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Tip of the iceberg

Dear Editor:

As Shigeru Ban’s partner in the United States, I feel it vital to respond to the architectural and engineering questions raised in a recent newspaper commentary. The conceptual design of the Aspen Art Museum does not present any environmental problems nor is it an inappropriate concept. At this early stage of the design process many of the assertions in that article are both misleading and erroneous. We anticipate a lengthy and thorough dialogue as we navigate the approval process and public scrutiny.

Shigeru’s primary concept for the design was that it be open and accessible to the public. This was the primary reason for choosing glass for the top one-third of the museum. Two-thirds of the proposed building is below grade ” the glass is only the “tip of the iceberg.” The choice of glass is conceptually critical, as it is welcoming and allows people to see inside the museum. The design team is fully aware of the challenges of using glass and is working to optimize its benefits without compromising the sustainable aspirations of Aspen’s Canary Initiative.



In the concept design phase, we are working with two engineering firms, Transsolar and Beaudin Ganze, both chosen for their sustainable design experience and familiarity with local conditions. Transsolar’s portfolio includes the Manitoba Hydro downtown office, a 700,000-square-foot complex that targeted a 60 percent reduction below the national standard for energy consumption. Located in Winnipeg, Canada, this glass building is extremely environmentally friendly and faces colder winters and hotter summers than Aspen. Beaudin Ganze, a locally based firm with many years of experience, has engineered numerous LEED-certified buildings in the Roaring Fork Valley.

Shigeru respects nature and incorporates it into our architecture. We are dedicated to a low carbon profile for the building construction and future building operations. The wood structure in the museum was chosen in opposition to steel or concrete for its low carbon emissions when fabricated, as wood uses a fraction of the energy to produce and is totally renewable.




Mechanically, we are looking to take advantage of the cool mountain air. Our goal is to cool the building using displacement ventilation and an economizer that cools the building with outside air. Additional cooling may use geothermal provided by the cool mountain water under Rio Grande Plaza. The heat put back in the earth will have no measurable effect on the groundwater table. For heating, our engineers do not expect any appreciable lake freeze. These geothermal possibilities will be studied in more detail.

The negative statements about the use of glass ignore the benefits of natural lighting ” which outweigh the concerns. Natural light drastically reduces electrical use while creating an uplifting environment.

At the same time, we are taking every precaution to minimize the damaging effects of sunlight through material selection and shades. We are planning to use triple-paned insulated glass that will be heat-mirrored for extra solar control. The educational wing will use computer-controlled external shades that can adjust relative to the sun’s location. There will also be internal roller shades installed on the west wall.

The wood truss system over the main entry level is both structural and serves as light louvers to prevent direct sunlight from entering the building. That same system will also prevent light from escaping the building at night. We are developing night lighting metrics that will further address night light concerns. An appropriate level of light from the museum will benefit the plaza, providing a more inviting gathering place.

At this extremely early stage, it is premature to cite building deficiencies, founded or unfounded, as reasons of why to not build the proposed new AAM. Vote yes on Question 1 to continue the conversation to make a new museum. A yes vote isn’t a vote for the current, preliminary design of the museum. It is simply a vote to allow the AAM to negotiate for the land use. We are at the “tip of the iceberg” and are dedicated to addressing your concerns. By working together we will produce a civic building that all will use and will be proud of.

Dean Maltz

managing partner of Shigeru Ban Architects