05 October 2007

Completion of the Museum of Modern Art (MUDAM) Luxembourg

Views of the completed MUDAM naturally daylight galleries Luxembourg, August 2007

Recently completed and opened to the public this past summer, 2007, the two galleries are noteworthy for the calm diffused, clerestories windows, created by the single-spanning concrete shells. The curved form, cast in concrete on site with a complex form work made by boat-workers from Marseille, France, were the longest pre-fab cast shell structures built in Europe in over 50 years - varying from 22 to 28 meters - with no control joints. They act in the classic, time-tested way, as light-baffles aligned due North.

This form, long preferred for car factories in Northern Europe, had not been executed until we developed the design, and its execution, for the MUDAM (the engineering was by Schroeder et Associes, assisted by RFR of Paris, and audited by LERA of New York; the lighting design profiling was studied in the Artificial Sky laboratory of ArupLighting, London, with Andy Sedgwick; the design geometry of the concrete shells and the gallery itself, were designed by Tim Culbert, then an associate-partner of Pei's).

Of particular interest in the shell construction, is the lack of structural ties in the plane of the glass, thus each shell is entirely independent of the next. The axial moment of the shells under self-loading, braced only at the perimeter walls, were originally thought as not possible to execute, requiring the glazed plane to act in concert with the structure deflections of the concrete. Our design work, both on the concrete profiling and the glazing, was aimed at minimizing any additional structural elements in the glazing plane - both to reinforce the structure integrity of the cast shell, as well as to preserve the maximum of North facing views to the sky. The orientation and form of the shells, act as baffles for the direct and indirect sunlight.

After more than two years of study, in structural design, natural daylighting simulation and in test casting of the concrete shells on site , we were able to successfully execute our design without any control joints. Pei, who had little to do with this aspect of the project design, was assuredly pleased, as the concrete form work and concrete finish, emulated the fine architectural concrete he has been noted for, at the Louvre and the National Gallery (As in the Louvre Pyramid ceiling, the concrete form work was comprised of recycled Douglas Fir boards, 77 millimeters wide, wire brushed, with a mix comprised of marble dust to increase the surface reflectivity of the concrete).

Notes: The Musée d’Art Modern Grand-Duc Jean, Luxembourg was designed by I.M. Pei, from 1990 – 2007, the longest design-execution project in the architect’s career (up-staging the Kennedy Center which took 16 years to complete). Tim Culbert was the lead design architect overseeing the project from design through complete shell construction and close-out.

All images courtesy of photographer Thomas Mayer (Thomas Mayer Archive, copyright)