The Art Institute of Chicago, the second largest museum in the US, chooses the Barcelona studio to transform its extensive campus
The Institute of Art of Chicago of the 21st century wants to bear the seal of the Barcelona architecture firm Barozzi Veiga. The board of directors of this museum institution – the second largest in the United States, after the New York Metropolitan Museum – announced yesterday that it had hired Barozzi Veiga to design its new campus plan and undertake a profound transformation.
The works, which can last more than a decade and involve an investment not yet specified, but of many hundreds of millions of dollars, must include the functional redefinition of the campus – which occupies a super block, equivalent to four blocks from the central area of Chicago–, the demolition of some of its current buildings, the construction of other or new plant extensions, a new program of uses of existing volumes, a renewed organization of collections and a closer relationship with the city, parks Surrounding and Lake Michigan.
As much for the dimension of the works that must be carried out as for the global relevance of the Art Institute of Chicago, this is, by far, the main assignment received by a Barcelona study abroad in a long time. And the best news from abroad for Catalan architecture since the Pritzker Prize was awarded to Olot RCR’s studio in 2017.
The venerable North American museum, whose collections fed by private donations gather 300,000 pieces from all corners of the world, some 5,000 years old, others contemporary, receive nearly two million annual visitors. Its two most characteristic architectural elements are perhaps the first and last to date: a Beaux Arts style building, designed by Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge, opened in 1893, with a facade on Michigan Avenue, and an extension, the Modern Wing , signed by the Italian Renzo Piano in 2009, which stands in the Northeast corner of the enclosure, with entrance through Monroe Street. For a century and a quarter, in successive extensions, the Art Institute has been adding buildings and facilities, to add a useful area of about 300,000 square meters, on a large plot divided in two by the city’s railway track.
Barozzi Veiga were invited by the Art Institute to participate in a restricted contest, with the request to contribute ideas for the reorganization of the campus and the optimization of its potential. They received this invitation together with some of the world’s leading architectural firms, being, after three years of discreet work, the chosen ones. It is therefore a clear commitment to an emerging firm of the museum’s steering committee, whose president, James Rondeau, argued yesterday to announce that choosing Barcelona has been a brave decision, but also inevitable after knowing his previous work.
The proposal of Barozzi Veiga, now in a phase of intentions and on which no images have been distributed – the basic project will not be disseminated before a year and a half – is synthesized in four concepts: city, train, gardens and lake. Part of a thorough analysis of the Art Institute in its current configuration, after which Barozzi Veiga formulated its action strategy, based on the four concepts cited.
The works, with a multi-million dollar cost, will last no less than ten years
His first observation was that the museum was introverted and had a lot of room for improvement in its relationship with the city, and therefore had to reactivate and permeabilize its urban façade, mainly that of Michigan Avenue. The second was that the museum had always tried to turn its back on the railway line (Illinois Central Railrod), which cuts it in two, and that in the future it would be good to reverse this trend and consider the trains, after all a feature of Chicago identity, more like an integrable advantage than a problem to hide.
The third and fourth observations of Barozzi Veiga were that the museum despite being surrounded by several gardens and parks had little relationship with them, and that this should be corrected by a new connectivity system that redefined pedestrian circulation flows and facilitated contact with these green spaces, and even with neighboring Lake Michigan, a few blocks away in an eastbound direction. Barcelona architects believe that this strategy is the most appropriate to breathe personality and new life into a very heterogeneous set of buildings.
Chicago, cradle of skyscrapers, is one of the great American architectural squares, marked by professional buildings such as William Le Baron, Louis Sullivan, Daniel Burnham, Frank Lloyd Wright or Mies Van der Rohe. The presence of Spanish authors architecture there is limited, with the exception of Ricardo Bofill, author of a 50-storey tower erected along the Chicago River in 1992. Rafael Moneo, author of extensive international experience, and with works Like the Cathedral of Our Lady of Los Angeles, it is difficult to find an order from an American institution to a Spanish firm comparable to the one Barozzi Veiga just received.
Winners in Europe and the USA, unpublished in their city