Art Institute of Chicago Buildings Getting a Makeover

One of the city’s most important buildings is in for a change.  Spanish architecture powerhouse Barozzi/Veiga plans to transform the Art Institute of Chicago’s multi-building campus which sprawls across the Metra tracks in Grant Park.

The Art Institute's good side (file)
The Art Institute’s good side (file)

The company is named for its founders, Fabrizio Barozzi and Alberto Veiga. We wanted to assess their museum chops, but unfortunately, there’s not a lot to work with. The company’s web site lists more than a dozen museum designs, but most of them seem to be competition entries, not actual finished buildings. So we refer you to F/B’s most celebrated work, the Szczecin Philharmonic Hall in Poland. Follow this link to get an idea of what that looks like.

What the company’s designs all seem to have in common are very strong geometric forms.  Most are sparsely fenestrated blocks or slabs, though a few take on triangle shapes.  The style is somewhat reminiscent of the Expo 67 buildings in Montréal.  If you haven’t up that way, think about the 1979 Buck Rogers TV show, which was partially filmed there.

That may sound terrible, but consider that most of the Art Institute’s buildings already look like boring beige and grey slabs.  At least the slabs that come out of Barozzi/Veiga are not boring, so what it comes up with should be an improvement.

Seriously, if you're not looking at it from the front, it's not that great (via Apple Maps)
Seriously, if you’re not looking at it from the front, it’s not that great. (via Apple Maps)

The company summarizes its plans thusly:

Barozzi Veiga will address the new museum as an interlocking complex–an unfolding series of immersive spaces to welcome the visitors. The project will transform the museum, by providing greater access to exhibitions, collections, and programs, with new and expanded art historical and social narratives.

If you worry about the Michigan Avenue facade, don’t.  The building west of the train tracks is a cert-e-fied, gen-u-ine, bon-a-fied Chicago icon.  Not only is it Code Orange, it’s inside a city Landmark District, a city Special District, and on top of a park that’s on the National Register of Historic Places.  Its iconic lions will not end up at PAWS.

Author: Editor

Editor founded the Chicago Architecture Blog in 2003, after a long career in journalism. He can be reached at

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