The Menil Collection – Renzo Piano

In 1987 I was in 10th grade,  halfway through my first drafting class in High School. A friend of mine, who was a year ahead of me was working on his final project. A custom house design. I was hooked. Looking back, the house was mediocre at best, but I was fascinated with the design process. I remember the feeling of empowerment knowing that I could create architectural space if I could get my ideas on paper. DSC05583-1The same year in Houston Tx, the Menil Collection was featured in Progressive Architecture. The front cover showed strange louvers that I admittedly had no idea what they were for. After reading the article, my mind was officially blown. There was a simplicity and complexity to The Menil Collection building that was just pure genius. It was engineering for a quality of space, not just bathroom placement.  This might have been my first realization about how deep the mind of genius can go. Mind you, I’m a 10th grader at this point. My mind was blown easily. But this was the real deal. I eventually pursued my degree in Architecture at The Ohio State University, where I graduated with honors. I still have all my Architecture magazines filled with those inspirational photographs that fueled my imagination all those years. Many times Ive had the need for space and considered throwing them out, but they mean too much to me. A photograph can transport you to places you may never see. Its the next best substitute for experiencing the space yourself. When I found out this building was within 40 miles of our family trip to Houston, I knew I had to photograph it myself. DSC05562The act of photographing a building is becoming more methodical, and purposeful. A relationship starts the moment I enter its space. I need to walk its boundaries, and sense its presence. I need to know what its intentions are. The day I visited the Menil Collection building, it just wanted to sleep. It was a very grey day and this building was designed to transform light. I knew as soon as the “sun” rose that morning I would not be getting any great “action” shots of the louvers converting daylight into museum light, but there were other stories it had to tell. The thing that struck me the most was just how well it fits in the old residential neighborhood. DSC05614Resting among the Live Oaks, it is right at home, and welcomed by its neighbors, and regarded as “the Jewel of the Neighborhood” as one resident put it. There is another aspect to the design of the building that doesn’t come across in any photos. The entire building is clad in aromatic Cypress wood. The building smells great. Its not overwhelming at all, its just a hint of aroma that connects with you on a very sensual level. Completely unexpected, but very welcome. I walked the neighborhood a bit to find a good location to shoot the neighborhood context shot. The sun broke through the clouds for a whole 30 secs, but it was just what I needed. The next set of shots, I wanted to highlight the two large trees that coexist with the building. The inclusion of the trees creates an interesting dynamic. One of modern architectures premises is to blur the boundary between inside and outside space. DSC05579Traditionally this is done with large expansive glass that allows the outdoors to visually come indoors. The “front porch” of this building is physically taking the inside structure and pulling it to the outdoors. There is also a contrast in the timeless growth of the tree against the high tech architecture.


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