Hot New York Design Firm to Renovate UH's Blaffer Art Museum

Nothing gets us excited around here like "a dialogue between contemporary materials and the renovated elements," and that's likely what the Blaffer Art Museum had in mind when they commissioned young-but-renowned New York architecture firm WORKac to renovate the art museum at the University of Houston.

And according to New York's Landmarks Preservation Commission, WORKac accomplished that dialogue with their construction of Diane von Furstenburg's swank New York headquarters, an adaptive reuse of a historic Manhattan meatpacking district building--also hailed as a "new model of adaptive reuse for the city." Rawr.

The Blaffer was especially attracted to the way the von Furstenburg design distributed natural light throughout the building, via a "diamond penthouse" on the roof that channels light diagonally to its lower floors through a "stairdelier"--a staircase/chandelier combo, in WORKac's parlance. Such creative applications are key in museum architecture, where the quality of interior light is essential.

And while the Blaffer's $2 million budget is surely somewhat less than von Furstenburg's, we expect the firm will bring to Houston the same innovation, beauty, and progressive approach to sustainability they've demonstrated on previous projects. The renovation's scope is slated to include the addition of a cafe, the renovation of the courtyard from which the Blaffer is currently accessed into a functional events space, and the addition of a street-facing entrance to the museum, which is housed in UH's fine arts building.

It's the second time a hot New York architecture firm has introduced itself to Texas with a museum renovation in as many years. Last month, we reported on the Lewis Tsurakami Lewis renovation of Austin's Arthouse; likewise, the Blaffer will be WORKac's first architectural project in Texas. (Though the firm is a triple threat, working in architecture, urbanism and interiors, it dabbled in theatrical design, creating a stage set for a Dallas play in 2002).

WORKac'll be in Houston for a couple of weeks in March to hammer out their design for the Blaffer. Construction is scheduled to begin in July and be completed in December, re-opening in January 2012 with a show by Tony Feher, according to the Blaffer's Jeff Bowen. Bowen added he expects WORKac's renderings for the renovated space to be available sometime in April. What does Houston have to look forward to? If these von Furstenberg headquarters images are any indication--and we dearly hope they are--a lot.

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Jenny Staff Johnson