The announcement came eight months after the trustees invited three internationally recognized architecture firms – Morphosis and Snøhetta, along with Holl – to submit site-specific conceptual design proposals for unifying the existing campus while also adding a gallery building and a parking garage. That invitation in May 2011 followed a year-long series of interviews with 10 highly respected architecture firms.
MFAH’s architectural history began in 1924 with the construction of its original building, a neo-Classical “temple for art” designed by William Ward Watkin. Expansions over the following decades included the 1958 Cullinan Hall, a curved modernist pavilion partially enclosed by glass. The last expansion saw the construction of Moneo’s design for the Audrey Jones Beck Building in 2000.
The site of the future building – a two-acre property currently used as a parking lot – is adjacent to the Isamu Noguchi-designed Lillie and Hugh Roy Cullen Sculpture Garden and across Bissonnet Street from the buildings designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Rafael Moneo. In addition to being a home for art after 1900 from the MFAH permanent collection, the new building will include galleries for traveling exhibitions, educational facilities, a library and study/resource center, lecture halls, a theater and a restaurant.
In making the announcement of Holl’s selection, Cornelia Long, chair of the Board of Trustees, said, “This is a proud moment not only for the MFAH, but for the city of Houston.”
Gary Tinterow, who just the week before took the helm of the museum as its new director, succeeding the late Peter C. Marzio, said: “I am tremendously excited by the prospect of working with Steven Holl and Chris McVoy of Steven Holl Architects. Everyone on the committee was deeply impressed by the intelligence and beauty of their museum projects, and we feel certain that they will conceive a design that will match the clarity and elegance of our existing architectural landmarks.”
Steven Holl Architects has been internationally recognized with numerous awards for quality and excellence in design, and Holl himself received this year’s AIA Gold Medal. The firm has completed several museums, including Kiasma: The Finnish Museum of Contemporary Art in Helsinki; the Herning Museum of Contemporary Art in Denmark; the Cite de l’ocean et du surf in Biarritz; and the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City.
“We are very excited to collaborate with the MFAH to realize this exceptional museum expansion for Houston. The amazing potential of this project is an inspiring challenge. We are honored to give this work our full attention and enthusiasm. With the optimism of the new director and trustees, the MFAH is poised to realize an expanded integral campus with excellent new spaces for art,” said Holl and Chris McVoy of Steven Holl Architects.