HOUSTON – (By Cynthia Lescalleet for Realty News Report) – How visitors to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston experience the 14-acre campus is as much a part of the redevelopment project as the new structures and amenities being added to accommodate more exhibitions and programs.
With the first completed elements of the multi-venue master plan opening on May 20, guests will find that a more walkable, more connected cultural hub is emerging.
The public debut will include the new L-shaped Glassell School of Art; its ramped up BBVA Compass Roof Garden; and the adjacent Brown Foundation Inc. Plaza, now home to sculptor Anish Kapoor’s shining Cloud Column. The new plaza opens to MFAH’s existing Lillie and Hugh Roy Cullen Sculpture Garden, which is being restored and lands visitors across the street from the main building.
As indicated by the flock of construction cranes still in use elsewhere on MFAH’s campus, other components of the transformative $450 million MFAH expansion project remain underway. Completion of the “largely translucent and transparent” 184,000-SF Nancy and Rich Kinder Building for 20th and 21st c. Art, for example, is slated for mid-2020.
The Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation Center for Conservation, which caps a section of the museum’s existing parking structure, is expected to be in use by conservators this fall.
MFAH’s multi-faceted redevelopment project adds 500,000 SF of improvements. They greatly increase space for exhibitions and programming, add two levels of parking (underground, to maximize usable space above them) and, importantly, better connect and integrate the Susan and Fayez S. Sarofim Campus. Tunnels, gardens and landscaped plazas will also help link the new and existing features, as will improved sidewalks, signage and street lighting.
Most of the funding for the project came from Houston philanthropists. The capital campaign continues.
Steven Holl Architects designed the master plan as well as the buildings for the new art school and contemporary works.
On the Up and Up
Clad in sandblasted pre-cast panels of concrete, the Glassell building has trapezoid-shaped windows to boost the interior’s natural light.
Structural features include the hard-to-miss roofline, with its walkable three-story slope to a sky-view garden, landscaped surface and terraced seating that faces the small amphitheater at its base.
Inside, the 85,000-SF building has three dozen studios to serve three age-groups of students in the Junior School, Studio School and Core Program, a 75-seat auditorium and a street level coffee bar for students and the public. MFAH materials point to the wide central staircase as both a design focal point and a gathering space for students.
The L-shape of the new Glassell building is part of the “space shaping strategy” deployed throughout the master plan’s design, according to architect Steven Holl’s remarks in a project summary.
As designed by Deborah Nivens & Associates, with Nevins & Benito Landscape Architecture, Brown Foundation Inc. Plaza offers visitors shade, seating, a reflection pool and monumental sculpture. Cloud Column, installed in March 2018 and rising 30 feet, was joined by Eduardo Chillida’s Song of Strength (1966). The stacked granite composition, weighing in at 42 tons, was relocated from the south side of the main MFAH building.
The new plaza also offers space for outdoor programs and performances. It connects to MFAH’s existing Lillie and Hugh Roy Cullen Sculpture Garden, which is under restoration and located across the street from the museum’s main building.
People affiliated with Museum say the initial plan for completing the campus dates back more than a decade, when MFAH determined it needed a new gallery building to display more of its masterworks.
MFAH attracts about a million visitors a year. More of them appear to be arriving by foot or by MetroRail as the Museum District and its nearby neighborhoods of Montrose and Mid-town attract higher-density development, MFAH insiders say.