The Aspen Art Museum has long existed as one of the well-to-do town’s major focal cultural sites for public engagement, alongside the likes of the Aspen Institute and Aspen Music Festival and School. And though the recently reconstructed art hub is a few decades younger than the latter two institutions, its significance and its novelty were blockaded by few, albeit vexing, setbacks: One, the space was located outside of Aspen’s downtown area and thus largely removed from the public eye; and two, rather than the museum enjoying the autonomy of a standalone structure, it was merely one of a number of rented units occupying a converted industrial plant.
It was for these reasons primarily that the first stage of redesigning the facility was first to disassemble and decamp. In order for AIA Zack Moreland, designated senior project architect of Shigeru Ban Architects America, and his team to ultimately fulfill their vision they opted for a more transparently noticeable venue. The project resultantly found itself planted snug in the very core of Aspen’s upscale downtown amusements, a scenic privilege Moreland and co. integrated into the building’s physical essence. “The Grand Stair,” as termed by Moreland’s team, is “an indoor/outdoor, very public, generous-sized stair that goes from the ground sidewalk level up to the third,” intended to analogize the customarily Aspen leisure of ski lift elevation. “It’s kind of inverted in that way where you start at the top and descend down through the building. You sort of enter galleries and then come back out to that public stair and experience the public zone where the screen is as you go down level by level.”
LOCATION Aspen, CO
Program Art Museum
Size 33,000ft 2
Architect Shigeru Ban Architects
Executive Architect Cottle Carr Yaw Architects, Ltd.
OWNER Aspen Art Museum Owner Representative O’Connor Consulting, Inc.
Structural Engineer KL&A, Inc. in association with Création Holz GmbH
Civil Engineer Sopris Engineering MEP/IT/AV/Security Engineer Beaudin Ganze Consulting Engineers, Inc.
Landscape Architect Bluegreen
Lighting Consultant L’Observatoire International
Building Envelope FRONT Climate Engineer Transsolar, Inc.
Specialty Timber Fabricator Spearhead
Specialty Exterior Cladding Fabricator (Woven Screen) Gen3 Architectural Wall Systems in Association with Lyman Fogel
Specialty Glass Curtain Wall, Floor & Skylight Fabricator Harmon, Inc. General Contractor Turner Construction in association with Summit Construction
Window Treaments Gotcha Covered
Painting Jeff Schiros Painting
Millwork Imperial Woodworking Enterprises
Landscaping 4 Seasons
Encompassing the property’s exterior, the abovementioned screen proved to be one of the building’s most instantly captivating features, a work of art in itself gifted for public admiration before even reaching the entrance. Upon first view, the screen appears almost as a latticed barricade fortifying the galleries, sheltering the invaluable works contained within the built space, while offering but a limited glimpse to whet the fascinations of the myriad onlookers. “As an architectural device, the goals were to have a surface that was permeable to a degree,” Moreland reveals, “degree so that, as you’re either on the inside or outside of it, it has a presence but it’s transparent at the same time.” Still, while asserting a visually commanding presence, the fence also serves as a functional instrument “to control the views and light coming through the glass and to present the material that was more contextual.” Summarily, application of an attractive wooden veneer draws the attention of passersby and further supplements the quality of museum-goers’ gallery experience.
For the galleries that are exposed by the wall of glass, certainly, the fence succeeded in connecting the museum to its alpine backdrop, though it more importantly facilitates the use of natural daylight into the space. While Moreland concedes that energy efficiency typically can be an obstacle for museums due to strict lighting and climate control demands, sustainability was made a priority from the very outset by the architectural and engineering teams alike. “The area we thought we could make the most impact was through maximizing the use of day lighting and providing the absolute highest efficiency lighting system we could,” affirms Moreland, highlighting that, in addition to daylight shone through fence lattices, a series of skylights were employed, on the second floor in particular, to capture its share of natural luminance as well. With similar singularity, the team optimized climate conditioning via a concept for which they also have ascribed an original title. “The Thermos,” Moreland explains, is a structural technique that plots the most consumptively demanding gallery room in the center of the building and “wrapping” it with spaces where consumption isn’t quite so strenuous. “By doing that, you create a buffer zone which puts less demand on the mechanical systems that serve the galleries themselves.”
Moreland reflects upon the project fondly, with particular emphasis allotted to the fence and rooftop space. Whereas the eccentricities of Shigeru Ban’s signature utilization of wood as a key material is amply conspicuous on this work, another peculiarity for the city’s day life is the patio area housed above the galleries. It is one of the only existing outdoor dining areas in the city and, being perched atop, the space enjoys the vast range of mountainous Aspen splendor for which the town is known from an ideal vantage point. And it is a luxury truly available to the general public as a whole. “The museum is free so anyone can go at any time and go up to that space even if you’re not interested in going through the galleries.” In any case, green energy and fine art are supported simultaneously.