of Fine Arts in Houston was built in 1924, following the design of the
architect William Ward Watkin. Much later, Mies van der Rohe built extensions,
first in 1958 and again in 1974. The architecture of Mies prevailed, and
today the modest and dignified architecture of the first museum has been
absorbed in the severe and dark metal framework of the German master.
"The Audrey Jones Beck
Building will provide additional exhibition spaces for the collections
of the Museum of Fine Arts. The new building will be joined to the actual
museum by an underground exhibition gallery/passage; however, the new building
cannot be considered an extension in the most literal sense of the word.
Located on Main Street, which connects the downtown with the Medical Center,
the Audrey Jones Beck building is a separate and autonomous building and
should be understood as such. The new building will be built on a rectangular
parcel defined by Main Street, Fannin Street, Binz Avenue and Ewing Avenue.
In spite of the apparent homogeneity of the street grid, a study of the
surrounding neighborhood yields an appreciation for certain aspects of
the site. The orientation of the new building was the first design decision.
The Audrey Jones Beck Building opens onto Main Street and makes it the
dominant orientation, not only because Main Street is a street of crucial
importance in the city, but also because placing the principal facade on
this street pays homage to and establishes a necessary relationship with
the existing museum designed by Mies.
"In Houston, buildings
are perceived from the automobile. The front view of a building, experienced
by those on foot, is not possible. Therefore, is difficult to apply the
same criteria as when considering the building as an object with a well-defined
image. Such considerations let the Audrey Jones Beck Building occupy nearly
all of the land available, without falling into the temptation of artificial
fragmentation. In this way we explored the potential of a compact architecture
built within tight confines. Architects always strive to build within the
restrictions imposed by the regularity of an area. It is desirable to enclose
the largest possible volume in the smallest possible surface area.
Compact architecture demonstrates that it is possible to break a regular
surface into a whole series of figures that define rooms and corridors,
stairs and openings, galleries and light courts, etc., filling the space
with admirable continuity and contiguity without submitting to a pre-established
"parti." Compact architecture gives rise to saturated, dense
floor plans that make use of the interstitial spaces of architectural programs.
"The Museum of Fine
Arts in Houston is a clear example of this understanding of architecture.
Thus the floor plan of the museum is "broken" into a whole series of rooms
and galleries, connected by means of a hidden path, that without being
imperious, guides the visitor's steps. The Museum makes intense use
of the natural light that illuminates the rooms and galleries from above.
The variety of the galleries is reflected in the fragmented and broken
outline of the roof. The roof becomes the most characteristic image of
the museum, showing the importance given to the light, the real protagonist
of an architecture whose substance is found in the interior space"