The ‘L’ shape of the Museum of Fine Arts – Glassell School of Art is a campus space defining geometry, relating to the whole of the campus and providing the inclined plane access to the campus overlook terrace.
The precast concrete structural elements hold up the floors and define the exterior, incorporating the angle of the main incline. They also allude to the adjacent sculpture garden walls angled by Isamu Noguchi. The simple planar structural pieces of sandblasted precast concrete begin with the angle of the inclined roof plane and give character to the inner spaces of the building in the spirit of simplicity and directness. The concrete planes alternate with large translucent panels to provide ideal diffuse light to the studios.
The 178 wall panels vary in size and geometry and are spaced along the perimeters to allow full-height glazed panels to be installed between adjacent precast wall panels. The use of precast for the wall panels allowed for the minimization of wall thickness in certain key locations. The precast environment provided more confidence and control over placement of the reinforcing steel. Thus the precast panels had a larger effective thickness for a given overall thickness, allowing them to resist larger forces than cast-in-place walls.
Precast hollow core concrete planks frame the floor systems and span between the system of cast-in-place concrete perimeter beams. These made a relatively lightweight, long span floor framing system possible – up to 40 feet spans with a depth of only 16 inches – and were surprisingly flexible in terms of allowing for embedded systems and field installed penetrations.
The underside of the precast planks are left exposed to view within the space. A series of folded steel plate stairs crisscross the school’s triple-height entry forum, clear spanning between cast-in-place concrete perimeter beams at each floor level. The school’s sloped green roof system is supported on the precast concrete planks and includes integrated amphitheater seating and a continuous stairway that allows for public roof access where visitors can take in unobstructed views of the campus and greater Houston beyond.
Precast concrete for the exterior structure provided a superior finish and consistency over cast in place concrete and the architectural, tectonic language of the building is based on the idea of erecting the structure out of individual elements.
Kendall/Heaton Associates and Steven Holl Architects