Renzo Piano’s first project in the United States, the Menil Collection in Houston, has been named as the recipient of the American Institute of Architect’s (AIA) 2013 Twenty-five Year Award, which honors a building that has embodied architectural excellence for 25- 35 years.
Dominique de Menil—oil heiress, art collector, and founder of the museum—commissioned Piano in 1983 to craft a building that held her nearly 10,000-object private art collection. De Menil is documented as having asked for a museum that looked “small on the outside and as big as it can be on the inside,” to respectfully blend with the existing early-20th-century bungalows on the residential site, while housing a large number of art pieces.
Piano’s design for this Texas museum features glass ceilings that allow light to reach a series of custom ferrocement and iron “leaves” and funnel natural light into the galleries. Three hundred of these curved sheets animate white-walled interiors, making light an intimate part of the museum experience. A central circulation spine leads to galleries finished with soft pine floors and landscaped interior gardens. The absence of a museum café or store maintains focus on the collection of mostly 20th-century art with some non-Western ancient artifacts. The Menil, a number of neighboring houses converted into office space for the museum, the Rothko Chapel next door, and the neighboring Philip Johnson-designed University of St. Thomas campus now comprise a small arts village.
The Twenty-five Year Award was determined by a panel of judges, which includes Mary Katherine Lanzillotta, FAIA, Hartman-Cox Architects; Brian Fitzsimmons, AIA, Fitzsimmons Architects; John Kane, FAIA, Architekton; William Leddy, FAIA, Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects; Philip Loheed, AIA, BTA Architects; Robert Maschke, AIA, robert maschke ARCHITECTS; Douglas L. Milburn, Assoc. AIA, Isaksen Glerum Wachter; and Becky Joyce Yannes, AIAS Representative, Drexel University. The jury commented the Menil is “timeless—still an amazing precedent for museum design, daylighting, and a clean plan. It’s about the contents, not the building itself.”
The award will be presents in June at the AIA National Convention in Denver.
To learn more about the award, visit aia.org.