Steven Holl Will Design the New MFAH Building

Houston’s Museum of Fine Arts just announced the winner of its 3-architecture-firm face-off for the commission to design its new building for 20th and 21st century art. It’s New York’s Steven Holl Architects, but the institution put itself in the limelight too, declaring the firm had been chosen “to partner with the board and staff of the museum in developing” the expansion, which will also include a new parking garage.

That garage will be needed because the new structure will take up the 2-acre parking lot across Bissonnet from the museum’s main building between Montrose and South Main St. (Architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe added onto that building twice; it’s now known formally as the Caroline Wiess Law building.) The museum and its new director, Gary Tinterow, expect Holl’s design to integrate the existing sculpture garden on the northwest corner of Montrose and Bissonnet, and allow for expansion of the glass-block Glassell School just to the north.


Tinterow hinted at broader goals for the expansion project in an interview with the Chronicle last year, saying he envisioned a museum campus “that feels more whole and less divided by the streets — more integrated.” He told Molly Glentzer: “That would be my goal: to create a real pedestrian zone here and bring Hermann Park all the way up to the Noguchi sculpture garden, and to bring the park forward as a place where people walk around — not just drive around.”

Holl’s glowy new building for the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City (pictured below) was completed in 2007.

Losing out with the announcement: the 2 other contenders, LA design firm Morphosis and Oslo’s Snøhetta (though the latter firm still has a shot at landing a much smaller Houston project, the new central light-rail stop on Main St. downtown).

Map: MFAH. Photo: Steven Holl Architects

27 Comment

  • I heard an interesting story about how the MFAH got the property for this new addition from First Pesbyterian, which owned the parking lot. The MFAH bought property north of First Pesbyterian, figuring that at some point in the future, First Presbyterian might want to expand north. When this happened, the MFAH would be prepared to trade properties. And First Presbyterian eventually did want that land to the north to expand their school, which is apparently a big money-spinner for them. MFAH says, you want that land, you have to give us your parking lot–and First Presbyterian did.

    This is just scuttlebutt–no representation made or warranty given on its truthfulness.

  • less divided by the streets — “That would be my goal: to create a real pedestrian zone here and bring Hermann Park all the way up to the Noguchi sculpture garden, and to bring the park forward as a place where people walk around — not just drive around.”

    He knows this is Houston right?

  • If Randall Davis could remove a block of Bolsover from the map (and then never get Sonoma built), I’m sure the MFAH could erase a street or two. This is an organization with $94 million in revenue and $927 million in assets, according to their 2010 form 990.

  • All any firm has to say is “New York” and they get the contract in Houston.

  • @Colleen
    No, once again another design contract given to a firm who either does not know or does not care that they are designing in Houston, Texas.
    Nobody is going to walk from Hermann Park to the sculpture garden. The second the guy suggested that, he should have been laughed out of the room.
    The thing will stand unused and unmaintained, just like everything else designed by people who do not know (or care) for Houston. It’s getting old.

  • Pretty excited to have a Steven Holl building in Houston. Hopefully, Tinterow(my high school classmate) will inform him on the nuances of the Houston pedestrian experience.

  • But will Holl have the same budget as Taniguchi’s Asia Society Building?
    ($1,279 per SQUARE FOOT in case you didn’t know)

  • Two words for him to consider: Houston. Summer.

  • Nobody will walk from Hermann Park to the MFAH? WTF? It’s three blocks; about the distance from the back of a Costco parking lot to the front door. You all must be serious (and lazy) suburbanites. We live a few blocks from the MFAH and we walk, walk our dogs, and bike to the park several times a week. Many of our neighbors do the same, many walking or jogging to and around the Rice campus too. Good Grief; no wonder obesity is so common here.

  • The area around Hermann Park and the MFAH is one of those rare places in Houston where it’s actually pleasant to walk. I’m all for anything that enhances that.

  • Oh my God! The design team that I never thought they will pick got chosen. The other two firms created far better designs. “The long-range planning committee of the board, Staff and Board of Trustees” selected this architect which I overestimated them with the decision.

    By the designs on the website, these people who chose the firm must be really old. Think “outside the box” for great architectural design for the modern Houston. Now we can look forward for another one boxy, boring, plain, ordinary and conservative design in Houston.

    I don’t see the proposal developing site-specific concepts for the planned expansion design as mentioned in the Press Release. What did blow their mind with the proposal? Another inside job.

  • I’m constantly puzzled by the shortsighted attitude that since Houston has historically been a car-centric, pedestrian-unfriendly city, it will always and forever remain that way.

    People love to ramble on about Houston’s intolerable weather in summer, which becomes a justification for perpetuating our car culture, lack of parks, lack of outdoor space, etc. But the summer is only three or four months long, which leaves 8 months when Houstonians could actually be out walking and enjoying public space. For most of the year, Houston is actually pretty nice outside.

    Cities change, and good architects help to transform them. Houston may someday even have walkable sectors. At least we can always hope.

    As for Steven Holl, he’s designed some of the most astonishing buildings in the world in recent years. His Nelson-Atkins Museum, and the Vanke Center and Linked Hybrid in China, are masterpieces (not to mention older works like the St. Ignatius Chapel and the Sarphatistraat Offices.)

  • From their website, looks like they do a lot of typical trendy, deconstructionist stuff. Buildings that look like a word, or like they’re about to fall apart, etc. Oh well, too bad.

    For those who can’t bear to walk from Hermann Park to Binz St.: average annual temperature in Houston is 68 degrees. Unbelievable.

  • “Holl’s glowy new building for the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City was completed in 2007.”

    Pretty hideous…looks like a dilapidated ’60’s era army barracks. One would hope they proffered a more modern, sleek design than the K.C. facility to complement the existing MFAH buildings.

  • It’s three blocks (crossing insane traffic and a Metrorail track) from the very edge of Hermann Park to this location, that’s just the edge of the park. There are always a handful of dreamy days in Houston that a person may take a stroll around Hermann Park to the Museums and back, but those days are few and far between. Nobody is going to walk it.

    I used walking and bus and Metrorail in this city for many years, many more than any of these “I get out and walk” high and mightys and I can tell you again. Nobody is going to to it. Well, not enough to fuel the imagination of some New York designer anyway.

    How about trying to build something that is practical for Houston?

  • Darogr,

    Houston has “not-hot” weather for nine months, and “hot” for the other three. Go outside and enjoy your dreamy day.

  • It isn’t the architect or designer that spoke of integrating the area between the museum and Hermann Park, it’s Gary Tinterow, the new director of the museum. We poached him from the Metropolitan Museum, but he actually is from Bellaire (class of 72, Bellaire High). His statements about connecting the museum and the park seem like a big reach, but I believe based on experience that the MFAH lakes the long view. They plan for expansion decades in advance. Tinterow might have been speaking off the cuff–certainly I don’t expect anything like that to happen soon. But 10 years from now? Who knows?

  • “takes the long view”, not “lakes the long view.” I’m sure that was a freudian slip, but I don’t know what it means…

  • How about this?
    Those of you who find yourselves too lazy/too out of shape/too “hot” to walk around Hermann Park and the museums – no doubt one of our wonderful city’s most beautiful and most pedestrian-friendly areas – can suit yourselves and navigate the traffic and parking in that area. The rest of us, who enjoy walking our beautiful tree-lined streets in what we consider great weather (for those 9 months, anyway) to our city’s many great restaurants, shops, and museums, can fully utilize and enjoy Mr. Holl’s plan for MFAH.

  • Some of you talk like the MFAH is giving them carte blanche to do whatever they want. If something gets built that is very un-Houston or whatever it is you are complaining about, it will done with the full blessing of the Houstonians at the MFAH.
    That said, i visited the Nelson-Atkins a few months ago and immediately hoped that Steven Holl would get this contract. It’s a really wonderful space.

  • Steve Holl! (raises arms in air)

  • Mel,
    I guess we will just have to wait and see.
    My bet is that it will be deserted. Except for you and maybe a random gang member or two.
    Good luck with that.

  • I’m sorry, but I get the impression from the comments that many of these people have never been to the reflection pool area of Hermann Park. It’s quite nice with lots of trees and running water. I like to go there on weekend mornings to read. I see lots of people walking around with their dogs and their children. Of course, you don’t see that many Anglos who aren’t Rice University students, but the Asian, Hispanic and African-American families I see there do seem to enjoy the area. For you people trapped in the suburbs, please understand that the CITY of Houston has changed. It’s not your parents’ overgrown Tulsa anymore. Of course, people will walk three blocks on tree-shaded streets if the destination is attractive. If they had wanted air conditioning, they would have stayed at home — like many of you evidently do.

  • @ Darogr
    i work at the camh, across the street from the mfah and can assure you that pedestrian traffic is high seven days a week (people really need to learn when the museums are closed)all year long. not all houstonians are terrified at the prospect of walking a half mile to a mile over the course of an hour to enjoy what is one of the densest and lauded arts districts in the country. people often ask how far it is to walk to the menil from the camh. i tell them it’s a bit of a hike and they go anyway. many people have even stopped back in and when i ask if they enjoyed the walk they respond positively. also, it’s a museum building, not a cineplex/minigolf/chain restaurant development…people will always utilize it.

  • Not sure what this has to do with the MFAH exactly, but Hermann Park is awesome now. The lake / reflecting pool area and surrounding areas look like something you would find in New York City or a European capital. They have really put a lot of money into beautifying the park over the past 10 years or so. And the new cafe there isn’t bad either – just basic burger / chicken stuff – but on a nice day overlooking the lake and the TMC – it is pretty damn nice.

    I’d happily walk to the MFAH from Hermann Park – on about 75% of the days in Houston when it would be pleasant to do so.

  • Darogr, not to be rude, but your comments suggest that you have no idea what you’re talking about. Have you been to Hermann Park in this century? Have you ever been to any of the museums in the Museum District?

    Temple, If you don’t see White people, you aren’t looking very hard.

  • If they ever turn that area between the MFAH and Hermann Park into a pedestrian zone, I will make a deal with the Park Department to have a Rascal rental station. I’ll clean up with suburbanites who can’t handle a two block hike, right?