Grand Rapids Art Museum

When planning began for the new Grand Rapids Art Museum, museum officials and lead donors decided to pursue LEED certification with a vengeance, to become the world's first, newly built LEED certified art museum. In order to meet this goal, and eventually exceed it with a Gold level certification, the design of the Grand Rapids Art Museum needed to feature inherently green elements, but also find a way to incorporate sustainability and LEED credits into the material of other design elements.

Of the many elements designed, created, and brought to life in this project, the architectural concrete exterior truly stands as one of the most beautiful and sustainable components of the museum. The exposed architectural concrete defines the architectural form and character of the building. The concrete featured 3% recycled content and used 100% regional materials. These elements were essential when selecting the forming system and providing the multiple mock-ups needed to meet the high level of aesthetics and creativity demanded of the architectural concrete.

A sequence of 177 separate architectural concrete pours led to a one-of-a-kind forming system for the project. The forms needed to be watertight around the tie holes and all edges. Each pour had zero tolerance for rework, since patches were not allowed. In addition, the forms called for sharp corners.

One of the sustainable advantages to the museum's cast-in-place concrete exterior was its 12 in. thickness, as the building is better able to stay warm or cold, as required. This leads to lower energy consumption and optimization of energy use.

The introduction of natural light was also an important feature of the building, not only in reducing energy use, but creating gallery space that marks the changing of time by sensing the changing light throughout the day. Large expanses of glass in public non-gallery areas were layered with exterior louvers, insulated glass with argon gas and a fabric scrim on the interior.

Three major "lantern" galleries allow natural light to enter through clerestory windows composed of triple layers of glass and adjustable louvers, which protect the art from harmful UV while bathing the space with diffuse natural light. Other items that contribute to the sustainable quality of the museum include recycled and recyclable materials, grey water collection, management and recycling, and an innovative mechanical system which uses energy recovery wheels to precondition incoming fresh air and lower energy requirements.

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