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The Rest of the Best: Houston's Top 10 Performing and Visual Arts Venues

The grand lobby of the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts designed by Robert A. M. Stern Architects feature walls of windows that overlook the Houston skyline.
The grand lobby of the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts designed by Robert A. M. Stern Architects feature walls of windows that overlook the Houston skyline.

Houston's performing and visual arts venues are among the most beautiful in the world. While theaters and museums have different purposes, both types of buildings usually have grand entrances, large airy lobbies and sweeping open spaces. When well-designed, as the 10 venues that made our Rest of the Best list certainly are, the buildings are as beautiful as the art they house.

10. Houston Ballet Center for Dance 601 Preston The newest venue on our list is the Houston Ballet Center for Dance. The six-story building cost more than $46 million (which was some $6 million under budget) and houses a small theater, nine double-height dance studios, rehearsal space and offices for the Houston Ballet. The dance studios in the black granite building are visible from the hallways that snake above them. Downtown commuters often catch glimpses of the dancers and students through the wall-to-wall windows that line the center's north side. We love the building's silver skywalk that connects the center with the Wortham Theater Center that sits just across the street from it. The center would rank higher on our list if it weren't for the fact that only a small section of the center is used for actual performances.

Miller Outdoor Theatre, designed by Eugene Werlin and Associates, is the site of more than 100 concerts, plays, operas, ballets, film screenings and arts festivals every year.
Miller Outdoor Theatre, designed by Eugene Werlin and Associates, is the site of more than 100 concerts, plays, operas, ballets, film screenings and arts festivals every year.
Photo by J.W. Sherman

9. Miller Outdoor Theatre 6000 Hermann Park Dr.

Miller Outdoor Theatre is the only venue on our list that comes with its own grass covered hill. An amphitheater designed by William Ward Watkin was built on the site in 1922. The hill was added in 1948 with dirt collected from the excavation of nearby Fannin Street. The current facility, designed by Eugene Werlin and Associates, was built in 1968 and refurbished in 1996. The venue is admittedly a bit worn and faded, but the crowds that flock to it every year don't seem to mind.

Holocaust Museum Houston was designed by Ralph Appelbaum Associates.
Holocaust Museum Houston was designed by Ralph Appelbaum Associates.
Photo by Ed Schipul

8. Holocaust Museum Houston 5401 Caroline

Opened in 1996, Holocaust Museum Houston has two goals. One, to chronicle the atrocities Jews and others suffered under the Nazi regime during WWII. And two, to remind visitors that unchecked hatred, prejudice and violence can again lead to a similar situation. Designed by Ralph Appelbaum, the museum is topped by a dark gray cylinder shape, echoing the chimneys of the crematorias used to burn the bodies of Holocaust victims. Six steel columns, recalling the six million Jews that were killed during the Holocaust, flank the front of the museum while steel trestles, reminiscent of the railroad tracks on which millions were transported to concentration camps, are nearby. The museum includes a theater, galleries, library and other multi-use spaces.

The Rest of the Best: Houston's Top 10 Performing and Visual Arts Venues

7. Blaffer Art Museum at the University of Houston 4800 Calhoun

The steel-and-glass museum, located on the campus of the University of Houston, houses several contemporary art exhibits a year including a recent 20-year Tony Feher retrospective . Renovations to the building were completed just last year and although only a small amount of square footage was added, the venue seemed completely transformed. Now able to accommodate a variety of functions, the museum's reconfigured space includes a media gallery and artist studio.  

6. Jones Hall for the Performing Arts 615 Louisiana

Designed by the Houston-based architectural firm Caudill Rowlett Scott, Jones Hall sits on an entire city block (the former site of the Auditorium). White Italian marble panels cover the slightly rounded venue which is surrounded with eight-story tall columns. The lack of a center aisle marks the hall's ground floor, which makes for a long trip to the seats in the middle.The multi-story lobby is dominated by Richard Lippod's Gemini II, an intricate hanging bronze sculpture that seems to swish through the space.Opened in 1966, Jones Hall was renovated in 2003. Among the issues the renovations addressed were damage from Tropical Storm Allison in 2001 and loosened exterior panels.

Asia Society Texas Center was designed by Yoshio Taniguchi.
Asia Society Texas Center was designed by Yoshio Taniguchi.
Photo by Paul Hester

5. Asia Society Texas Center 1370 Southmore

The newest addition to the Museum District, the two-story Asia Society Texas Center is sleek and deceptively large inside. Designed by Yoshio Taniguchi, the talent behind the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Asia Society Texas Center houses galleries, a theater, three gardens, a cafe and educational facilities. Huge windows, limestone walls and cherry wood paneling create a tranquil atmosphere - well, tranquil when there isn't loud music and hundreds of happy visitors filling the building during one of its frequent parties.

4. Hobby Center for the Performing Arts 800 Bagby

The clean, dramatic lines of the Hobby Center's outer facade make the building's plush interior all the more welcomed. Robert A. M. Stern and Morris Architects designed the venue, supposedly inspired by New York theater designers Herts & Tallant.

In the larger of the two theaters, twinkling fiber optic stars fill the ceiling. A open-air balcony runs along the center's eastern wall giving visitors a spectacular view of Houston's downtown, including Tranquillity Park and City Hall, both of which sit across the street.  

3. Museum of Fine Arts, Houston 1001 Bissonnet

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston's multi-building main campus could qualify for several of our top spots. The neo-classical section of the Caroline Weiss Law Building was designed by William Ward Watkin. Building for the original structure was completed in 1924, with an expansion taking place in 1926. Another addition, designed by Kenneth Franzheim, was completed in 1953 with more space, opening to the public in 1958 and 1974. And that's just the building at the Bissonnet location. From the south, the venue looks classical and from the north, contemporary. It's to the museum's credit that the building is able to seamlessly encompass so many additions and reconfigurations. Across the street sits the Audrey Jones Beck building, designed by Rafael Moneo, and open to the public in 2000. S. I. Morris designed the Glassell School of Art, located across the street from the Law building.

2. The Menil Collection 1533 Sul Ross

The Menil Collection, designed by Renzo Piano, opened in 1987. The building was an immediate sensation and won several awards. A relatively large building, the venue was kept in scale with its surrounding residential neighbors and has a low, long profile. The Collection's expansive lawn is as popular a destination as the museum itself. The Cy Twombly Gallery, designed by Piano, sits across the street from the Collection. Nearby is Rothko Chapel, which is sure to make an appearance on our upcoming Rest of the Best Sacred Spaces list.

Wortham Theater Center
Wortham Theater Center
Photo by Rick Kimpel

1. Wortham Theater Center 500 Texas

The Wortham Theater Center, which anchors the downtown Theater District, snags our top spot. Massive, the Center was designed by Eugene Aubrey of Morris Architects, and unlike the Menil Collection, was meant to stand out. The brown stone cube covers two city blocks and includes a pair of theaters, lots of lobby space and one of the smallest box-offices in the Houston; somehow ticket buyers speed through the line and so don't clog the area (we're not sure if we should credit physical design or super-fast ticket clerks for that). The facility's main staircase is actually a bank of escalators, but Aubrey was able to keep the sense of grandeur and scale the venue requires. One of our favorite features is the glass archway that opens to the south. Our one complaint about the Center? Too few women's bathrooms. Or slow-peeing audience members. Either way, a few more stalls would keep intermission from being such a frantic race for female visitors (just a thought).

Check Out More Rest Of The Best:

Houston's Top 10 Dog Parks Houston's Top 10 Downtown Buildings (the Skyscraper Edition) Top 10 Parks in Houston Houston's Top 10 Museums Houston's Top 10 Movie Theaters (With and Without Dinner) Houston's Top 10 Festivals


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