After years of planning, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston broke ground Wednesday on a stark new 165,000-square-foot building for modern and contemporary art as the centerpiece of its $450 million expansion.
"Now the real fun time starts," MFAH board chairman Rich Kinder told a crowd of dignitaries under a large tent on the parking lot formerly shared by the museum and the First Presbyterian Church at the corner of Bissonnet and Main streets.
The building, whose large footprint was outlined in orange plastic safety netting on the paved lot (with "apologies to Christo" MFAH director Gary Tinterow quipped, referring to the artist known for wrapping famous structures), will be named for Kinder and his wife, Nancy. It is scheduled to open in late 2019.
The Kinders, along with Tinterow, MFAH board vice-chair Anne Duncan, and architects Steven Holl and Chris McVoy, gamely posed for photos while each held a silver shovel over a small plot of dirt that had been carved into the paved lot.
Tinterow saluted 150 individuals, couples, foundations and corporations who have thus far donated $390 million for the project, which also includes the new Glassell School of Art, currently under construction adjacent to the Nancy and Rich Kinder Building, and the Sarah Campbell Blaffer Conservation Center, a one-story, steel-and-glass structure that will be set atop a museum garage. Rich Kinder specifically thanked 15 donors who have given $3 million or more.
"We're only $60 million short of our goal, but with your help I know we will achieve it," Tinterow said.
When completed, the Kinder Building, clad in translucent glass so that it glows when lit from within at night, will house 54,000 square feet of gallery space for exhibitions, a 200-seat theater, a café, a restaurant overlooking the sculpture garden, and an underground parking garage. Pedestrian tunnels will connect the Kinder Building to the existing Caroline Wiess Law Building and the new 80,000-square-foot Glassell School on the 14-acre campus, named for Susan and Fayez S. Sarofim.
"Now we're really making it an urban campus," said Holl, a renowned architect whose New York-based firm, Steven Holl Architects, designed the Kinder Building as well as the Glassell School, which is scheduled to open in January 2018.
"It's the first groundbreaking I've ever been to in 40 years of trying to be an architect where the first third of the building is on the second floor," Holl said, looking over at the nearly Glassell School, which currently looks a bit like an unfinished erector set with its unusual ski-slope-like roof that will serve as a big outdoor gathering space when completed.
Officials set a high mark for the Kinder Building once it is complete. Tinterow predicted it will be an "an instant landmark" while Rich Kinder called the expansion of the museum's campus "transformational." And Holl quoted Winston Churchill, who once said, "First we shape our buildings, and then they shape us."