An important aspect of the building's HVAC system is an innovative system of energy wheels. The three 12-foot-diameter wheels, giant blue discs that rotate constantly inside metal housings the size of railroad boxcars, transfer desirable temperature and humidity from conditioned air as it vents out of the building to the fresh air that is continually brought in. “This was the right thing to do, because it didn't seem like we were trying to catch a grasshopper with an elephant,” quips Yantrasast. “The investment and the outcome were in balance.”
The same equation could be applied to the museum as a whole, in which a fair investment placed in the hands of a responsible architect yielded a landmark that is both respectful of its place and assertive enough to make that place better. Unlike so many recent museums, GRAM, with its restrained materials and simple forms, does not shout for attention. But the museum's appropriate scale, balanced articulation of surfaces, and welcoming programmatic gestures extend an invitation that will likely make art more accessible—and more social—in Grand Rapids.FACING THE CITY
At night, the gallery lanterns (right) make a striking presence on the skyline—lending the quiet building the quality of a civic landmark. Three layers of insulated glass and a layer of scrim material diffuse the light emitted but protect the artwork within. Streets and sidewalks border the museum on three sides, so Yantrasast wanted each building face to nod to its surroundings. Colored spandrel glass softens the building's southern façade, which fronts the administrative offices and classrooms.
A site plan illustrates how the building extends fingerlike projections toward Ecliptic Park. Negative spaces between these wings include a pocket park, outside seating for the museum cafe, and a sculpture court that reaches deep inside the museum. The project also incorporates small green spaces around the perimeter with a water-efficient landscape design.SOLID AND VOID
The museum's retail, dining, and meeting functions are placed along the north façade (right), which is suited perfectly to pedestrian-oriented Monroe Center, a small-scaled streetscape populated with shops and restaurants. The void pictured, on the second floor, is a covered terrace that can be used for museum functions or rented to outside groups for special events.RATIONAL RESTRAINT
As seen in the framed view from the entrance stair (right), GRAM's exterior is an essay in restraint, with a materials palette of concrete, glass, stone, and aluminum, all kept within a narrow color range.
The inaugural exhibit at GRAM will be “Four Salvaged Boxes”, which explores the process of museum design from the architects' perspective. True to its name, the exhibit takes the form of four boxes, all made out of materials salvaged from the construction of the museum itself. These boxes serve as traveling crates but also as presentation tools, opening up to reveal exhibition items such as models, sketches, and samples of building materials. Each box is devoted to a different concern inherent to the design process: Earth/Water; Light/Air; Space; and Time.
The museum, positioned on the same city block as Maya Lin's Ecliptic Park, projects a sense of openness through its transparent, modulated façade, daylit interior courtyard, and comfortable scale. Yet the variety of spatial experiences and differentiation of light and shadow occur within a design framework that is highly ordered and rational.DETAILS, DETAILS
The museum lobby (right), floored in dark gray basaltina, frames a view across the park, with downtown Grand Rapids in the background. On one side, louvers and operable shades (at left in photo) control glare from the southern exposure; a narrow, scissorlike stair on the opposite side provides direct access to the second-floor landing and galleries.
The first-floor landing mediates between a gallery for the museum's collection of design and modern craft and a multipurpose auditorium with flexible seating.
Located at the back of the building is the East Court, an interior sculpture gallery and vertical circulation space, where a streamlined stair connects the second- and third-floor galleries.LIGHT SHOW
The generous use of natural light in the museum is essential to its strategy for conserving energy. Soft, reflected light is admitted into many of the public spaces after passing through three filters: exterior louvers (right) with an aerodynamic profile; energy-saving glass insulated with argon gas; and an operable fabric scrim.
At eye level on the ground floor, louvers are absent in order to allow views in and out of the building. The horizontal louvers are made of prefinished aluminum and start several feet above ground level in the triple-height lobby space. They are fixed in place at an angle that provides the most effective shading at all hours and during all seasons.
Finishes and details inside the museum are uncluttered, as seen in a circulation space between the museum shop and sculpture courtyard that evokes the work of Yantrasast's mentor, Tadao Ando. Floor plans illustrate the clarity of organization, with active public functions located at the front, quiet galleries at the rear.GALLERIES
Airy, white-walled galleries (right) are warmed by floors made of Forest Service Council–certified wood, which contribute to LEED credits. Likewise, GRAM's air-conditioning system employs three 12-foot-diameter energy wheels to bring in fresh air while using significantly less energy than a traditional HVAC system.
Visitors reach the galleries along a stair in the East Court. The glass handrail assemblies lend a transparency to the space that makes even narrow walkways seem a part of the larger gallery.
The primary third-floor galleries are crowned by large, glass-enclosed lanterns that filter light from above. In these spaces, daylight enters through triple-layered glass with ultraviolet protection. Light is further modulated with adjustable louvers and light-filtering shades before bouncing off an inverted-pyramid ceiling and into the gallery space as soft, blended light.
PROJECT Grand Rapids Art Museum, Grand Rapids, Mich.
OWNER Grand Rapids Art Museum (Michael Ellis, president of the board; Celeste Adams, director)
OWNER'S REPRESENTATION RISE Group (David Crowell, Peter Van Dyk, Thomas Calmeau)
DESIGN ARCHITECT wHY Architecture (Kulapat Yantrasast, right, and Yo Hakomori, principals; Aaron Loewenson, project architect; Megan Lin, Jenny Wu, project team)
ARCHITECT OF RECORD Design Plus (Dave Mester, project manager; Doug P. Smith, project architect)
STRUCTURAL ENGINEER Dewhurst Macfarlane and Partners
ENVIRONMENTAL ENGINEER Atelier Ten
MEP Design Plus
LIGHTING CONSULTANT Isometrix Lighting + Design
CIVIL ENGINEER Moore & Bruggink
CURTAIN WALL CONSULTANT W.J. Higgins & Associates
CONCRETE CONSULTANT Reginald Hough
LANDSCAPE DESIGN Design Plus
INITIAL CONCEPT DESIGN M+M, London
GENERAL CONTRACTOR Rockford/Pepper Construction (Shane Napper, project manager)
CONCRETE CONSTRUCTION Grand River Construction
COST $60 million