Houston, TX (2012–ongoing)
In developing a landscape framework for the unique and idiosyncratic Menil Collection campus in Houston, MVVA worked with the institution to define the most important aspects of its overall campus character as it embarked on a series of transformative changes. In the design of the subsequent projects and in detailed guidelines for the 30-acre campus, MVVA has sought to amplify core qualities of the institution- fluidity, openness, unexpected juxtaposition- along with the landscape’s performance, experiential richness and range.
The Menil Gateway project was the first phase of the framework’s implementation. Completed in 2015, this project creates a clear, welcoming point of entry and distinguishes the experience of arriving at the campus. The existing, dilapidated parking lot was transformed into a garden setting for parking with more than 80 new trees and 19,000 square feet of resilient groundcover and perennials. Shaded pathways lead the visitor from their cars towards the museum between a preserved row of live oaks, a swale of irises and a newly planted understory of native chalk maples. From the richly textured parking lot, the visitor emerges into a more open entryway that transitions from residential to institutional, first traveling past a new café and culminating in Renzo Piano’s celebrated museum building. The transformed parking lot is also designed for sustainable performance. Water flows off the concrete drive lanes and filters through the maple tree planters and iris swales. Excess water is collected by a network of subterranean drains and carried to an 8,000 cubic foot storage chamber. There, it is used as a reserve to provide site irrigation, reduce water consumption and alleviate strain on the city system during storms.
The second framework phase, scheduled to be complete in fall of 2017, is the construction of the Menil Drawing Institute, a unique free standing museum for the study and exhibition of the Menil’s renowned collection of drawings. Designed by Los Angeles architect Johnston Marklee, the low building is stitched into the landscape through three courtyards, which serve as thresholds and provide the building’s interior with filtered natural light. MVVA’s design for the courtyards responds to the quiet eloquence of the architectural design, and to the qualities particular to drawings themselves: subtle tonality, shadow, and the relationship of form against void. A small park created between the Drawing Institute and a new energy house is envisioned as a flexible space for art, gathering and diverse museum programming. This landscape will play an important role in connecting the existing museum buildings to a future park that will anchor the Menil’s southern expansion.