When Renzo Piano’s addition to the Kimbell opened in late 2013, critical responses ranged from “both architects at the top of their games” (Witold Rybczynski) to “generous to a fault” (Mark Lamster) to “distant defacement” (Thomas de Monchaux). In this excerpt from a special issue of Cite: The Architecture + Design Review of Houston, Ronnie Self gives a deeply considered assessment of the two buildings after a full turn of the seasons. The special issue also includes a review by Christopher Hawthorne of Johnston Marklee's plans for the Menil Drawing Institute, a review by David Heymann of Steven Holl’s expansion of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and an essay by Walter Hood and Carmen Taylor about Project Row Houses. Also featured are interviews of the directors of all four museums and their architects (Piano, Holl, Johnston Marklee, David Chipperfield, and Rice Building Workshop), making for a very comprehensive issue.
Piano’s main task was to respond appropriately to Kahn’s building which he achieved through alignments in plan and elevation and by dividing his project into two major bodies: a concrete walled, glass roofed pavilion facing Kahn and a separate, sod-roofed structure behind that should integrate a significant portion of the project with the landscape and thereby lessen its overall impact. Still, the loss of the open lawn that existed in front of the Kimbell where Piano’s building now stands is regrettable. Kahn’s Kimbell was conceived as a large house or a villa in a park, and unlike much of the abundant open and green space in the Fort Worth Cultural District, that park was actually used. Piano’s new outdoor space is more like a courtyard – more contained and more formal. It is more urban in its design, yet less public in its use.
Aside from lamenting the loss of the open lawn, how might we judge the addition?