Plush Parking

Plush Parking

Lush plantings and pedestrian walkways will transform the parking lot.
Courtesy MVVA

Building on a master plan by David Chipperfield, Houston’s renowned the Menil Collection has begun implementing changes to its 30-acre campus. In mid October, the museum announced that it had hired New York–based landscape architecture firm Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates (MVVA) to create a new gateway to the campus, which will augment the institution’s parking lot on West Alabama Street. In addition to the landscape work, local firm Stern and Bucek Architects are designing a new café for the Menil just past the gateway entrance.

The new gateway and café are just the beginning of the art museum’s plans. “We are delighted to be able to show the public a small portion of the changes they can expect, as we begin to make our campus more open and inviting to all,” said Menil director Josef Helfenstein in a statement. “Design is nearing completion on the first of these green spaces designed so beautifully by Michael Van Valkenburgh’s group, and plans are coming together rapidly for the café that we have long wanted to provide for our visitors and the public at large.”

The existing site (left) and a rendering of how the gateway will interact with the cafe (right).


MVVA’s design reconfigures the existing parking spaces from an orthogonal arrangement to a diagonal layout in order to meet current code requirements, which call for longer parking spaces than currently exist on the site. The saw tooth plots created by the diagonal arrangement will become home to bioswales planted with lush species capable of thriving through the frequent inundations of the Houston climate. In addition, the designers are adding new pedestrian pathways that will guide visitors from the parking lot to the museum.


The gateway site will serve to strengthen the connection between the museum campus and the existing historic neighborhood, known for its charming walkable scale and majestic tree canopy. The Menil refers to itself as a “museum and a neighborhood for art.” It is located amid the Montrose enclave’s 1920s and 30s bungalows, one of which will house the new café. Many of these houses are now home to museum offices or other arts organizations. In addition to the main collection building designed by Renzo Piano, the campus is made up of several buildings, including the Cy Twombly gallery, also designed by Piano, Richmond Hall, and the Rothko Chapel, designed by Philip Johnson and local architects Howard Barnstone and Eugene Aubry.

Los Angeles–based firm Johnston Marklee is designing the new Menil Drawing Institute, which has yet to be unveiled. The gateway and café are currently undergoing the permitting process, which is taking longer than museum officials hoped due to the city’s backlog. The Menil expects both projects to be complete sometime in 2014.