Gregory Colbert originally conceived of the idea for a sustainable traveling museum in 1999. He envisioned a structure that would be the architectural equivalent of open arms, a place where nature is celebrated, a place where animals have a voice, a place where walls become doors into a timeless world without hierarchy, a place that would restore our sense of awe.
He imagined a structure that could easily be assembled in ports of call around the world, providing a transitory environment for his work on its global journey. The first public installation of Ashes and Snow at the Arsenale in Venice, which opened in 2002, inspired the aesthetics and architectural concepts used in the Nomadic Museum.
The first Nomadic Museum, designed by Japanese architect Shigeru Ban and engineers Buro Happold, debuted with the opening of Ashes and Snow in New York City in March 2005. The museum then traveled to Santa Monica, California, in 2006, Tokyo in 2007, and Mexico City in 2008.
Colbert transformed the interior of the Arsenale using atmospheric elements including stone, curtains made from one-million pressed paper tea bags from Sri Lanka, and minimalist lighting techniques. Founded in 1104, the Arsenale was originally used to build and launch long ships to sea via the Venetian canals. The interior architecture of the structure provided an ideal setting for Ashes and Snow: the monumental space gracefully accommodated Colbert’s large-format photographic artworks and films. The show was a critical and popular success, and remains one of the most attended exhibitions by any single artist in Europe.
Originally made of shipping containers, the architectural design evolves as it travels. The most recent Nomadic Museum, in the Zócalo, Mexico City was the largest bamboo structure ever created.  Designed by Simón Vélez in collaboration with Colbert, the structure occupied 5,130-square meters (55,218 square feet) containing two galleries and three distinct theaters. For the first time, the Nomadic Museum incorporated water as a design element to recall the unique history of Mexico City, which was once surrounded by canals. This architectural choice honored the symbolic significance of the Zócalo as the center of Mexico-Tenochtitlan, a city founded by the Aztecs on a small island in the middle of Lake Texcoco in 1325.
Like other elements of Ashes and Snow, the museum is an on-going project that will transform in new locations to adapt to its environment and the evolving artistic content of the exhibition itself. Colbert continues to collaborate with innovative architects to integrate the most recent advances in sustainable architecture and give new expression to the museum as it travels.
The Nomadic Museum, the traveling home of Ashes and Snow, is charted to travel the globe with no final destination.
- "The Globe and Mail: Canadian artist Gregory Colbert's photographs are the subject of a giant exhibit in Venice. And you probably haven't heard of him, writes SIMON HOUPT (2002–)".
- "Abre la Secretaría de Cultura el Museo Nómada en el Zócalo de la Ciudad de México (2008–)".
- "Vegetal steel: bamboo as eco-friendly building material (2008–)".