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The Glassell School of Art

Austere and Noble Simplicity

Steven Holl Architects

The Glassell School of Art
By Yehuda Safran -

Houston is a very large and rich city; from the oil industry and harbor, it developed a major advanced medical center among the many other achievements. But, it owes its cultural distinction in the arts to Mies van der Rohe’s Museum of Fine Arts and one person: Dominique de Menil. Born Schlumberger, of a distinguished North of France Protestant family, she converted to Catholicism when she married Jean de Menil. John, as he renamed himself when he became an American citizen, escaped to Houston from occupied France with Dominique. As a representative of the Schlumberger industrial interests in the western hemisphere in the field of oil production, above all precision instruments, they became among the three most important art collectors in North America. In their large estate, not far from downtown Houston, Dominique invited Renzo Piano, soon after the opening of Centre Pompidou in Paris, to design a museum for her collection. She instructed Piano to follow the character of the bungalows, which she painted grey, and placed the Menil Foundation among the roof of canopy leaves that filter natural light just as the louvers designed by Piano in the interior of the Galleries filter the natural light. John de Menil originally engaged Louis Kahn for that project, but as both died soon after their conversation began, nothing came to pass. A few blocks south, the campus, which includes Mies van der Rohe Museum of Fine Arts, Isamu Noguchi’s Lillie and Hugh Roy Cullen Sculpture Garden, originated in the contributions of many others. Indeed Glassell School of Art echoes in its concrete the concrete walls of Noguchi’s garden design. Further away, the Rothko Chapel and the more recent pavilion designed by Piano for the paintings of Cy Twombly, and even further East, the University of St. Thomas, designed by Philip Johnson, and, under construction, the Menil Drawing Institute building designed by Sharon Johnston and Mark Lee. These last buildings are much...

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