Location:Completed: 2019 Architect: Lake | Flato
As you approach the corner of Fannin and Binz, your attention is drawn upward to a series of four glass-and-steel boxes cantilevering over the edges of the existing Bellows-built MFAH parking garage. This chic industrial structure is the new Museum of Fine Arts, Houston Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation Center for Conservation. The new, two-story facility is comprised of 23,796 square feet of conservation studio and support space on the second floor with dedicated studios for painting, textile, sculpture, and decorative arts, as well as space for storage, framing, imaging, and other support activities. The remaining 14,781 square feet are dedicated to mechanical space on the first floor. For years, the Museum’s conservation department was divided among separate buildings located miles apart. The Center for Conservation brings the Museum’s distinguished team under one roof in one of the largest, continuous spaces for conservation. The site’s proximity to the curatorial offices across the street also allows the conservation teams to collaborate closely with their colleagues and fosters greater collaboration and synergy between departments. Architecture firm Lake | Flato created a design that was driven by the concept of light, resulting in a central corridor that divides the day-lit studios from the spaces requiring darkness. The Center for Conservation was to be built where the existing campus infrastructure was previously located. Before construction could begin on the Center, Bellows had to relocate the emergency generators and cooling towers from one side of the existing garage roof to the other without a loss of power or cooling capacity to the rest of the campus. Storing all of the mechanical support on the first floor of the addition freed up space from ductwork and piping and allowed for 22-foot ceilings throughout the facility. Constructed from tightly-packed Dowell Laminated Timber (DLT) panels joined with dowels rather than nails, the ceiling is both a design and structural element which utilizes both mass timber and steel. This first installation of DLT panels in North America were prefabricated, panelized, and lifted into place, resulting in quicker on-site construction. Four studio bays are cantilevered from the building’s north and west façades to celebrate the building’s function and allow a glimpse of the work going on inside. The new Center’s specialized studios support the care and restoration of every kind of object the museum owns — more than 70,000 works including paintings, sculpture, textiles, and decorative arts. The Center is equipped with fume hoods for working with solvents, oversized sinks, extractors, and a hazmat shower. The X-ray studio is lead-lined, and equipment in the spray room operates like a jet engine sucking in and removing fumes and dust. Saws, planers, and other woodworking machinery fill another room with a huge dust collector.