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Above The Cars, Museum Fine Arts, Houston Adds New Conservation Center

Indirect natural light (and lots of it) fills the studio bays of the new Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation Center for Conservation at Museum Fine Arts, Houston.Courtesy of Museum Fine Arts, Houston/Richard Barnes

One of the largest contiguous spaces for a public museum’s conservation efforts now caps and cantilevers over an existing parking garage at Museum Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH).

Freshly completed, the two-story Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation Center for Conservation has been the second phase of the museum’s ongoing campus $450 million redevelopment, which is slated to wrap up in 2020.

A two-story project, the 39,000 SF conservation facility was designed by Lake|Flato Architects. The center consolidates the museum’s previously dispersed conservation department, established 20 years ago.

An aerial view shows the studio bays at Museum Fine Arts, Houston’s new Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation Center for Conservation.Courtesy of Museum Fine Arts Houston/Richard Barnes

In profile, the new center’s exterior unfolds in a series of glass-and-steel boxes atop the museum’s four-level parking garage. These studio bays along the perimeter (one for each discipline: painting, sculpture, textile and decorative arts) each has clerestory windows to catch the indirect, conservation-friendly north light and ceiling heights of up to 22 ft. The building’s floor plan also has facilities for conservation functions requiring darkness, such as imaging and x-ray studios.  Support spaces occupy the corridor bisecting the light and dark work areas. Mechanical support is located a level below, which freed up ceiling space from duct work and piping.

MFAH’s master plan for its 14 acres calls for a more connected, pedestrian-friendly campus that incorporates existing and new buildings, plazas and landscaped public spaces as well as improves the sidewalks, lighting, tunnels and parking.

In May 2018, the new 85,000 SF Glassell School of Art opened. Its design, by Steven Holl Architects, features a sloping, landscaped and walkable roofline. So did the building’s BBVA Compass Roof Garden and the Brown Foundation Inc. Plaza, which is home to the 30-ft. tall stainless steel sculpture by Anish Kapoor, “Cloud Column.”

The conservation center “brings us one step closer to our goal of unifying the museum’s facilities into one contiguous 14-acre main campus in 2020,” MFAH Director Gary Tinterow says in an announcement of the opening.

That ongoing campus transformation, which adds 500,000 SF of new construction, is the largest cultural project currently under way in North America, he notes. The third major component, now under way, is the Nancy and Rich Kinder Building for 20th and 21st c. Art, also designed by Steven Holl Architects.

For more on MFAH’s campus redevelopment, read: Inside Museum Fine Arts, Houston’s More Connected $450 Million Campus Redevelopment.

In a related announcement, MFAH has received a $750,000 in renewed art conservation funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. It supports continuing collaboration between the museum, The Menil Collection and Rice University “to share resources, research and expertise.” The initiative began in 2006 and recently expanded to include University of Houston. Research has also been extended to work with national museums, such as the Getty Conservation, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art, Harvard Art Museum and the Art Institute of Chicago.

Established in 1900, MFAH is among the country’s 10 largest art museums. It attracts an estimated 1 million visitors a year.

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