The Art Institute of Chicago: Modern Wing: Building Engineering
The Art Institute of Chicago
Building Engineering
Modern Wing small
The Flying Carpet

The Modern Wing is dedicated to the Art Institute’s modern and contemporary collections: paintings, sculpture, photography, film and video, and architecture and design.

The galleries off the Great Court will display changing installations from the photography collection (to the east) and temporary exhibitions (to the west). Stairs set elegantly before a two-story glass wall overlooking the new garden court will lead visitors to the galleries above. From the second-floor landing they can turn northward into the east pavilion’s galleries of contemporary art or rise again to view modern art on the third floor. Retracing their steps along the landing, they can enter galleries devoted to film, video, and installation art on the east and architecture on the west.

The Flying Carpet

A white, extruded-aluminum sun screen (which Piano has dubbed a "flying carpet") will hover over much of the new construction and capture the north light and deliver it to the third-floor gallery skylights while gently shading the garden.

Public Garden

A street-level garden will be visible from the two-story glass staircase, part of Piano’s desire to integrate the building with nature.

The Nichols Bridgeway to Millennium Park

The bridge is an important aspect of the Modern Wing. It completes the natural path of circulation—in from Michigan Avenue, through the museum, out to the park, and back onto Michigan Avenue—and emphasizes the Art Institute’s location on the street and as a downtown landmark. Stretching from the western pavilion of the building, the bridge will gracefully and gradually arch north into the park.

Education Center

Classrooms, studios, teacher resources, and family spaces will occupy the entire first floor of the east pavilion.


An ascent by escalator within a glass circulation spine on the exterior wall of the west pavilion leads up to a glass-enclosed café and an outdoor sculpture court.

Energy Efficiency

The “flying carpet” sun screen is composed of computer-modeled “wings” developed specifically for the Art Institute’s site. It will save electricity consumption while helping to achieve ideal lighting conditions during the day. In addition to the sun screen will be a daylight-linked interior lighting system that will automatically adjust incandescent fixtures to compensate for diminishing levels of natural light throughout the day, year-round. This will provide an excellent atmosphere for viewing art while saving electricity consumption by more than 20% over a traditional lighting system.

The north and south sides of the building are a double-layer envelope of transparent glass and will help meet temperature and relative humidity-conditions required for art spaces and prevent condensation on the exterior glass, resulting in energy efficiencies significantly better than Chicago Energy Code requirements.

Carbon-dioxide monitors will allow the HVAC system to adjust the amount of outside air introduced into the building based on the variation in occupancy, also resulting in significant energy savings.

A water-side economizer system will take advantage of outside temperature conditions in spring and fall to provide “free cooling” via the campus chilled-water system.

The design and commissioning of these features are made possible by a grant from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation (ICECF).