The MFAH will officially open the new Glassell School of Art this Sunday. The school space, that will share borders with the upcoming Nancy and Rich Kinder Building extension to the MFAH in 2020, also sports a public plaza with enhanced street lighting.
To hear Glassell School of Art Director Joseph Havel explain the differences between the new structure and the one that was originally built in the late-1970s. “My office used to flood,” Havel says to Free Press Houston during the media preview of the new landscape.
Havel directs me to a window in the corner of our interview area in a classroom on the second floor. He points to a line of demarcation instantly recognized by a wall of glass bricks that define its boundary. These are the same brick that used to be the facade of the old Glassell building.
“The old building was sinking, there was no way to economically refurbish the structure versus a new building,” says Havel.
The cutting edge architecture used in the new construction includes the use of glass rocks as a buffer between the plaza and the two-story parking garage that lies underneath Glassell. Deborah Nevins and Mario Benito, of the landscape architecture film of the same name, explain how this type of fill is not only more conducive to proper drainage but is literally the first use of this method, although widespread in Europe, in the United States. Previous techniques used the same kind of Styrofoam found in boxes padding appliances like television sets.
The granite used for the exterior has been sandblasted to match the adjacent Cullen garden.
Havel notes that the exterior of the building, while having round holes in the 12-inch thick segmented cement pieces that are the building’s walls is malleable. The holes allow certain gases and fumes created by artistic combustion to be exhausted directly as opposed to the antiquated exhaust system from the previous structure.
Says Havel, “The Glassell isn’t constructed along the same lines as the museum buildings proper. This is an art school. The walls, other than the cement structure, are meant to have places where we can make a hole and then repair it. The building is meant to be a 24/7 environment. You have artists from kids to 80, and some of them will be working hard at 3 a.m. You will see lights on when you drive by late at night.”
The entire structure culminates in a bunch of overhead stairways that when looked at from the bottom level resemble, perhaps superficially, an Escher drawing. Once reaching the top you are at the BBVA — one of the main corporate sponsors — rooftop garden. The grounds are alive with the aroma of jasmine gardens and Mexican Sycamore Trees, the latter that were chosen for their adaptation to the Houston humidity.
The path down from the rooftop ends up at the Kapoor reflective sculpture as well as a wooden amphitheater that will host outdoor movie screenings starting in the fall.
Dozens of programmable water fountains line the landscape spouting and shrinking in equal degree. Night-lights adorn the Sycamores after sunset.