Thesis Project Interior Architecture, University of Art and Design, Zurich, Spring 2000

My on-site research at the Menil Collection in Houston revealed both the uniqueness of the collection as well as its remarkable lack of accessibility. This lack of accessibility results from the collection’s complexity and the housing of five autonomous buildings in a historical living and park district. The suggested design reflects the method of reading the site with relation-diagrams. The design concept is based on the phenomenological process of perceiving art: the entrance path into the visitor center opens up the view of each building, step by step, as it also frames each building as one goes along. The tangential path circles and passes by the art works yet certain central points of the collection can only be circled by the visitors and not entered.

The Menil Collection has reached an interesting turning point. With the nomination of a new director, the privately founded collection should continue to thrive even after the passing of its initial collectors. The board and management would like to extend its activities to attract a wider array of visitors. They aim to build an auditorium for film and lectures. This extended program of activities, in addition to the collection’s size and diversity, demands that visitors spend many hours with the collection. To make visitors feel more comfortable, a place for rest and contemplation is necessary. Therefore a cafe should be built. I tried to find a contemporary solution that respects the special culture of the place. The extended services should raise the attraction of the museum and contribute to “visitor friendliness”, without competing with the art collection.

Suggestion for Improvement:
1. At the main road (W. Alabama St.), a wall with large lettering points to the inside of the area.
2. The access of a new footpath on the old Mulberry Avenue leads the visitors from the parking lot directly to the center of the area.
3. At the end of the access is the Reception Pavilion, where visitors will find information about the different buildings and current exhibitions.
4. The Park will become united. Mulberry Av. will be closed between Branard and Sol Ross St.
5. Direct paths through the park will connect the gallery buildings and Reception Pavilion.
6. At the Reception Pavilion there will be a Cafe. As visitors make their way through the building furnished windows will frame the view of the five separate galleries.
7. To make these views possible, some of the trees and bushes in the park will be cleared.
8. The two Bungalows inside the park will be removed, all outside remain.
9. On the side of the new access an auditorium with a media library and bookstore could be built in the future.

Thesis mentors: Elliott Littman, Reto Cattelan, Robert Wilson

Project team: Hansruedi Wassmann, Marc Antony, Mario, Tom Rutz

Photography: Photos 8, 9, 10 and 11 by Lukas Wassman

The Menil Collection - Access and Café