The Menil Collection released details of the low-slung design L.A. architects Johnston Marklee have put together for the new Menil Drawing Institute, which is being touted as the “first freestanding facility in the United States created especially for the exhibition, study, storage, and conservation of modern and contemporary drawings.” And staring at the renderings, the institute’s future sure looks bright. There’s the bright exterior walls, lit by the Houston sun; the white steel-plate roof that’s supposed to look like it’s hovering over the building and 2 surrounding courtyards — “rather like a folded sheet of paper,” in the architects’ words. But the inside of the building, where the drawings are displayed, it’s going to be dark.
That’s for the drawings and other works on paper on display, which are typically extremely sensitive to light. So the entrance to the MDI is meant to bring visitors into the dark slowly, in sequence — with the tree canopy, some shaded courtyards, and then the public spaces inside, which will provide diffuse sunlight and artificial light surfaces concealed in creases of the walls and ceiling. “Upon entrance to the gallery,” explain the architects, “90% of the exterior sunlight has been filtered out through the architecture, and visitors can seamlessly adjust to the low light levels within the exhibition space.”
The building will be only 16 ft. tall; it’ll hide behind the row of bungalows on Branard St., a block east of the Menil Collection building. Its street entrance will be along a new section of West Main St. run through what’s now the back third of the Menil’s Richmont Square apartments. Here’s a view of that southern approach:
But most of the images released today document the pedestrian approach from the end of Mulberry St., as you might walk south past the Cy Twombly gallery on your right. The image at the top shows this western facade as you turn to your left. As you arrive, you’d see something like this:
Though the walls show up in the renderings as some sort of smooth white surface, the architects explain that the building will be clad with deep gray Port Orford cedar planks; renderings of the material in shaded areas show their vertical orientation.
Walk further and this western courtyard comes into view:
Inside the museum, there’s this partial view of the 24-ft.-by-96-ft. “living room,” along with an area labeled the scholar’s cloister:
The building will measure a total of 30,150 sq. ft., and is projected to cost $40 million. Johnston Marklee is also designing a new physical-plant building fronting West Main St. west of Loretto Dr., which will be called the Energy House.
- Previously on Swamplot: Menil Drawing New Drawing Institute onto ‘Back Third’ of Richmont Square, Johnston Marklee’s Small, Thin Courtyard Building for Drawings at the Menil, New Menil Building Likely Going South, Replacing Richmont Square: The Low Cost, Bohemian Option, The Menil Looks at Richmond, What the New Collection of Menil Collections Might Look Like
Renderings: Menil Collection/Johnston Marklee