Texas Holl 'Em

Texas Holl 'Em

Holl’s building has a distinctive
Courtesy Steven Holl Architects

On January 15, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH), unveiled plans for the redevelopment of its 14-acre campus, which includes new buildings by Steven Holl Architects as well as Lake | Flato Architects of San Antonio. Holl is contributing a unifying master plan, a 164,000-square-foot gallery space for 20th and 21st century art, and a new 80,000-square-foot facility for the Glassell School of Art. Lake | Flato is designing a state-of-the-art conservation center, which is still in the concept phase.

“This is the most important commission of my career,” said Holl at a press luncheon in New York where he presented the plans. “What you see here is the culmination of a 36-month design process.”


The master plan seeks to integrate the new structures with MFAH’s current facilities, which represent nearly a century of building. They include a limestone Greek Revival edifice by Houston architect William Ward Watkin (1924, the oldest art museum in Texas), which is connected to a free-span steel and glass addition by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1958/74), his only museum work in the United States; a sculpture garden by Isamu Noguchi (1986); and a Rafael Moneo–designed building for the display of European art (2000). The plan also strives to improve the pedestrian experience across the campus, as well as in Houston’s Museum District neighborhood as a whole, by moving 190,000 square feet of parking into two underground garages, which will make room for a series of new public spaces in addition to the new buildings.


Holl’s design for the Nancy and Rich Kinder Building for 20th and 21st century art is sited on the location of an existing surface parking lot at the northeast edge of the campus, across Bissonnet Street from the Mies and Moneo structures. The building, clad in etched glass tubes that allow in filtered daylight and emit a glow at night, is three stories tall. Seven vertical gardens are cut into the building perimeter with exterior reflecting pools at the ground level. In these vegetation-shaded sanctuaries vision glass takes over from the translucent tubes. Inside, two levels of galleries—54,000 square feet in all—surround a top-lit, three-level rotunda. The upper level is sheltered under a “luminous canopy” roof, which has concave curves inspired by the billowing clouds of the big Texas sky. All of the gallery spaces feature natural light. Holl is working with New York–based lighting design firm L’Observatoire International on the project. In addition to galleries, the building contains a 202-seat theater, restaurant and café, and meeting rooms.


The new structure is clad in glass tubes with inset gardens and reflecting pools, allowing Light to filter into the interior.

The new Glassell School of Art will replace its existing 35-year-old facility, which was designed by Houston architect S.I. Morris, who had a hand in the Astrodome. At 80,000 square feet, the new building has an L-shaped plan wrapping around a public plaza that opens onto the Noguchi sculpture garden. Clad in sandblasted precast concrete panels, it has a green roof that slopes up from the ground, which visitors and students can climb to catch a view over the trees and rooftops of Houston.

The museum also announced that it will select a landscape architect to work with Holl on fleshing out the master plan. Construction will begin later this year and is slated for completion in 2019.