The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, is a unique collection of architectural works — the Caroline Wiess Law Building, comprising the original William Ward Watkins Building of 1924 and the 1958 and 1974 additions designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe: The Lillie and Hugh Roy Cullen Sculpture Garden created by Isamu Noguchi in 1986; the Central Administration and Glassell Junior School Building designed by Carlos Jiménez in 1994; and now the Audrey Jones Beck Building by Rafael Moneo.
Moneo has proposed a four-story facility directly facing the Law Building and connected to it via an underground walkway. The limestone building occupies the whole site, thereby reinforcing its urban character. On the inside, visitors can assemble in the dramatic atrium before proceeding to the upper level galleries to begin their itinerary.
The Beck Building is a natural progression of some of the ideas put forth by the architect in previous museum projects, especially the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza in Madrid and the complex of the Moderna Museet and the Arkitekturmuseet in Stockholm. A collection of rooms is the underlying concept for the gallery spaces. The galleries may seem conventional, but their organization within the building is guided by the desire for freedom. The exhaustive studies undertaken to help design the skylights allow for optimum lighting conditions combining natural and artificial light. Climate, light, circulation through the space, dialogue between building and art, and simplicity and elegance of materials are once again concerts that Moneo has addressed thoughtfully and successfully in the new Beck Building.
Author: Martha Thorne
Photographs by Joe C. Aker and Gary Zvonkovic
Edition Axel Menges