Major Cities See New Museums Despite Economic Downturn


Hot on the heels of Seoul’s Prada Transformer, the recent collaboration between the famed fashion designer and arguably equally famed Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, come a trio of similarly scaled pavilion projects in Chicago and London. But don’t think that the only architecture actually getting built these days is of the pint-sized variety: Massive new museums are opening around the world as well, despite the economic downturn that has stalled so many projects. And more are on the way.

This June, Chicago will kick off their celebration of the 100th anniversary of Daniel Burnham’s Plan for Chicago  – the first long-term plan for an American city. The centerpieces of the city-wide celebration will be two temporary pavilions designed by Zaha Hadid and UN Studio. Located in the stunning, icon-rich Millennium Park, they are intended to reflect visionary architect Daniel Burnham’s belief in the sociological function of architecture:  “What we as a people decide to do in the public interest we can and surely will bring to pass,” he has said. Although two European firms that specialize in organic, high tech forms may seem like odd choices to celebrate the history of Chicago, a city that proudly wears its steel and stone heart on its sleeve, they were selected for their ability to design forward thinking spaces that “boldly imagine a better future.” (Words such as “bold, “big” and “future” tend to show up a lot in descriptions of the Centennial.) Zaha Hadid‘s diaphanous, egg-like tensile structure will house a video installation by London-based artist Thomas Gray that tells the story of Chicago’s transformation and speculates on the future of the Windy City. The second pavilion, designed by UN Studio, features a responsive LED lighting system that changes according to the number of visitors in the space. Like Hadid’s pavilion, it draws its outer form from the street grid established by Burnham. Between the roof and ceiling of the glossy white plywood structure, curved extrusions create gradients intended to frame a diverse selection of urban vistas that invites people to explore and observe.

It’s a good time for architecture fans in Chicago —  but then again, it always is. In May, the Art Institute of Chicago will open their new modern wing, designed by go-to museum architect Renzo Piano (his recent work includes the now-postponed addition to the Whitney Museum of Art, the California Academy of Sciences, and the LA County Museum of Art.) The 264,000 square foot, three-story extension will house the museum’s modern European art collection while at the same time unifying and completing the cultural and urban campus of the Institute. The addition’s standout feature is the “flying carpet” system of aluminum louvers that filter natural light into the galleries. Like the original Art Institute building, Piano’s modern wing is built from limestone, although with noticeably more fenestration it’s Beaux Arts-style predecessor. The architect considers the structure to fit in to the Chicago architectural tradition, calling it “solid and robust yet at the same time light and crisp.”


Across the pond from Chicago, new art spaces abound. This year, Japanese firms SANAA were commissioned to design the annual pavilion for London’s Serpentine Gallery. Typical of their work, SANAA’s Serpentine Pavilion-their first built work in the UK, as required by the gallery-is an incredibly minimal design, noteworthy more for what it’s lacking: Walls. Instead, a series of thin columns support an undulating, reflective aluminum canopy designed to appear, according to the museum, as if it’s “drifting freely between the trees like smoke.” The Serpentine Gallery sets no budget for its yearly pavilion, but pays for the project through sponsorships and the sale of the final structure. The pavilion will host a cafe and auditorium space for public programs, along with a 24-hour poetry marathon.

A small piece of additional good news for London’s Art lovers: The Herzog & de Meuron designed extension to the Tate Modern recently earned the go-ahead from the city. The angular, perforated-brick addition will add 5,000 square meters of space, increasing the museum’s size by 65%.

Elsewhere in Europe, two new museum projects artfully handle the relationship between contemporary architecture and history. In Athens, the new Acropolis Museum opens in June. Designed by Bernhard Tschumi, the deceptively simple modern building is based on classical ideas complemented by a minimal palette of glass, concrete, and marble; its 150,000 square feet of exhibition space will display sculptures and other artifacts from the Acropolis. On-site archaeological remains of an ancient city discovered during pre-construction determined the size of the new museum’s perimeter. Visitors can actually see the excavation from it lower level, which hovers above these ruins; the top floor pays respect to nearby ruins as well. The transparent hall sitting atop the building like an offset glass crown was built according to the dimensions and orientation of the Parthenon.

On to Berlin, where David Chipperfield’s strategic repair of Friedrich August Stüler’s Neues Museum opened last month. Originally built around 1849, the museum has seen considerable damage in the intervening war years and Chipperfield, in collaboration with a conservation architect, chose to do more than simply restore the building. They introduced a limited material palette to elegantly patch and “repair” the structure, thereby restoring Stüler’s compositional intent and maintaining what Chipperfield refers to as “the power of the ruin.” From a few hundred square feet to a few hundred thousand, these projects all give us hope that culture will continue to thrive in the face of tanking global economy.

From the top: Rendering of Zaha Hadid’s pavilion courtesy of The Burnham Plan Centennial; Renzo Piano’s plan for the Art Institute of Chicago courtesy Renzo Piano Building Workshop; Photograph of David Chipperfield’s Neues Museum restoration courtesy the Neues Museum.