Modern Meets Classical in Chicago Museum Wing

Piano's addition for Art Institute called his best in a decade
By Jason Farago,  Newser Staff
Posted May 15, 2009 8:05 AM CDT
A stairway at the new modern wing of the Art Institute of Chicago, designed by Renzo Paino.   (©Ben B Miller)
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(Newser) – This weekend the Art Institute of Chicago opens a mammoth new modern wing designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano. Nicolai Ouroussof praises Piano's mix of "Modern and classical themes," and "towering glass-and-steel facade, with its floating roof and excruciatingly slender columns" straddling gritty railroad tracks. The New York Times' critic calls the building one of Piano's best, "the closest he has come in at least a decade to achieving his near-classical ideal."

Ouroussof  notes that "the taut forms and refined details, the elevation of an industrial aesthetic to an art form" in the new wing echo the greatest works of modernist Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, who moved to Chicago in the '30s. Bloomberg critic James S. Russell is more reserved: he praises Piano's "impeccably proportioned layers of glass" but wonders if, after similar buildings everywhere from Houston to Atlanta to LA, the architect is promoting "an unwelcome aesthetic tyranny."