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Daylight-Filled Museum Opens in Mexico City

Exterior rendering of the Museo Jumex
The museum, which opened last month, is visually dominated by four 15 m high sawtooth gables that capture light from the east, enabling ambient daylight to flood the uppermost gallery. The museum is clad in travertine, which added to the weight of the cast-in-place concrete structure. Pedro Hiriart

Balancing seismic needs with art museum requirements, the Museo Jumex officially opened its doors last month in Mexico City.

December 17, 2013—A compact building, the 56 m tall Museo Jumex is a visually arresting structure that commands the attention of viewers. The museum houses Colección Jumex, one of the largest private collections of contemporary art in Latin America. To highlight the exhibitions that will be on display, four 15 m high sawtooth gables in the roof admit light from the east, flooding the uppermost gallery space of the museum. Strategically located cutouts throughout the building channel light into the remaining two levels of gallery space.

Designed by London-based David Chipperfield Architects in collaboration with the Mexico City-based architecture firm TAAU; the structural engineering was performed by Mexico City-based Alonso y Asociados in consultation with the London office of global engineering firm Arup, the contemporary art museum officially opened its doors last month.

While the 6,700 m2, cast-in-place concrete museum extends a mere four stories above ground, a five-story belowground structure offers four levels of parking and a level of back-of-house space to complement the gallery. “As in any museum, architectural requirements are mandatory, and [the] structural engineer has to be very creative,” said Javier Alonso, a director of Alonso y Asociados, who wrote in response to written questions posed by Civil Engineering online.

“Several considerations were particularly challenging for this project,” Alonso noted. Among them were the “very heavy” live and moveable loads and expansive floor-to-floor heights required for the art museum, as well as the seismic loads that the structure had to be designed for because of its purpose as a public space and location in earthquake-prone Mexico City.

“[The] seismic coefficient [was] amplified by a 1.5 factor, due to code requirements for a ‘Group A’ structure,” Alonso said. Group A structures, as defined by the Mexico City Code, include such structures as hospitals, schools, museums, and emergency utilities, as well as others, he noted. 

The main stability elements for the museum are two concrete cores that extend from the reinforced slab foundation down through the underground levels and up to the top level of the building, according to Ed Clark, CEng, MIStructE, a director of the London office of Arup and the structural director for the firm’s work on the project, which included the design of the building’s lighting strategies. Clark says the cores contain the elevators and stairs for the building. “The only bit of the building not stabilized by the cores is the top level of roof, so we have a continuous stability system through the building, and it’s pretty stiff,” Clark says.

The ground floor of the museum is an unclad level that rests on a raised plinth; the level contains the entrance lobby and main stairs for the museum, according to Clark. Fourteen circular columns, which are inset slightly from the perimeter of the second floor slab, edge the space, according to Clark. “The architectural aspiration there was for that level to be as clear and as open as possible, so the building is going to read as a sort of solid pavilion sitting on piloti,” Clark says.

3D rendering of the museum

The building’s stability is provided by two concrete cores that
extend from the reinforced slab foundation downward through five
underground levels and up to the top level of the building.
David Chipperfield Architects

The upper levels of the museum are clad entirely in travertine. Floor slabs span between the two interior concrete cores and the outer perimeter columns, in the case of the second floor, and the outer perimeter walls in the case of the third and four floors, Clark notes.

The decision to build perimeter walls on the upper levels, in place of columns, was made to evenly distribute the huge building loads, according to Alberto Sanchez, the structural engineer at Alonso y Asociados who was responsible for the design of the museum. Sanchez responded in writing to questions posed by Civil Engineering online.

Strategically placed cutouts in the concrete perimeter walls, which open up onto loggias, offer exterior spaces for visitors to enjoy views across the city and a method for ambient daylight to filter into the interior gallery spaces, Clark says. Deep beams located within the floor plates span over the perimeter cutouts, Clark explains, “So the position and the size and how those openings stack on top of one another—or don’t stack on top of one another—was a key challenge in developing the structural concept,” he says.

Since each aboveground floor plate changes in size in comparison to the level above it, the vertical loads had to be transferred at each floor level before ultimately being transferred into the ground-level columns. The offset perimeter concrete walls on each aboveground level required specially designed corbels at the perimeter of each floor plate to transfer these loads, explained Alonso.

The thickened edges of the floor plates were thus used as transfer plates, “to allow that load to jog across at each level,” Clark says. “Because the building is more or less symmetrical, those forces are balanced out across the building because the wall on the other side of the building is doing the same thing, and those forces are balanced out through the floor plates.”

The mechanical systems for the first two enclosed gallery floors are hidden by a system of double-slabbed floors, Sanchez added: The secondary slab is aesthetic, appearing as a white ceiling to the level beneath. A two-stage construction process was required to create the double slabs, which are separated by girders.

For the upper-level gallery, which is lit by the gabled skylights, the “two internal cores stop before you get to the roof level, and the [steel] roof itself clear spans across the width of the building,” Clark says. Spanning 35 m from one side of the building to the other, the steep steel trusses span across the vertical face of the skylights. Braced steel purlins form the inclined faces of the skylights, Clark explains. The bracing counters the cumulative forces of the inclines, which otherwise would tip the trusses over.

A nonstructural, controllable, horizontal diffuser distributes the daylight evenly into the gallery, according to material provided by the architects. “Controlling the behavior of that roof was pretty challenging,” Clark says. “And it makes it a unique space.”

“One of the reasons why we like working with David Chipperfield is that they create really amazing, inspiring spaces to be in,” Clark says. “I think part of the challenge is to develop a structural system that really enables those amazing cathedral-like and high-quality spaces, but in an invisible way.

“So we try not to go through too many gymnastics, to achieve something that really doesn’t make sense—it’s about marrying architectural aspirations with some sensible engineering diagrams, and that’s the fun we get out of it,” Clark notes.

The new building is devoted solely to exhibition space. The main administration offices, storage facilities, and library of Fundación Jumex Arte Contemporáneo, the client for the project, will remain at the foundation’s existing headquarters in the city’s Ecatepec area.



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