Happy 5th Birthday, Modern Wing

In some ways, it feels like only yesterday that the Art Institute opened the doors to its highly-anticipated Modern Wing, the sleek 264,000 square foot annex to the world-renowned museum.


The striking, streamlined glass structure extending between the museum and the park also seems to have become an immediate fixture of Chicago’s architectural landscape.
It’s hard to imagine that stretch of land without it.

We had the pleasure of designing the opening gala for this memorable day in our city’s history, and in honor of the 5th anniversary of this outstanding addition, join us behind the scenes of the party that kicked it all off.


Location, location, location
Early on, the question was where to put nearly 1100 guests for a sit-down dinner. The solution, it seemed, was right under our noses: taking advantage of the inviting surroundings, we made plans with Partytime-HDO Productions to construct a tent across the street, amidst the sprawling expanse of Grant Park.


A pivotal decision made by the museum board was to allow for a tent with glass walls, completing the aesthetic we felt was integral to the end result.

Location decided, the real challenge was in the transition: we knew the guests’ passage from cocktail hour (spent traversing the gorgeous new space and viewing compelling art) into a tent would need to be a captivating one.

A runway, lined with speakers spouting custom-made beats, was thus constructed to deliver the guests from point A to B:


The building as our muse, we pulled in its elements for the design of our space: sleek glass surfaces, white vertical details and intersecting angles, nodding to the style of Renzo Piano, the celebrated architect behind the design.

13′ tall glass sidewalls (above) and white laminate flooring (below) were installed first.


Décor and lighting elements came next:


Imagination, adaptation, creation
It was imperative to break up the expansive 21,000 square foot tent, and we did so by building 4 white walls, complete with oversized doorways meant to frame the dynamic scenes of mingling guests.


Internal illumination within the walls was programmed to change both color and intensity, creating a constant sense of movement in the room. The ambience was enhanced with the addition of thirty-six custom-built Sputnik chandeliers, each eight-foot in diameter, designed to evoke the sensation of a starlit sky.

Retro Tivoli bulbs were added to reflect against the ceiling, creating a feeling of infinity.


10 separate “groves” were built to add another level of texture and light. These constructions, composed of metallic pipes, were inspired by the idea of looking upward and onward, and exploring the future instead of what is at our feet.
AIC Modern Wing HMR Designs

The transparent construction and tailored lighting gave guests the sensation of existing in a glowing glass box which seemed to have appeared in the middle of the park as if dropped out of the sky.








Celebration, gratification, commemoration

In the end, our original challenge of location gave us more of an opportunity to incorporate stylistic elements inspired by the very building being celebrated. Replicating parts of the new wing was truly as much fun as adorning it would have been. Thanks to a fabulous fundraising effort by the Woman’s Board and Board of Trustees, the gala raised over two million dollars to benefit the museum.

Congratulations to the Modern Wing for 5 truly stylish years. Here���s to infinite more.

More into moving pictures? Watch this outstanding time lapse footage of the affair taking shape: 

A very special thanks to all of the following organizations:

The Art Institute of Chicago Woman’sBoard

The Art Institute of Chicago Board of Trustees

Partytime-HDO Productions

Frost Chicago

Jewell Events Catering

Jam Entertainment/Creative Services

Project Bandaloop

Halls Rentals

PJH Chicago

It’s our pleasure to work beside such talents.