Houston’s Rothko Chapel, closed since March 4 of last year, will reopen this June after the completion of Phase One of its $30-million overall improvement plan. The Chapel and its campus (which has undergone renovations in the past) has been under improvements, upgrades, and new constructions in 2019-2020. Inside the Chapel, the work has included removal of the overhead baffle and replacement of the central skylight to allow daylight to permeate the interior, as was originally intended by artist Mark Rothko and John and Dominique de Menil, the Chapel’s founders.
The New York-based firm, Architecture Research Office, are the designers and overseers of this improvement plan (the plan is titled “Opening Spaces”) and it includes the ultimate expansion of the Chapel’s campus in collaboration with George Sexton Associates, who designed the Chapel’s lighting.
Envisioned as the gateway to the expanded campus, a new Visitor Welcome House, just north of the Chapel, will open in March and function as a gathering point for groups and guided tours.
Visitors were previously greeted in the Chapel itself; the new Visitor Welcome House will be a separate building with an expanded gift shop and bookstore, allowing the Chapel to be the quiet and reflective space that it was intended to be.
In the announcement, the Rothko Chapel’s Executive Director, David Leslie, states: “The expanded campus gives us the space we need to welcome the tens of thousands of people of all faiths and backgrounds who visit each year from all parts of the world, and allows us to convene community leaders and members of the public to wrestle with the questions of social justice and human rights.”
The Houston-based structural engineering firm Cardno and construction firm Linbeck have worked to reinforce the Chapel’s existing walls with steel; a new second-story Energy House will hold all the mechanical and control systems aboveground, and will include a backup chiller and generator for environmental stability.
In addition, Opening Spaces includes a redesigned landscape by Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects, which removes all non-essential structures from the site and park’s boundaries, increases the amount of green spaces, and addresses susceptibility to weather and flooding.
Broken Obelisk, Barnett Newman’s sculpture above the Plaza’s reflecting pool, will be enhanced by new landscaping. The sculpture was dedicated to Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1971 — the same year as the Chapel’s founding — and is inextricably linked to the Chapel.
Christopher Rothko, Opening Spaces’ Chairman, says: “As we approach the reopening of the restored Chapel in the months leading up to our 50th anniversary, we have a truly momentous opportunity to celebrate all who contributed to the building, design and stewardship of the Rothko Chapel, while ensuring their legacy for the next 50 years and beyond. The Chapel was built with a vision that brought together modern art and a sacred space to promote human unity, solidarity, justice and peace. The universality of this vision is very relevant for us today and I believe will remain so for generations to come.”
The Óscar Romero Award, a biennial award that recognizes courageous grassroots human-rights advocacy, will anchor the June reopening of the Rothko Chapel, and will launch a series of programs that celebrate and reflect on the Chapel’s upcoming 50th anniversary.
The second phase of Opening Spaces will bring an Administration and Archives Building, a relocated and renovated Guest House, a Meditation Garden, and a Program Center with an outdoor plaza for lectures, symposia, concerts, and expanded community outreach.