One of the oldest museums in the Mid-West was recently relocated to an elegant new LEED Gold certified structure, garnering accolades from art aficionados and sustainability advocates alike. Kulapat Yantrasast of wHY Architecture designed the new Grand Rapids Art Museum to be as beautiful as the artworks within, placing a premium on public space and ultra-efficient modern design. Situated downtown amid Maya Lin’s “Ecliptic” park and Alexander Calder’s “Grand Vitesse”, the museum is an impressive addition to the renowned architecture of the “sculpture city”.

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LEED certified museums tend to be a tall order in terms of economics and design, which is one reason why there are so few of them. This is because the modern museum is more cultural complex than singular structure: it fulfills a range of functions through galleries, auditoriums, conference rooms, cafes, and stores. All of these rooms have different energy dynamics which are complicated by the exacting temporal science of archiving and displaying art. Regarding the project, Yantrasast states:

“a museum, especially an art museum, is a very unforgiving type of building because the air inside the building has to be very consistent. It is mostly 75 degrees and 50% humidity. [that range] can sway about five percent, but if it swings more than that the artwork will suffer. Conventional museums expend a lot of energy maintaining that condition.”

Remarkably, Yantrasast was able to triple the museum’s size to 125,000 square feet while maintaining a stellar environmental footprint. In order to do this, the structure takes advantage of a wealth of cutting-edge sustainable technologies. Climate is controlled by excellent insulation and building materials (20% of which are recycled) and a high-efficiency HVAC that features an “energy recovery wheel” system (as warm air is cycled outside, heat and humidity are transferred to incoming air, regulating temperature). The structure is also designed to receive 70% of its light from natural sources, and water-efficient fixtures compliment an on-site rain and grey water reuse system that reduces water consumption by 20%. This adds up to a structure that is clean, conscionable, and suffused with light – a perfect environment for artistic appreciation.