Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Challenges Realizing a 250,000 Square Foot Art School and Exhibition Building



Photo of Roman Schieber

Roman Schieber

Associate Director ppa.

Knippers Helbig GmbH

Photo of Thorsten Helbig

Thorsten Helbig

Knippers Helbig GmbH



Steven Holl Architects designed two new buildings in the Museum District in Houston, Texas. Knippers Helbig is the facade consultant of both projects.

The “Glassell School of Art” is a wedge-shaped art school consisting of a series of large scale precast concrete panels separated by horizontal in-situ concrete beams. The gaps between the concrete panels are filled with punched windows with dimensions of up to 24 ft x 19 ft.

The challenge in this project was to realize Steven Holl’s architectural vision of pure materiality on a “prehistoric” scale with minimal details. The facade was finally constructed with a ½” gap between the large scale translucent IGU’s and the adjacent concrete structure. The facade has to resist cladding pressures of up to 120psf.

The project shall be completed February 2018.

The “Nancy and Rich Kinder Building” is a fine arts exhibition building. The galleries are lit by natural daylight coming through translucent clerestory glazing and a series of translucent glass tubes and windows. Lighting fine art paintings and exhibits by natural day light turned out to be a challenge on its own and required sophisticated simulation and coordination of glass specifications such as combinations of several interlayers, coatings and acid etched glass surfaces.

The vertical concrete walls and translucent IGU’s are covered by approximately 1,000 translucent gravity bent glass tubes with spans of up to 19’6” and a radius of 15 inches.

A series of visual mockups and performance tests have been executed during the design and construction phases in order to determine the structural capacities, post breakage behavior and the ideal glass makeup.

Due to the amount of gravity bent glass and budgetary constraints, the glass is supplied from large Chinese glass bending firms, while the facades are fabricated by Gartner in Germany – which finally leads to a challenging supply chain and quality control procedure. The project is under construction and shall be completed in mid-2019.


From 2015 to 2019, the campus of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston is transformed with a new master plan and two new buildings designed by Steven Holl Architects.

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Concept & Challenges

Glassell School

Steven Holl Architects’ design concept included a building structure of pure materiality with large scale precast concrete panels of different sizes and shapes in a rhythm of verticals

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Technical Approach

Glassell School – Punched Windows

During early concept design phases, various technical approaches have been discussed for the large punched windows glazing and framing. Due to the size of the

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Glass Tube Fabrication and Supply Chain

Glass Tube Makeup

As the glass tube façade is a key architectural element and controls the daylight level in the art galleries, a number of different glass tubes with different sizes

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Glass Tube Testing and Quality Control

As the glass tubes are a major architectural feature of the building, a number of smaller samples have been fabricated by various potential glass suppliers during early project stages. Different

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Both buildings demonstrate that customized glass can not only be used to create architectural icons but also to precisely control daylight levels to exactly the desired levels of fine arts

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The author wishes to acknowledge the following persons for their exceptional support during the project and for providing information for this paper:

Chris McVoy, Steven Holl Architects
Olaf Schmidt, Steven Holl Architects
Larry Burns, Kendall Heaton Associates
Saman Ahmadi, Kendall Heaton Associates
Brian Luney, McCarthy
Stefan Zimmermann, Josef Gartner
Felix Schmidt, Josef Gartner
Matthias Schuler, Transsolar
Matthias Haller, Eastman
Matthew Snellgrove, Legends
Willard Homes, Museum of Fine Arts Houston

Rights and Permissions

Glassell School of Art (accessed 09/28/ 2017).
Kinder Exhibition Building (accessed 09/28/ 2017).