A Tour Through The New Aspen Art Museum, Under Construction

Jun 27, 2014

The new Aspen Art Museum's exterior is wrapped in a woven composite grid. The four-story, 33,000 square foot building is scheduled to open in early August.
The new Aspen Art Museum's exterior is wrapped in a woven composite grid. The four-story, 33,000 square foot building is scheduled to open in early August.
Credit Marci Krivonen

The Aspen Art Museum is arguably one of the most anticipated new structures in town.  When it opens later this summer it will be with a days-long celebration of contemporary art, Aspen and of the building itself.  Some say it's the most important building in Aspen in a century, while others call it a monstrosity.  Designed by Pritzker Prize winner Shigeru Ban, the space will be public.  Aspen Public Radio's Marci Krivonen took a tour.

Museum director Heidi Zuckerman-Jacobson stands on a busy street corner in downtown Aspen. Rising above her is the new four-story Aspen Art Museum still under construction.

"The reason I like to start here is because the City of Aspen was very gracious and allowed us to create a commons around the museum," she says motioning near the front entrance to the building.

She says the commons area is a place for people, plants and art.

Museum Director Heidi Zuckerman-Jacobson points toward the grand staircase. The stairs will be both on the inside and outside of the building, divided by a glass "curtain."
Museum Director Heidi Zuckerman-Jacobson points toward the grand staircase. The stairs will be both on the inside and outside of the building, divided by a glass "curtain."
Credit Marci Krivonen

"So, we have planters on either side and you can see they’re very complex. They’re undulating forms that mirror the woven screen."

The screen is a woven composite grid wrapping the building’s exterior. The contemporary art museum is hard to miss, both because its size - 33,000 square feet - and because of its innovative design. Five architectural elements define the structure.  The woven screen of course, and then a hand-made roof truss, a glass elevator, a grand staircase and striking skylights under foot.

Zuckerman-Jacobson leads us into the building and into one of six primary galleries.

"This is gallery five. There’s a consistency to all the galleries, they all have the tinted concrete floors, they’re all fourteen feet from the floor to the base of the beams and it was really important to me that the walls were totally pristine, so you don’t have a single switch, outlet or anything on the walls."

When the museum opens, this gallery will feature abstract paintings and drawings from artist Tomma Abts. The German-born artist created works specifically for the debut exhibition.

Because the museum is a non-collecting institution, all of the artwork is on loan. To protect it the galleries are climate controlled and tightly secured.

The wooden roof truss was handmade. It's one of the building's five key architectural elements.
The wooden roof truss was handmade. It's one of the building's five key architectural elements.
Credit Marci Krivonen

"I love the building but there are some new art museums where the building kind of overpowers the art, and I don’t think that’s going to happen here," says Larry Marx.

He's a former Museum board member and helped plan the new building. He thinks the museum’s programming is world-class and now the building will be.

"I personally think this will be considered one of the best spaces for viewing art in the country for a small museum. For a small museum, I think it will set a really great standard," he says.

Back on-site Director Heidi Zuckerman-Jacobson steps over some construction materials strewn on the floor. Our group is near the end of the tour and we’re back at museum’s front door.

"This is another key feature of the building, the glass curtain wall. Shigeru’s idea is that contemporary art can be intimidating for people, so you can stand out on the street and look in and see what you’re going to see before you see it first-hand," says Zuckerman-Jacobson.

Architect Shigeru Ban envisioned visitors would navigate the building in the way a skier traverses a mountain —from the top and descending floor to floor until reaching the bottom. His vision brought the outdoors inside, says Zuckerman-Jacobson

The tour group stands where a roof-top restaurant and cafe will be located.
The tour group stands where a roof-top restaurant and cafe will be located.
Credit Marci Krivonen

"Shigeru really honors the fact that you live in Aspen and you like to be outside. And so, you’re obviously inside here, but you really get a sense of the outside everywhere in the building."

And on the roof of the building, the scene is back-dropped by Aspen Mountain. Here construction workers are putting finishing touches a roof deck garden sculpture. When it opens, this space will have Aspen’s only unobstructed rooftop view of Ajax that's open to the public.

"I think it’s amazing," says attorney Andy Hecht. He's on the tour and owns property nearby. "I think in the last 100 years it will have the biggest impact on Aspen of any design event, of any public space."

That’s one observer’s opinion. The public will get to decide when the museum opens with a 24-hour celebration on August 9th.