The Menil Collection unveiled plans Wednesday for its long-awaited drawing institute, the first freestanding facility in the U.S. devoted to the exhibit, study, storage and conservation of artworks on paper.
The design for the $40 million Menil Drawing Institute by the Los Angeles architecture firm Johnston Marklee will feature a revolutionary roof of thin steel plate that solves two seemingly polar design objectives: protecting art that is extremely light-sensitive and creating an inviting, airy space visitors will enjoy.
The roof also resembles a piece of folded paper and appears to be a drawing when nearby trees cast their shadows on it.
Modestly scaled, the building will top out at 16 feet, no taller than the neighboring gray bungalows on the 30-acre campus. Half of its 30,150 square feet will be for underground storage, while the ground level will contain a large, flexible central living room, about 3,000 square feet of exhibit space, a scholar’s cloister, rooms for seminars and other events, and a conservation lab.
“It’s very respectful of the environment and yet it really opens up the campus into a new phase,” Menil director Josef Helfenstein said.
The institute is so far the biggest jewel in a major expansion initiated in 2009, when the Menil adopted a master site plan by London’s David Chipperfield Architects.
Johnston Marklee is also designing a new energy control center for the campus. Houston’s Stern and Bucek is designing the soon-to-be-built Bistro Menil. The East Coast’s Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates is transforming the campus’ Alabama Street entry and creating a more sustainable landscape.
All the projects – plus a drive to raise endowment funds – total $110 million. “We’re in good shape with the fund raising. We wouldn’t go public with the announcement if we weren’t,” Helfenstein said.
A portion of the 490-unit, Menil-owned Richmont Square Apartments will be demolished to make way for the institute, and West Main Street will be extended. Construction is slated to begin in early 2015.
The architects considered the project a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. “We’ve seldom had a project where the content of a building was discussed in such detail,” Lee said.