Johnston Marklee Design for Menil Drawing Institute Unveiled

 The Menil Collection in Houston announced this month that it is planning to build the Menil Drawing Institute to exhibit and store modern and contemporary drawings. A design by Los Angeles-based firm Johnston Marklee was unveiled for the 30,150-square-foot, $40 million institute, which will be one block south of Renzo Piano's main Menil Collection building, near the Cy Twombly Gallery. An apartment complex is now on the proposed site for the Menil Drawing Institute, and construction is expected to begin in early 2015.

David Chipperfield Architects developed a site plan in 2009 for the Menil Collection, and Michael Van Valkenburgh was subsequently selected as landscape architect for the Menil campus. Johnston Marklee was chosen as architect for the Menil Drawing Institute in June 2012.  

Johnston Marklee, led by founders and partners Sharon Johnston and Mark Lee, described the design of the Menil Drawing Institute: "The design of the Menil Drawing Institute honors the legacy of intimacy and direct engagement with art that underlies the domestic and the institutional character of the neighborhood of the Menil campus. Situated in a park-like setting, the new building assumes the scale of both a house and a museum, with a low-lying, elongated profile that blends with the architecture of the historic campus while signaling a new dimension for the future growth of the neighborhood of art.

The Menil Drawing Institute is composed of a series of buildings and courtyards unified by a white steel-plate roof that extends and hovers over the landscape, rather like a folded sheet of paper. The roof defines two entry courtyards to the east and west. Within the courtyards, the underlying folds of the roof place embrace the tree canopies, creating a shaded, contemplative atmosphere in and around the Menil Drawing Institute. Within the building, the public spaces receive diffuse natural light, which is sculpted by the folds in the roof plane and complemented by concealed artificial light sources in the creases of the walls and ceilings."

Josef Helfenstein, director of the Menil Collection, said in a statement: "With a design that is at once serene and revolutionary, Johnston Marklee has enabled the Menil to make its drawings a more active and public part of the collection than ever before. Beautifully rational and open, the building is also innovative in making the modulated presence of natural light possible within a building dedicated to fragile works on paper—an achievement that previously had seemed as impossible as squaring a circle."

Partial view of the Living Room and Scholar's Cloister, the Menil Drawing Institute.

The Menil Drawing Institute at dusk, looking past the west entrance courtyard.

The west courtyard of the Menil Drawing Institute.

The Menil Drawing Institute west facade, seen from the Energy House.

Site plan for the Menil Drawing Institute and new Energy House in relation to the main museum building and Cy Twombly.

Renderings courtesy of Johnston Marklee / The Menil Collection.

The Menil Collection building, designed by Renzo Piano. Photo by John Czarnecki.