The Architect’s Newspaper

Steven Holl Architects expands Houston’s Museum of Fine Arts with the Kinder Building

Nancy and Rich Kinder Building at MFAH.

The Nancy and Rich Kinder Building at MFAH, designed by Steven Holl Architects. (Courtesy Steven Holl Architects)

This Saturday, Houston’s Museum of Fine Arts is welcoming a new addition to its campus: the 237,213-square-foot Kinder Building, designed by Steven Holl Architects (SHA). The three-story structure is set to be the new home of the museum’s modern and contemporary collections. Eight full years after being selected as the architect, SHA’ design extends the sculpture garden out to add a range of additional resources for the museum as well as two pedestrian tunnels connecting the building to the rest of the museum and the Glassell School of Art. 

“We have realized several museums, however, the Kinder Building is the most important as it completes an urban campus. When we won the competition in 2012, we broke the brief by proposing underground parking and a new Glassell School of Art, which opened in 2018,” Steven Holl told The Architect’s Newspaper. “The Kinder is based on concepts of a luminous canopy and porosity of seven gardens. At grade is also a larger urban realization, all across the street from the only museum Mies van der Rohe realized in the United States.”

Apart from the various collections on display, which are aimed to make up 56 percent of the new space, the building will also house additional underground parking, a 215-seat theater for film screenings and other programming initiatives, and a restaurant and cafe which overlook the Lillie and Hugh Roy Cullen Sculpture Garden, first designed by Isamu Noguchi.

The building features half-tube arced glass that looks out onto the sculpture garden. (Courtesy Steven Holl Architects)

The building is the centerpiece of the new, broader “Susan and Fayez S. Sarofim Campus” expansion of the museum, which was also overseen by SHA. The broader campus also features design work on the 14-acre land by landscape architects Deborah Nevins and Mario Benito of Deborah Nevins & Associates and Nevins & Benito Landscape Architecture, D.P.C.

Ahead of the official opening to the public this Saturday, November 21, the museum held a livestream preview of the building. Here, Gary Tinterow, the director of the Margaret Alkek Williams Chair, said, “None of them could have imagined the scale, scope, and sweep of the museum campus, nor the breadth of its collections. But thanks to hundreds of generous donors, led by the Sarofims, and Nancy and Rich Kinder, we have been able to construct magnificent new facilities for the display of the art of the preceding century and of our time and to provide new plazas and gardens that will make the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston the cultural hub of the region. I extend my gratitude and congratulations to Steven Holl and Chris McVoy and repeat my heartfelt thanks to the legion of patrons who made this vast undertaking possible.”

The building houses the new modern and contemporary galleries of the museum. (Courtesy Steven Holl Architects)

The design features a concrete perimeter and steel supporting each of the floors and the trussed roof. A glass curtain wall covers the courtyard intervals of the project, and half-tubes or arced glass are spread around the perimeter. Inside, terrazzo floors line the galleries and light floods through a “luminous canopy” roof, according to SHA, created by concave curves meant to mimic the Texas sky.

“This is a great day for the Kinder Building. Twenty-three years ago, I came to Houston’s Museum of Fine Arts and had a personal tour of the Noguchi Sculpture Garden and sat Matisse’s ‘Backs’ and knew in that moment that Houston was a major destination city for art in America,” Holl added in his statement for the virtual opening’s preview livestream. “I’m deeply grateful to Nancy and Rich Kinder for their support through all the trials and tribulations. Their support is a wonderful thing. In the future, this museum will be a gift to future generations. I firmly believe that art can change your life. That gift to the future is the most exciting thing about this building, in a great city for the arts.”