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The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston - Nancy and Rich Kinder Building

Translucent Façades and Luminous Galleries

Steven Holl Architects

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston - Nancy and Rich Kinder Building
By Michael Webb -

The museum quarter of Houston is an oasis in a steamy wilderness: a concentration of exemplary architecture and shady live oaks at the heart of an unplanned urban sprawl.

It is the product of philanthropy, founded on the extraordinary wealth generated by the oil industry. The Menil Collection has led the way, most recently with Johnston Marklee’s Drawing Institute (THE PLAN 110). Now comes the turn of its near neighbor, The Museum of Fine Arts, to unveil a sublime work of art: a three-story trapezoid of galleries for modern and contemporary work, named after the Chairman of the Museum’s Board of Trustees.
A luminous canopy diffuses the brilliant sunlight and a façade clad with translucent glass tubes turns it into a glowing beacon at night. Nearly 10,000 sq. m of display space have been added to earlier buildings by Mies van der Rohe and Rafael Moneo, and the historic core of an institution that had its modest beginnings in 1924.

Steven Holl Architects won the competition in 2012 by breaking the rules. His firm, Morphosis and Snøhetta were short-listed and each was invited to design the galleries as well as a seven-story garage to free up the parking lot of a neighboring church for the site of the new complex. Instead Holl and partner Chris McVoy proposed that the parking be buried and shared between the church and a new building for the museum’s Glassell School of Art (THE PLAN 108). That doubled the size of the school and freed up ground for a new sculpture garden, complementing Isamu Noguchi’s installation and integrating the new structures within lush landscaping.

“This project is all about green spaces”, observes Holl, who has broken up the mass of his block by inserting seven water gardens around the perimeter and setting it back from existing trees. The greenery and reflections soften the sharp angles and complement the outer skin of translucent glass tubes. Sourced in...

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