Menil Collection Predecessor on Rice Campus Is Headed for the Fourth Ward

Martel Building, Former Rice Museum, Rice University, Houston

The Brown Foundation has agreed to provide funds for Rice University to disassemble the corrugated campus building once known as the Rice Museum and reassemble it on a site in the Fourth Ward, the school’s student newspaper reports. A story posted last night by the Rice Thresher‘s Jieya Wen doesn’t precisely identify the intended new location of the building, but art professor and photographer Geoff Winningham tells her that plans are being developed to turn the metal-sided structure into a public art center on its new site: “The building was designed so that it can be disassembled and moved in parts,” he tells Wen. “The university has 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.”


Former Rice Museum, Rice University, HoustonArts patrons John and Dominique de Menil had the structure built in 1969, and only moved their noted arts programs out of the space when construction of Renzo Piano’s Menil Collection was completed in 1986. The building, also dubbed the “Art Barn,” also provided offices and classrooms for the school’s visual arts department. From the time the Menils left through last year, the building served as the home of Rice’s Glasscock School of Continuing Studies. The building and its sorta-twin, the Rice Media Center (also pictured above) are commonly cited as the inspiration behind Houston’s “Tin House” school of metal-sided homes.

Wen reports that Rice’s visual and dramatic arts department had wanted to use the building for studio space after the Glasscock School moved to its new digs across the drive near the university’s main south entrance. Rice VP for administration Kevin Kirby tells Wen that safety problems and the potential cost of renovation led the university to its decision to demolish the structure. (That decision was modified over the weekend after the Brown Foundation announced it would guarantee funds for moving the building.) But Winningham tells Wen he believes there were no safety problems with the building, and an arts major labels the administration’s decision to get rid of the building instead of using it to build an arts nexus on campus “an issue of priority, not of cost.”

Photos: Allyn West (top); Rice University

A More Public Art Center

14 Comment

  • This is a WIN-WIN. What a great idea. With the proximity to downtown and the ultra density of the new 4th ward, it’s a great choice for the building’s new home.

  • I’ve noticed that none of the current Rice University Architecture Dept. professors have
    weighed in on the subject . . . . . Stephen Fox is great, gives you the history, relevance etc. but never
    has a strong opinion . . . the rest of ’em – well they love their cushy jobs too much to care.

  • Fabulous news! Thank heavens the Brown Foundation was able to come up with the funds and the perfect solution.

  • They should’ve put it next to the Lutheran church at 14th & Cortlandt in the Heights. Another building with historical value, that no one wanted, that the community rallied to save, that was destined to be a “public art space”, but still sits empty.

  • Why the rush to demo? Was there no interest in relocation until the 11th hour?

  • Next assignment for these guys: Astrodome!

  • Nice that this was saved, too bad it took a bunch of bitching to make it happen.

  • the fourth ward is where houston stores its building that should be demolished. perhaps the city can make room for this scrap metal next to the “original shotgun houses” that are now rotting along dallas.

  • I wonder what will become of the Rice Media Center (the second of the pair of the tin buildings) once the Art Department has finished using the structure. I guess there won’t be much interest in the fate of the Media Center building even though it was constructed for the use of John de Menil due to his interest in film and photography (the Art Barn was Dominque’s). The Media Center was actually a lot more interesting structure-wise and a lot less had been done to that structure in regards to remodeling. The Art Barn was pretty much completely altered when Continuing Studies took it over.

    Still, it’s nice that the Art Barn will be saved and continue to be used for what it was designed for. I hope they leave room to eventually move the Media Center next to it in the future.

  • Maybe we can dis-assemble and move the Astrodome to The Woodlands as well!

  • Sigh*–Problem solved–and since all these are are portable tin buildings, it should be easy to move–they should put it amongst other warehouse like structures–a least it won’t be on the Rice Campus, thus I’ll never (hopefully) have to see this again (at least not like every day)—I really have always hated these buildings –I agree on Stephen Fox, he’s a great guy!

  • Just how large a space do they need for this? There’s not a lot of large lots left in 4th ward. There’s most of a block available behind one church on West Gray, but that lot is going for about $1mm these days, I think.

  • Reassemble it inside the Astrodome. Move all these protested demolitions there. Turn the dome into the Houston Museum of Misfit Structures. Rebuild any spillover (or extra-large structures) on the old AstroWorld site.

  • It’s a sad day when Rice (my alma mater) cannot scrape together the funds to restore a cheap little metal building that is imbued with so much history and takes up so little space on the campus. Moving the building is commendable, but the damage will be done; its importance is to Rice and it should remain on campus and be rebuilt and used for art. I will never donate to them again- they clearly have their priorities mixed up.