The first phase of the 14-acre redevelopment of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH), which includes the Glassell School of Art and the Brown Foundation, Inc. Plaza, is now complete. Designed by New York–based Steven Holl Architects, the new arts school facility serves students at the pre-kindergarten through post-graduate levels, and it is the only museum-affiliated institution of its kind in the country, according to MFAH. The adjacent shaded plaza, designed by New York landscape design firm Deborah Nevins & Associates, will be the home of two sculptures: Cloud Column by Anish Kapoor and Song of Strength by Eduardo Chillida.
The L-shaped, 93,000-square-foot school features a façade with alternating concrete and glass panels that "create a porosity between indoors and out, and the gathering spaces—including the building’s walkable, sloping roof—provide a civic experience for students and the public alike, with spectacular views of the neighborhood and the city skyline," says Steven Holl, FAIA, in an MFAH press release. The building's walkable roof connects an outdoor amphitheater at the building's base to a roof garden, both of which can hold programming for the school.
Inside, the school has classrooms, 36 studios, a 75-seat auditorium, a coffee bar, and exhibition spaces, all clustered around a central forum, which takes the form of a wide-stepped staircase that can be used for informal or formal activities and study. The school will serve 8,500 children and adults in the new building—1,500 more than could be accommodated in its previous building, which was designed by Seth Irvin Morris and opened in 1979.
Outside, the Brown Foundation, Inc. Plaza features gathering spaces in addition to the sculptures. “Visitors will be able to move freely among the distinct spaces we have created on the plaza: from the seating under shade trees and the reflecting pool; to the garden-level amphitheater; up the walkway of the sloped roof to the planted and sheltered terrace that overlooks the Museum campus and the city to the south,” Deborah Nevins says in an MFAH press release.
The new school and plaza are the first phase of a much larger campus redevelopment, which will see roughly 500,000 square feet of new construction. In addition to an improved pedestrian experience and more public plazas, the plan also anticipates the completion of another structure by Steven Holl Architects—the Nancy and Rich Kinder Building in 2020—as well as the Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation Center for Conservation by San Antonio, Texas–based Lake|Flato Architects later this year.