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2016 MCHAP

Aspen Art Museum

Shigeru Ban Architects

Aspen, CO, USA

August 2014


Shigeru Ban


Cottle Carr Yaw Architects (Architect of Record) KL&A, Inc. w/ Hermann Blumer (Création Holz) (Structural Engineer) Front Inc. (Building Envelope) Beaudin Ganze Consulting Engineers, Inc. (MEP/IT/AV Engineer) Bluegreen (Landscape) L’Observatoire International (Lighting)


Aspen Art Museum


Michael Moran


The objective of the Aspen Art Museum (AAM) was to create a community center for the celebration of art, following in the tradition of the Aspen Institute and Music Festival, both places for learning and cultural immersion. The AAM is unique in that it is a Kunsthalle, a non-collecting Art Museum. It has exhibition spaces with no storage space for a permanent collection. This supports the museum’s vision to have a building that is a place for new ideas, not constrained by the responsibilities that face collecting museums as depositories for art. With an endowment that allows for free admission, the AAM grants unprecedented access to the public. The museum has multiple entry points and can be experienced in a variety of ways. The outdoor rooftop space acts as an elevated city plaza that has become a major public amenity for Aspen. The Rooftop Plaza was designed for movie screenings, large public gatherings, dining, and exhibitions. Very important was the desire to have flexible, multi-use spaces that could accommodate fine arts and multimedia exhibits. A Downstairs Gallery was designed to display art and show movies to an audience of 100. The new AAM was created to foster outreach with a large educational component for the local community’s adults and children. To that end, the program includes an Educational Room and Visiting Artist Studio to allow the public to interact with professional artists.


Shigeru Ban designed the Aspen Art Museum to connect to the Alpine and Urban environments. This was achieved through the Use of Wood, Architectural Transparency and a Rooftop Urban Plaza. Timber, ever-present in Aspen, was employed as a prominent design feature. Located on a corner, the three story building is defined by a Woven Wood Screen. The overall building mass is similar to that of other major downtown buildings. The porous wood exterior façade, interior glass façade, glass elevator, and skylights provide the opportunity to see from space to space within and without the building. This creates exciting spaces and facilitates opportunities for further immersion into the natural and urban environments. The Woven Wood Screen’s color was picked to integrate with the brick of neighboring historic western vernacular buildings. Atop the building is a Wood Roof Structure that allows the natural alpine surroundings of Aspen to be seen through engineered timber. Unique to the building and an amenity to the city is the Rooftop Plaza, accessed by a Grand Stair and a Moving Room. The Rooftop Plaza adds one more open space to a city continuously increasing in density, which inherently inhibits views to the natural surroundings. Visitors are encouraged to see the museum from the top down. Guests access the roof through the Grand Stair or the Moving Room; both take visitors to the third floor Rooftop Plaza where a multi-function space and café permits views of Ajax Mountain and the majesty of the Aspen Mountains.


When Shigeru Ban designed the Aspen Art Museum, he wanted to open the building to the outside so visitors could appreciate the beauty of Aspen from within the building. This is a challenge for a museum, where artwork has strict temperature and lighting demands. The museum connects to the beauty of nature through five important design features: the Grand Stair, Moving Glass Room, Woven Wood Screen, Wood Roof Structure, and Walkable Skylights. The Grand Stair connects the plaza in front of the museum to the outdoor roof terrace, framed by the wood screen and glazed building enclosure. The Grand Stair is divided into two parallel parts; one is outside and one is inside. Visitors climbing the stairs can see each other, enlivening the skin of the building. Another dynamic feature is the Moving Glass Room, a large elevator. This animates the building corner and can be seen from afar. From inside the elevator, visitors are immersed in views of the surrounding environment. The Woven Wood Screen, emphasizes the street corner through its varying apertures. The Wood Roof Structure has curved members reminiscent of the mountains. Walkable Skylights on the roof bring natural light into the main gallery. The ground floor gallery opens to the street with a large window, permitting views of the art without entering the building. The lounge on the second floor, where visitors rest, also has views to the mountains. The roof café and lounge have sliding glass doors that open the entire space to the outside.

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