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Museums sprout 'green' architecture

A wave of energy-efficient architecture – and ecofriendly retrofits – is sweeping through public showcases.

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Low impact: Grand Rapids Art Museum received a Gold certification last month from the US Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program. Other museums around the US are poised to follow.

Courtesy of Steve Hall/Hedrich Blessing

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Museums tend to be famous for what's on their walls. But at the new Grand Rapids Art Museum (GRAM) in Michigan, the art has taken a back seat to the walls themselves.

Last month, the $75 million, 125,000-square-foot building became the first art museum in the country to receive a LEED Gold certification from the US Green Building Council in Washington. (LEED, which stands for Leadership in Energy and En­­viron­­mental Design, is considered the benchmark for green construction.)

The fact that a second museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver, will soon gain Gold status is just one sign of the greening of US museums.

Forget Corinthian columns: Today's museums have features like green roofs – such as on the new wing at the Institute of Fine Arts in Chicago – or goats as part of the maintenance team, as at the Getty Center in Los Angeles, the first facility in the US to qualify for LEED certification on an existing building.

"I cannot count the number of institutions that are doing serious green stuff. That's how huge it is," says Sarah Brophy, coauthor of "The Green Museum," to be published later this spring. Ms. Brophy says that green construction started becoming a serious consideration for museums about six years ago – with zoos, aquariums, and children's museums leading the way.

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