WORK Architecture Company's dramatic new addition and renovation of the Blaffer Art Museum in Houston, Texas has opened to the public with a twenty-year survey dedicated to influential American sculptor Tony Feher.
Founded in 1973, the Blaffer Art Museum is a preeminent contemporary art museum without a permanent collection set in the midst of University of Houston’s enormous central campus. With high-profile exhibitions that are free and open to the public, as well as extensive educational programs, the museum has the potential to act as a gateway between the university and the city. However, its visibility and identity were previously hampered by the fact that its entrance was hidden and accessible only through an internal courtyard. Within, its galleries were excessively impacted by circulation, including a stairway in the middle of two galleries, and another gallery only accessible by a hallway through the administrative offices.
The project represents an important shift in the approach to museum design in the post-recession age. In order to concentrate only on their core missions, the Blaffer and the University of Houston engaged WORKac to strategically rethink the building’s existing features. WORKac’s design gives the museum striking presence and public connectivity through a series of imaginative and economical interventions to the building’s facade, circulation patterns and exterior spaces.
To begin, WORKac opened the previously blank north side of the building with a new entrance pavilion. The projecting volume, clad with channel glass in a gradient of semi-transparent and translucent sections reveals a new grand staircase that reroutes all of the problematic circulation routes from the center of the building to the façade, providing street-level views of the museum’s interior activities, while also allowing for the expansion and diversification of the museum’s gallery spaces. A new entrance zone with a café becomes a commons area that connects the front pavilion with the back courtyard, allowing the public to freely move between city and campus via the museum.
Unable to afford a cantilever and reticent to simply support the projecting volume of the entry pavilion with a column, WORKac invented the “wallumn,” a triangular concrete wall that acts as a column while graphically emphasizing the new entry condition. The existing rear courtyard will soon receive its own upgrade, to provide a flexible and dynamic setting for a continuous program of music, film screenings and other art-related events. New landscaping throughout the exterior area, conceived in partnership with SCAPE Landscape Architects, gives the museum an invigorated sense of place and adds to the rhythm and scale of the pedestrian experience.
The Blaffer Art Museum is WORKac’s first commission in Texas and was completed in association with Gensler Houston as local architect, Matrix Structural Engineers, Shah Smith MEP Engineers and Wade Getz Civil Engineers.