform the same job as the tree canopies all around in the park. It is a “soft machine” that sensitively levitates above the new wing, vibrantly screening the light.

All this is made easier in a city that is built on precise north-south and east-west axes, perfectly in tune with the cycle of the sun, like a solar machine. The Modern Wing shelter will give the museum what it needs in terms of light, much as the open lattice of the Pritzker Pavilion gives shelter to the Great Lawn in terms of sound.

Limestone, a material used in the construction of the entire museum from its original Beaux Arts palace to recent additions, rises from the ground like a topographic relief, massive and solid, as though it has always been there. Above this topos, 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.

The Nichols Bridgeway goes from the heart of Millennium Park to the public terrace of the Modern Wing, crossing high above Monroe Street like a fine blade. The sharp metal reminds us of the bold structures characteristic of Chicago. The bridge does what all bridges do: it connects two different worlds and makes it possible to share experiences, providing beautiful views for people walking up towards the sunlight or down in front of the unique Chicago skyline.

Cite: "Modern Wing at the Art Institute of Chicago/ Renzo Piano" 14 Jun 2009. ArchDaily. Accessed 18 Sep 2014. <>


  1. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    I was fortunate enough to spend two days exploring this exquisite piano addition. A terrific compliment to the millennium park section of the miracle mile. Its contrasting dialogue with Gehry’s Jay Pritzker Pavilion is very interesting. Its a terrific architectural addition to downtown chicago and the already amazing art institute of chicago.

  2. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    When you stand on the bridge from Millenium Park over the largest span you can feel the bridge shake. My friends felt uneasy like they were car sick, but I think it’s fun.

  3. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    clean and clear, somehow it reminds me about Menil museum.
    do you guys ever think that Renzo is now old and out of idea…???

    • Thumb up Thumb down 0

      nono! not at all. I think now that he’s old he’s got more ideas. He’s a wise one ;)

  4. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    There seems to be so much attention paid to the solar aspects of this building…I wonder…if there is so much unwanted sunlight, couldn’t they have at least outfit this building with some pv’s? The third floor is completely lit by natural light, what a great opportunity for them to harness energy for the other floors. They are definitely right about a clean and crisp feeling when talking about this building. Like the way the second floor also displays the city as a piece of art, but doesn’t focus only on that.

  5. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    Are you serious man. He’s one of the best architects ever. You really need to start reading man, but hey…I guess if you are on this website that is a start. I cannot belive you do not know who Renzo Piano is…go grab a book from Finland, and look at the wood he uses…then you’ll see.

    Jason Parker

  6. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    It’s always nice to see environmental conditions at the forefront of programmic design. But you certainly get the feeling you’ve seen this many times before.

    There must be another way of optimising light with a different form.

  7. Thumb up Thumb down +2

    Jason Parker, I think he was being sarcastic. Have you heard of sarcasm? Grab a book on words, it’s called a dictionary and yes, they have them in Finland.

    The building is great. I can see it from my desk at work and took a photo once a week from the same location for 2 1/2 years. Spoiled architect – got to put the cooling towers very far away from the bldg so he could have his beautiful roof!

  8. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    Question. I would like to know the name of the wood that R. Piano uses in the floors of the building? Anybody nows? Also, if possible, the name of the manufacturer in the US or Europe.

  9. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    The wood used for the flooring looks to me like eucalyptus, but I am not sure, and no one that I spoke to during a recent visit had any idea, or seemed to care. Odd, since it’s striking without detracting from the art, a really brilliant choice.

Share your thoughts