MFAH Expansion to Disrupt Traffic on Montrose Boulevard
In the next few weeks, construction crews will begin demolition work on the Glassell School of Art’s distinctive glass-and-concrete home, built in 1979 by the same firm that designed the Astrodome and the Wortham Theater Center (S.I. Morris Associates). The demolition marks the first phase in the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston’s $450 million expansion plan. When the dust finally settles in 2019, the museum will have added a new, 80,000-square-foot building for the Glassell School and a major new building for 20th and 21st century art—both designed by the internationally renowned Steven Holl Architects—as well as a new conservation center designed by San Antonio-based Lake | Flato Architects.
All of this means that for the next few years, drivers in the Montrose and Museum District neighborhoods should expect occasional delays due to construction work. According to Mary Haus, the next 18 months will see construction along Montrose Blvd, with trucks moving onto and off the street at Barkdull St. between the hours of 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. Periodically, one lane of traffic on the east side of the street will be closed off, with a police officer stationed to direct traffic. Future phases of the project will also entail disruptions to Bissonnet St.
Last April, the MFAH held two public information sessions for area business owners and residents to apprise them of its construction plans; a third session is planned for this fall. The museum is also sending email updates to neighborhood groups such as the Montrose Management District, which will share the news through its website and social media. More information about the expansion plan, and updates on traffic impact, can also be found at mfah.org/future.
One of the most ambitious elements of the expansion plan is a new tunnel that will be built under Bissonnet to connect Mies van der Rohe’s Caroline Weiss Law Building to the new 164,000-square-foot Nancy and Rich Kinder Building, which will replace what is now a surface parking lot. (Two new underground garages will provide 190,000 square feet of parking for museum visitors.) The tunnel will knit together the museum’s various buildings into a walkable, 14-acre campus. “All buildings are in conversation with each other, and the lush nature of the Houston landscape serves as connecting syntax,” architect Steven Holl explained last January at the plan’s announcement.
Some Houston preservationists have decried the imminent destruction of the current Glassell School building, citing its architectural significance. The museum argues that the building is too small and outdated to meet its growing needs, and notes that the new building almost doubles the current one’s size. It is, however, making one concession to the preservationists—it will salvage some of the building’s signature glass bricks for incorporation in the new building’s design.
Timeline of Construction
Late August/Early September: Demolition of Glassell School building
October 16, 2015: Free Mixed Media block party to celebrate groundbreaking for new Glassell School building
2016: Construction begins on Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation Center for Conservation
2017: Center for Conservation opens; construction begins on Nancy and Rich Kinder Building
Late 2017: New Glassell School building opens
2019: Kinder Building opens