The Rothko Chapel in Houston, Texas, finally reopened to the public, with restricted entrances. In 1964 John and Dominique de Menil commissioned architects Philip Johnson, Howard Barnstone and Eugene Aubryal to build it. The Chapel hosts fourteen paintings by Mark Rothko, celebrated exponent of abstract expressionism, in particular Color Field. In 2019 a significant renovation plan – worth around thirty million dollars – was entrusted to ARO – Architecture Research Office in collaboration with lighting design firm George Sexton Associates, both based in New York. The intervention involved the replacement of the main skylight with a new modern lighting system and the reconfiguration of the entrance in order to improve the space acoustics and expand it. But that’s not all.
The ambitious renovation plan, entitled “Opening Space”, involved the entire northern area of the complex of buildings to which the Chapel belongs. The new campus now includes the Suzanne Deal Booth Welcome House, the Program Center, the archives and office building, the Energy House and the guesthouse. The south campus consists of the Chapel, the square and Barnett Newman’s sculpture “Broken Obelisk” dedicated to Martin Luther King Jr. The renovation of green areas was entrusted to the landscape architecture firm Nelson Byrd Woltz.
While the Chapel represents a sanctuary for contemplation and introspection, the new campus is designed to support and strengthen the institution’s call to social action. Furthermore, the expansion of the complex aims to reorient the visitor through the gradual discovery of the landscape, in order to prepare for the intense immersive experience inside the Chapel.