Art Institute of Chicago: Renovations and Reinstallations

Chicago, Illinois

For over four decades, VHA has worked closely with the Art Institute on modifications to its iconic campus, most notably the historic Allerton and Gunsaulus buildings along Michigan Avenue.

In the 1970s, founding principal John Vinci spearheaded the preservation and reconstruction of Adler & Sullivan's Stock Exchange Trading Room within the then-new facility on Columbus Drive. More recently, VHA directed the re-installations of the museum's iconic stained glass Chagall Windows.  In between, we have assisted with numerous other projects that have helped to restore and clarify the museum's historic architecture.  Three of these projects are highlighted below.

Chagall Windows

After a five-year absence, Marc Chagall’s America Windows returned to public view in November of 2010 as the centerpiece of a new installation examining public art in Chicago. VHA worked closely with museum curators and conservators, researching the original installation and developing a gallery design consistent with Chagall’s intent while improving the conditions for object conservation and visitor experience.

VHA also consulted on the renovation of the adjacent Rubloff lobby gallery and the installation of public sculpture maquettes complementing the windows.

A special challenge in the project was achieving proper illumination via artificial light sources only, a conservation requirement for the fragile windows. The solution, a shallow light box space behind the glass with diffusing curtains, provides optimal color and adjustable brightness levels for various installation needs.

An infinite plane of light is achieved with carefully spaced fixtures and mirrors on the ends.

Two layers of diffusing curtains eliminate any visibility of the fixtures through the stained glass windows.

The curtains give texture and depth to the shallow light box and pull away to allow service access.

Conditioned air is supplied from above and exhausted through the base, maintaining constant temperatures.

Mockups were preformed to ensure that the appropriate light levels and color temperatures could be achieved without allowing any view to the fixtures beyond.

Photos by Eric Hausman

Allerton and Gunsaulus Halls

In preparation for the opening of the Modern Wing, the Art Institute renovated much of its existing museum campus. VHA directed the reinstallation of the museum's European Painting and Sculpture galleries within the iconic 1893 Allerton building and historic Gunsaulus Hall galleries.

Working closely with the museum's curators, galleries were replanned to create a comprehensive historical narrative incorporating selections from the museum's collection of decorative arts.

Work included the restoration of an original corner gallery within the Allerton building, removed in 1915; accessibility upgrades, including a new ramp and stair at a key campus intersection; art display upgrades, including new cases, lighting systems, and color schemes; and fire suppression systems, installed throughout Gunsaulus Hall.

Ryerson Library

The Art Institute of Chicago's historic reading room was designed in 1901 by the Boston firm of Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge, architects of the original Art Institute of Chicago building (1893). VHA's renovation modernized the library's patron facilities while restoring its original decorative scheme.

The purpose of this project was to modernize the library’s patron facilities, including reworking of reception desks, casework and reference tables. New in-floor raceways were installed to accommodate data and power cables for access to the library’s electronic card-catalog system.

Work included restoration of the original paint colors, glazes, gold leafing, the design of custom period carpeting, and a readjustment of the room's light levels. Also included was the design of new millwork pieces for reception, circulation and reference areas, the reworking of existing library shelving and tables, and the restoration of original millwork.

Photos by Judith Bromley

Lobby and Grand Stair

In the mid-1980s, VHA was commissioned to re-establish the Art Institute's original 1893 Beaux Arts circulation plan, which has as its focus the building's grand stair and adjacent Michigan Avenue Lobby. The lobby's coffered ceiling was restored and custom light fixtures, based on original designs, were introduced. A marble reception desk was created to consolidate museum admission and information functions.  The Grand Stair and skylight were restored and VHA installed fragments from Chicago's lost architectural treasures in the space.

The original balustrade was restored, mahogany handrails were refinished, the existing skylight was re-glazed, and lighting was improved. Selections from the museum's collection of architectural fragments were installed on the walls of the upper stair hall, along with other sculptural objects.

Photos by Bob Thall

Chicago Stock Exchange Trading Room

Completed in 1894 to the design of Adler and Sullivan, the Chicago Stock Exchange was demolished in 1973. Prior to its demolition, VHA principal John Vinci spearheaded efforts to preserve the building, resulting in the salvage and reconstruction of the building's trading room and entry arch at the Art Institute's Columbus Drive complex.

Restoration work was based on site investigation prior to demolition and historical research documenting missing elements. During reconstruction, archaic materials and technologies were employed, including multi-register stenciling, ornamental plasterwork, scagliola surfacing and the restoration of art glass skylights.


General Contractor: Pepper Construction

Structural Engineer: Johnson Engineering Systems and Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates

M/E/P Engineer: McGuire Engineering and WMA Engineers

Lighting: Lux Populi and Schuler Shook

Photographer: Eric Hausman, Judith Bromley, Bob Thall, HABS, Hedrich-Blessing, John Vinci