John and Dominique de Menil founded the Rothko Chapel as a place for spiritual enlightenment through art and as an institution dedicated to social engagement and action. Set within a necklace of residential bungalows, the Chapel and adjacent reflecting pool embody the Menil’s ecumenical ideals and egalitarian vision.
Our project furthers the Rothko Chapel’s mission through new buildings that support expanded public programs and the meticulous restoration of the Chapel building itself. The design challenge was two-fold: to restore the sense of awe that visitors experience in the presence of Mark Rothko’s fourteen monumental paintings; and to create a new campus which is grounded in both the singular power of the Chapel and the unique character of the neighborhood without overwhelming them.
Inside the Chapel, major modifications to daylight and electric light address the longstanding problems associated with the control of glare and brightness. A new skylight with a custom light-diffusing assembly distributes daylight more evenly to the walls, enhancing appreciation of the Rothko panels. New acoustic treatments replace existing wall and ceiling finishes to absorb ambient interior sound and new doors block exterior noise. The entry sequence is redesigned, with visitor orientation and the bookstore relocated to a new building and the existing vestibule reconfigured to ease the transition between inside and outside. New audio-visual infrastructure, storage space, roof replacement, and relocating exterior equipment to a new MEP space are also included in the project. The landscape design, including the removal of adjacent houses, new planting, paths and plaza pavement, affirms the Chapel’s presence within the informality of existing trees and the surrounding neighborhood.
A New North Campus
Connected to the Chapel grounds by a new traffic-calming ‘table’ across Sul Ross Street, a new north campus is an ensemble including a Welcome House, Program Center and administration/archive building that form a public courtyard. The architecture of the north campus mediates between the scale of the Chapel and the homes along the street. The simple building forms are clad in gray wood siding with areas of glazing defining public spaces. Visually open and porch-like with its shaded roof trellis and two walls matching the Chapel’s brick, the Welcome House orients visitors. The Program Center contains a large daylit multipurpose room which provides greater capacity for public programs. This space opens to the courtyard and the view of the Chapel across the street. The administration and archive building aligns with the Chapel, further linking the north campus to the Chapel grounds. A relocated bungalow which functions as a guest house infills an empty lot to the east, reinforcing the scale of the street. Parking and the MEP space are discretely located on the interior of the block.
The project is targeting LEED v 4.0 certification.
Architecture Research Office is the New York City firm led by Stephen Cassell, Kim Yao, and Adam Yarinsky. Founded in 1993, ARO has earned a reputation for elegant, innovative, and imaginative architecture born out of relentless exploration and engagement.
At its core, ARO is a practice for the new millennium. Its diverse project portfolio – spanning strategic planning, architecture, and urban design – solves seemingly intractable problems while creating beautiful architecture that elevates our quality of life. The firm’s philosophy has been described as “Visionary Pragmatism” for its ability to achieve remarkable aesthetic and programmatic results while exhibiting profound responsibility for financial and natural resources.
ARO received the 2018 AIA New York State Firm of the Year Award, the 2011 Cooper-Hewitt National Design Award for Architecture, and the American Academy of Arts and Letters honored the firm with their 2010 Academy Award for Architecture.