Chipperfield Sculpts the New Menil: Goodbye, Richmont Square

The Richmont Square apartments on Richmond Ave. get knocked down in the new master plan for the Menil Collection campus. Speaking at a public forum last night, British architect David Chipperfield referred to the Menil’s big multifamily property as “this thing getting in our way.”

Cite magazine’s Raj Mankad describes more details of the Chipperfield plan:

The car park along Alabama would be strengthened with the new bookshop, cafe, and auditorium nearby. The key change would be to connect West Main across the site [to Yupon] through the area occupied by the northern end of Richmont Square. The complete street grid would surround a new green space that would also be made possible by the clearing of the north side of the apartments. It would connect, slightly off axis, with the current Menil park between the main building and the Rothko. The Drawing Institute and Study Center and Single Artist Studios would be sited around the new green space. And along Richmond itself, the plan calls for dense residential and commercial development.


What the master plan does not change is as notable as what it does. Most of the bungalows are preserved. Chipperfield repeatedly referred to their “precious” and “hidden” domestic character. The current main building and park remain the center of gravity.

Director Josef Helfenstein told listeners that Chipperfield’s plan has already been approved by the Menil board.

Photos: Flickr user John Ronald

13 Comment

  • Intriguing.

  • It’s about time the Menil start to expand. I remember 10 years ago when I was in UH architecture school my studio did an urban design project on the Menil campus and it was fun. I’m curious to see what ‘starchitect’ they’re hiring to design the individual buildings.

  • I lived at 1400 Richmond (now Richmont Square) in 1977ish. The Texas Opry House was right next door. Great pool socials, particularly if you were a gay male of which I am neither, but it was a lot of fun.

  • “I lived at 1400 Richmond (now Richmont Square) in 1977ish…but it was a lot of fun.”

    Was Richmont Square newly built back then? Whatever happen the Texas Opry House building? You’re right it must’ve been fun back then when people actually walk around the neighborhood instead of driving their car for leisure.

  • It’s interesting how this turn out because back then when I was studying architecture my professor and our class had a day trip visit to the Menil campus to study the possible future expansion. The more logical way was to demolish Richmont Squaure and connect the new campus to the old.

  • I have known a LOT of Rice students who have lived here over the years. Can’t say that the loss of that many reasonably priced, reasonably maintained apartments is good for that population.

  • EMME, after the Opry House, it was the Parade Disco. I spent many colorful nights there in the early 80’s.

    On another note regarding extending W. Main to Yupon. Won’t they have to tear down a house or two on Yupon? Why not have Colquitt cut through, it’s a straight shot?

  • As your story reveals, the plan for the future expansion includes demolishing Richmont Square, also a Menil-owned property. I am currently a Richmont Square resident and believe that when the time comes for Richmont residents to find a new place to live, most of us will have no problem finding another, perhaps newer, place to call home. But what is the future of the Montrose area without a Richmont Square or a new multi-family, affordable, residential complex to take its place? The character of the place will surely change- isn’t what has drawn people to this place, from the middle-class homebuyers of the 1920s to the de Menils, the quiet residential area located not too far from downtown and within walking distance of the city’s many cultural (high-brow, subculture, and popular culture) institutions? It has evolved into an internationally recognized neighborhood community, due to its historic preservation, which has included sympathetic and imaginative modern use of bungalows originating from the 1920s subdivision of Lancaster Place, giving rise to a place where Houstonians work, live and play and soak up art without getting into a car. Adding to the comment of a former 70s Richmont Square resident and the storied history of the housing complex, some of my personal experiences as a present-day Richmont Square resident have been coming back to my apartment on the morning after Ike blew through town and discovering that we had never really lost electrical power; taking an evening stroll to the Menil to view Robert Rauschenberg’s new works and then listening to him speak in person!; taking a brisk Fall evening walk back to Richmont Square after taking part in libations at the Black Lab. Is there another place in the city where one can observe and live within such a diverse, pedestrian-oriented community composed of college students, grad students, musicians, researchers, museum staff, retired workers, young families, restaurant workers, young immigrant families, yuppies and indies, who call the same place home? And shall the de Menil legacy of progressive patronage include supporting and initiating a new slew of affordable and well-designed multi-family housing inside the loop?

  • And shall the de Menil legacy of progressive patronage include supporting and initiating a new slew of affordable and well-designed multi-family housing inside the loop?
    I doubt it, but they do have the opportunity if they want–the site of Wilshire Village is available. It’s a slightly smaller footprint than Richmont Square (from my highly scientific eyeballing of google maps), but close. They could, I assume, buy the Wilshire Village site and build a new apartment complex there.

    I’m not saying they should do this (and indeed, someone else may do it). I’m just saying that the possibility exists if the Menil Foundation wanted to make sure the net number of apartments in the neighborhood remained about the same even after they tear down the Richmont.

  • There are plenty of apartments, but many of them are either cheap and bad, or extremely expensive. Richmont Square and the endangered Maryland Manor are two of the best “midrange” complexes in the area, and as I’ve posted before, are home to lots of Rice students. Probably St. Thomas, med school, and young retail, service, and office workers, too. As I’m sure many would be quick to point out, the owners can do what they want. I just hope they do it in such a way that they take care of that transient-ish population with a continuous need for decent apartments.

  • Re: B.Vu – The Texas Opry House (I saw Willie Nelson and other country/western acts there) is now the Richmond Gallery (an annex of the Menil Collection- it houses Dan Flavins awesome light sculpture. Drive by early in the evening: it glows. Better yet go inside; it looks better up close. The building was the original Weingartens grocery store. Then in the 1960’s /1970’s it was the Texas Opry House.Then in the early 1980’s it was the Parade Disco( yes,the Parade Disco of New Orleans Bourbon Street,fame or infamy ,depending on how one looks at it).The place rocked:used to have different venues.Monday nights was punk rock night and it was real punk,not the poseur “punk”. But Friday & Saturday nights was gay disco.Some of the best music ever. Then the Menil converted it into the Richmond Gallery. That building has seen many reincarnations over the years. Richmont Square was built in the early 1970’s. The scene of very frisky pool parties in the 1970’s..If those pools could talk!! The complex has served its purpose. If the Menil handles the redevelopment correctly and ties in the Richmond Gallery to the Menil Collection museum that area will be awesome. The architects need to shield the AT&T facility (on the corner of Richmond & Mandell). Otherwise it’ll ruin the visual appeal of any improvement.

  • IIRC, there are over 900 units. marmer writes, “Can’t say that the loss of that many reasonably priced, reasonably maintained apartments is good for that population.” It’s all part of the up-scale trend that is wiping out a diverse mix of people that made Montrose weird, yes, but also very special. But the change in the neighbourhood was going on even when I left in 2000 (I lived there between 1986 and 2000 and am now back in Vermont.) Richmont Square rents were nicely priced indeed, the complex had a mix of students and middle class professionals (my partner and I worked in the med center), and was well maintained. Some residents had a key to open a gate at the rear of the property, along the parking area, to gain access to the Menil complex. The property had been previously owned by an RC religious order of nuns and sold with the stipulation that the trees (especially around the grotto where the large pool is) not be messed with. I hope those wonderful trees still remain!

  • Re:Tim

    Thanks for your answer. I always knew the 70s were fun. I don’t care how tacky the fashion was back then or even the architecture. The expereinces of the 70s culture brought out a lot of evolving ideas of new design in everything from fashion to technology.