2007 saw the inauguration of the new Grand Rapids Art Museum (GRAM) designed by Thai born architect Kulapat Yantrasast, co-founder with fellow architect Yo-ichiro Hakomori of the LA-based wHY architecture practice. Established in Grand Rapids, Michigan (USA) in 1910, the GRAM is home to modern European and American art, design and ethnic art collections. From the outset, the new architectural project was predicated on achieving recognition for environmental sustainability and architectural excellence.
The lead donation came with the unconditional specification that the building attain LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating and be an outstanding piece of architecture. The GRAM is the first art museum to obtain such green certification. The project has numerous strengths. The majority of the construction materials were either recycled (20% of the total value) or locally sourced (58%). On-site rainwater storage supplies a non-drinking water-reuse system. The building is largely naturally lit with only essential use of artificial illumination. Thermal insulation and solar glare protection rely on passive systems while ventilation is via a low-speed forced air plant.
The architecture is spare, of minimalist stamp, a feature Yantrasast honed during his collaboration with Tadao Ando on other museum projects. The building itself comprises parallelepiped blocks. A large canopy made from fair-face concrete slabs heralds the entrance staircase and provides a sheltered communal area. The triple-height atrium is fittingly monumental, its huge glazed lights protected by fixed external aluminium louvers and interior motorised blinds. Natural light streams through the lower, un-shaded part of the extensive glazing: to the south, a reflective pond diffuses luminosity while on the north side, the incoming light is softened by the outdoor sculpture garden. This northern side has a two-ramp concrete and steel staircase with glazed parapet and tubular railings. On the first level of the east wing, opposite the entrance, are the auditorium and temporary exhibition areas. On the upper storeys, reached by the staircase against the glazed wall, are the galleries housing the permanent collections. Three glazed volumes on top take light into the depths of the building, while, back lighted at night, they become an urban landmark.