When planning for the new Grand Rapids Art Museum, project officials and donors decided to pursue Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification “with a vengeance,” to make it the world's first newly built, LEED-certified art museum. They eventually exceeded this goal with a Gold level certification by incorporating green design elements and sustainable building materials.

Concrete was an important contributor to the project's sustainability and design flexibility. Of the many elements brought to life in this 135,000-square-foot building, the architectural concrete exterior stands out as one of its most beautiful components. At the same time, the museum's 12-inch-thick, cast-in-place concrete walls optimize energy use by keeping the building warm or cold.

Inside, exposed concrete walls feature tie holes aligned in rows and columns, and defined corners and reveals. A sequence of 177 separate architectural concrete pours led to a one-of-a-kind forming system. The forms, which called for sharp corners, needed to be watertight around the tie holes and edges. Each pour had zero tolerance for rework, since patches were not allowed.

Concrete also helped meet LEED material requirements because much of it came from local sources, requiring less energy in transportation. The museum's 20,000 yards of 4000 to 6000 psi concrete contained 3% recycled content and 100% regional materials.

Other items that contribute to the sustainable quality of the museum include extensive use of natural light, gray water collection, management, and recycling, and an innovative mechanical system that uses energy recovery wheels to pre-condition incoming fresh air and lower energy requirements.