November 16, 2020
A New Building Opens at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
Designed by Steven Holl Architects, the Nancy and Rich Kinder Building completes a decade-long campus redevelopment project.
Located on a 14-acre campus in the heart of the city’s tightly packed Museum District, the almost 100-year-old Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH) lacked a truly modern home for its growing contemporary and modern art collections until this month. The Nancy and Rich Kinder Building, designed by New York-based Steven Holl Architects, opens to the public on November 21, completing a trifecta of spaces that make up one of the largest art museums in the country.
The museum’s rich architectural legacy began with its Neoclassical Caroline Wiess Law Building designed in 1924 by William Ward Watkin (and complete with two additions from Mies van der Rohe). In 2000, Rafael Moneo completed the Audrey Jones Beck Building and across the street, there’s also Isamu Noguchi’s 1986 Lillie and Hugh Roy Cullen Sculpture Garden.
“Twenty-three years ago, I came to the Museum of Fine Arts Houston for pre-interviews for the Beck building,” Holl says. “I stood in front of Matisse’s Backs [in the sculpture garden], and at that moment, I knew that Houston was a major art destination.” He explains that the forms in the garden inspired some of the lines and textures in the new building, which he calls the pièce de résistance of the campus. “It’s one of the most important projects in my lifetime.”
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About a decade ago, Holl took over the master plan for the redevelopment that included the new Glassell School of Art, which opened in 2018, and the Kinder building, which increases the museum’s total exhibition space by 75 percent.
Holl says that the stone, steel, and right angles of the existing buildings inspired him to design this porous, trapezoidal structure with vertical glass tubes that soften the facades. The translucent wall gives off an alabaster glow at night and is reflected in the five pools inset along the perimeter of the courtyard.
Inside, the triple-height atrium fills with light due to the concave, overlapping canopies that reflect the Texas sun onto the ceiling. Several galleries are viewable from the street, and even the cafe lights—designed by Brooklyn-based artist Spencer Finch—are part of the museum’s plan to make art accessible, even from outside the building.
On the first floor is a black-box gallery dedicated to immersive installations which features three inaugural pieces from Turrell, Yayoi Kusama, and Gyula Kosice. The second-floor galleries will highlight photography, decorative arts, prints and drawings with a focus on modernism across Europe, North America and Latin America. The top floor will feature thematic exhibitions on art from the 1960s onward.
As with the other two buildings on the campus, which are connected by a James Turrell-designed tunnel, the Kinder Building connects to the Glassell School and the Beck building through site-specific installations commissioned from artists including Ai Weiwei, El Anatsui, and Cristina Iglesias.
The Kinder Building, which also includes a 215-seat theater and a fine dining restaurant, will open with a major exhibit from its Adolpho Leirner Collection of Brazilian Constructive Art, curated by the museum’s International Center for the Arts of the Americas. In December, the museum will open Steven Holl: Making Architecture which explores the evolution of more than a dozen of Holl’s recent projects.
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