Menil Drawing Institute Opens in Houston

John Hill
2. November 2018
Photo: Richard Barnes (All images courtesy of the Menil Collection, Houston)

Six years after Los Angeles's Johnston Marklee was selected to design the Menil Drawing Institute in Houston, Texas, the $30,000-square-foot, $40 million building has opened on the Menil Collection's 30-acre campus.

The official opening takes place on Saturday, November 3rd, when Rebecca Rabinow, director of the Menil Collection, accompanied by local leaders and others involved with the project, will cut the ribbon and dedicate the Menil Drawing Institute. The Institute, which obviously focuses on modern and contemporary drawings, will join four other buildings on the Menil campus: the main museum building and the Cy Twombly Gallery, both designed by Renzo Piano; the site-specific Dan Flavin installation at Richmond Hall; and the Byzantine Fresco Chapel designed by François de Menil. Johnston Marklee also designed a new Energy House on the park-like campus.

Architects Sharon Johnston and Mark Lee were responsible for the design of the one-story building, while Michael Van Valkenburgh designed the landscape. The building and landscape work together through three courtyards: east and west exterior courtyards, and an internal, cloister-like courtyard. The most striking element in Johnston Marklee's design is the folded steel-plate roofs, which combine with the plain white walls to give the building its distinctive yet modest expression. Inside, the large "Living Room" links the two external courtyards and leads to the relatively small, 2,850-square-foot exhibition galleries. Taking up the rest of the diminutive footprint are a the non-public spaces: the drawing study room, a conservation lab, and administrative offices.

The Menil Drawing Institute opens on November 3rd with the exhibition The Condition of Being Here: Drawings by Jasper Johns. Like the other Menil Collection buildings, admission to the Menil Drawing Institute is free. The Institute was one of our 18 for '18 projects from late last year.

South elevation across West Main Street, with the main entrance on the left. (Photo: Richard Barnes)
The open-roofed, landscaped courtyard on the west serves as the building’s entrance. (Photo: Richard Barnes)
The Menil Drawing Institute has two more courtyards: the east courtyard, similar to the west... (Photo: Richard Barnes)
...and the E. Rudge Allen Family Courtyard, aka the "Scholars' Cloister" given it being adjacent to the curatorial offices. (Photo: Richard Barnes)
Linking the east and west courtyards is the "Living Room," which is both circulation and gathering space. (Photo: Richard Barnes)
The exhibition galleries, lit primarily by artificial light, total less than 3,000 square feet — 10% of the project area. (Photo: Richard Barnes)
In the 880-square-foot Janie C. Lee Drawing Room, devoted to study, a skylight with fritted glass admits natural light softened by a scrim. (Photo: Richard Barnes)
Guy Nordenson and Associates engineered, among other things, the steel-plate roofs, while George Sexton Associates was responsible for lighting design. (Photo: Richard Barnes)

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