Chicago’s flying carpet

A world-class art museum in America turns to Germany, Italy and Belgium for expertise in fitting out its new, modern wing. It was Sapa RC Profiles in Belgium that produced the unusual aluminium arch profiles.

Germany’s Josef Gartner GmbH had plenty of experience when it came to building a project for the Art Institute of Chicago. The company has been producing and installing curtain walls for 140 years, mainly for large buildings. “Sealing the new, modern wing of the Art Institute of Chicago was a complex task,” says Klaus Lother, ceo of Josef Gartner. “But that’s the kind of job for us. We specialise in tailor-made work, using materials such as aluminium, steel and glass, as well as copper and bronze.”

“When it comes to production and construction of curtain walls, we don’t go for standard solutions,” Lother says. The company’s designers and engineers take the requirements of the customer and the architect and come up with an appropriate technical solution. “The modern wing of the Art Institute was a challenge because of the different types of curtain walls, the combination of designs and the different materials,” Lother says. “But it was a challenge that suited our expertise perfectly.”

Josef Gartner GmbH teamed up with Renzo Piano, the well known Italian architect whose projects include the Pompidou Centre in Paris and the Potsdamer Platz in Berlin. Josef Gartner had worked with Piano for a library in New York and the California Academy of Sciences. “Piano comes up with the design and makes the drawings, which we then take as a basis for developing our technical solution,” Lother says.

Sometimes the design poses unusual challenges, as in the case of the “flying carpet” above the Art Institute of Chicago. Its construction required aluminium arch profiles half a metre across and more than five metres long. Extreme precision was crucial for keeping the flying carpet perfectly smooth and streamlined. Any imperfection would be immediately apparent and would affect the light-regulating effect of the upper roof. “We have done extrusion work in the past, and I know how difficult it is to produce arch profiles with these dimensions,” Lother says. “The profiles must not deform after extrusion or during the painting process and further treatment.”

After the requirements for the arch profiles were known, Josef Gartner consulted possible partners and settled on Sapa RC Profiles in Belgium. “We have worked with them before, and know them to be exceptionally reliable and professional. Sapa RC Profiles produced the aluminium sections and also carried out the fabrication and surface treatment,” Lother says. “There was no deformation when they were painted after extrusion, so the flying carpet appears perfectly smooth and homogeneous.”

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