Rice U. to Menil, Tin House Fans: Here’s That Art Barn We’ve Been Carefully Dismantling for You

Demolition of Former Rice Museum, Martell Building, Rice University, Houston

A funny thing happened on the way to carefully disassembling the former Menil Museum on the campus of Rice University so that it could be rebuilt somewhere in the Fourth Ward with the help of a Brown Foundation grant: After workers spent a week or so carefully removing the corrugated galvanized but weathered panels on the building, an excavator began summarily demolishing the rest yesterday. Or almost the rest — work had to be stopped after crews hit a power line, Molly Glentzer at the Chronicle reports.

So by midday today the scene near Rice University’s University Dr. entrance looked something like this:


Demolition of Former Rice Museum, Martell Building, Rice University, Houston

The only building parts that have been salvaged, it appears, are the metal panels, which have been carefully laid on a flatbed — bringing to the campaign to salvage at least parts of the building’s history all the scope and charm of a scrap-metal operation.

Demolition of Former Rice Museum, Martell Building, Rice University, Houston

In March, Rice’s student newspaper reported that the hastily announced demolition of the structure — left without a purpose after the university’s School of Continuing Studies moved to a brand new building across the drive — had been put on hold after Rice alumni and art faculty protested. After the Brown Foundation agreed to guarantee funds to pay for the disassembly of the building and its reconstruction on an unidentified site in the Fourth Ward, where it would be used as some sort of art center, “the university . . . agreed to allow [the] building to stand for a couple more weeks [in order] to come up with the actual plan for moving the building,” wrote Rice Thresher reporter Jieya Wen at the time.

Demolition of Former Rice Museum, Martell Building, Rice University, Houston

Whether Rice got antsy waiting for details of the proposed disassembly deal to be worked out, or after careful consideration of the building’s parts it was determined that only the metal panels were worth saving is unclear. But the building Dominique de Menil commissioned from architects Howard Barnstone and Eugene Aubry for Rice’s then-fledgling art program in 1969 — as a predecessor to the Menil Collection she and her husband later established on a former washateria site several miles north — is now mostly a pile of rubble.

Demolition of Former Rice Museum, Martell Building, Rice University, Houston

Photos: Allyn West

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14 Comment

  • Wow – is that a pier and beam foundation I see? I thought those were long gone by the 1970’s.

    I’ve never been inside the structure, but from these pics, it looks like wood framing, tin and fiberglass insulation. Not exactly specialty-grade stuff, and easily bought at your local Home Depot. I could see why only saving the skin was the path they chose, even though you could get more and cheaper tin from an abandoned chicken house in central Texas.

  • Shame on Rice. Apparently not honoring commitments or respecting cultural treasures is what they are teaching people now. A pox on them.

  • SuperDave: I’ve seen new construction lately with pier and beam

  • @Superdave: there is ,albeit rarely , new pier & beam construction.

  • Isn’t the lesson that there is room in the world for interesting, but temporary, buildings? Like beautiful, but temporary, flowers. Not everything can be forever.

  • In Bellaire you can only do pier and beam by city code. It’s done a lot.

  • What more could they have salvaged? Old insulation and the wood framing? Come on. It will be nice to have this removed from the campus. It looked like a temporary shack at a high school (oh wait, that is what it was).

  • It’s beautiful!!

  • eh, who cares. nothing will top Rice U axing KTRU despite it being a student led organization with amazing bandwidth provided free of charge by that classical station many many years ago.

  • Stupid fools.

  • How awesome–God, I aways loathed these buildings as did the Rice Brass. People think Mrs Menil would have been appalled, but I think she’d have taken it in stride, she had a way of later showing her displeasure (ask St. Thomas). I really am so happy to see this leveled, now if they could downsize Rice Stadium (like Ford at SMU) and build the original Persian Gardens of the Master Plan devised by Cram.–Oh Happy Day!

  • Leebron needs to go. Not for this, necessarily, but the man has done enough damage. Just leave already!

  • Not surprising in the least. Rice University really must need that extra parking by the baseball diamond ASAP!

    Rice has never really cared about the arts, much less anything having to do with John and Dominique de Menil or the Art Barn and the Media Center. The book “The Campus Guide: Rice University,” by Rice Architecture professor Stephen Fox, touches on this subject.

    It’s interesting to note that despite the Art Barn and Media Center tin buildings being so “hated” by the university that the Police Station/Mail Room buildings across the parking lot were also built of corrugated metal to match the Art Barn and Media Center. While the Art Barn and Media Center were indeed meant to be temporary buildings, the structures were also very well-built and both structures managed to withstand both Hurricane Alicia (in 1983) and Hurricane Ike (although Ike did manage to peel a bit of the tin veneer from the front facade of the Media Center). BTW, both buildings were actually designed so that they could be taken apart and moved.

    I’m curious if the Rice Media Center will meet the same shabby fate as the Art Barn once the new Fine Arts building is completed (it’s going to be built where the tennis courts are). The Rice Media Center is a more complex building, with many more interior rooms, which could be put to good use by an arts group here in Houston. Perhaps more of an effort will be made to save the Media Center section and have it moved. There’s at least a few years left to do at least that.

  • what Joel said… Rice U management are a bunch of turdpackers.