Should the spaces, structure and materials of a building align so seamlessly, so organically, that it appears to express a single mighty thought? To ask this of the Nancy and Rich Kinder Building, the new addition to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, seems rude, for here are thoughts enough for a platoon of museums.
In 2012 the firm of Steven Holl Architects was selected to give the MFAH its third museum gallery, joining earlier ones by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Rafael Moneo. The new building had to be strong enough to stand up to them yet graceful enough to complement Isamu Noguchi’s adjoining sculpture garden. With some 100,000 square feet of gallery space for the museum’s collection of contemporary and modern art, it would become the centerpiece of the MFAH’s 14-acre campus. (Holl also designed a classroom building for the museum’s school; together the two projects cost $385 million.)
For inspiration, Steven Holl and his design partner Chris McVoy revisited their groundbreaking Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Mo. While that was a stately procession of luminous glass pavilions, the Kinder Building offers only a single colossal form, its triangular site determining its angular shape. Mr. Holl’s challenge was to break up what would otherwise be a monolithic mass. His solution was to slice seven deep notches into the building, breaking it up into pavilion-like blocks, each corresponding to a suite of galleries inside. This profusion of openings is pleasantly welcoming in character, and is made more so by the pools and plantings that make each of these cuts a miniature garden.