Art Institute of Chicago

Charles G. Young, Interactive Design Architects

Art Institute of Chicago

The Modern Wing

It's a good thing the Art Institute of Chicago doesn't hustle. The museum began its latest expansion in 1999. As originally designed by architect Renzo Piano, the addition would have been perched above the commuter-rail line that bisects Grant Park, with walls that shielded its south-facing side from the outdoors. Then came Millennium Park. Because work hadn't advanced beyond the planning stage, Piano was able to rethink the annex and turn it into the most critically acclaimed new exhibition space in the U.S. The biggest change in his 2005 redo was in the project's orientation. The Modern Wing is connected literally and figuratively to Millennium Park, its next-door neighbor to the north, by a 620-ft.-long pedestrian bridge that inclines from the park to the wing's third and top floor. A facade of floor-to-rooftop windows on building's north side look out from the galleries to the park's gardens and the Frank Ghery-designed Pritzker Pavilion. The $294 million addition, which opened in May, seems airy compared with the rest of the fortress-like Art Institute. Its roof—Piano calls it a flying carpet—is a giant skylight. The south wall, shaded by a long overhang, is also a glass curtain. The wing holds roughly 1,000 works, much of them by contemporary European artists. Its 64,000 square feet of display space has given the Art Institute the opportunity to bring many pieces out of storage, while allowing every one of the museum's 10 departments to increase their galleries by 33%. The public seems to agree with the rave reviews; since the wing opened, attendance has topped 1 million, up 87% from the year-earlier period. –Michael Arndt