Innovative construction techniques and unique design elements create exhibit space for modern art

HOUSTON McCarthy Building Companies, Inc. recently completed construction on the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH) Nancy and Rich Kinder Building. This is the second phase of expansion for Texas’ oldest museum and the largest cultural project in North America. McCarthy served as the construction manager at-risk for both phases, working with the design team, Steven Holl Architects, from the project’s inception to ensure the vision of the museum came to life. McCarthy utilized innovative technologies to construct models and plan for the unique challenges, features, and materials that come with building a home for global art and culture.

“McCarthy is honored to have worked as the general contractor on such an architecturally unique and culturally important institution such as the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston that will serve to enhance the city’s thriving art scene,” said McCarthy Houston Division President Jim Stevenson. “As part of the museum’s 115-year architectural legacy, the structure itself has become a work of art for visitors to enjoy.”

The first phase of McCarthy’s MFAH project included a new 102,500 square-foot Glassell School of Art, nearly doubling the size of the previous building and creating space for the junior and adult schools, which serve 7,000 students each year. Phase two of the campus expansion project included the construction of the Nancy and Rich Kinder Building, a 183,500 square-foot exhibition building housing modern and contemporary art. The building features a translucent-glass exterior cool jacket, three floors of galleries that circle a three-story central atrium, a 225-seat theater, street-level café, restaurant overlooking the sculpture garden, an underground Main Street parking garage with 115 spaces and pedestrian tunnels connecting to the Glassell School of Art and the Caroline Weiss Law Building. The project broke ground in 2017.

“This project was incredibly unique for a variety of reasons,” said Brian Luney, Project Director for McCarthy. “We built a full-size gallery mock-up in order to test the lighting – both natural and artificial – to create acceptable lighting for the priceless artwork that will be housed in the museum.”

The Nancy and Rich Kinder Building’s exterior façade was designed to be translucent and transparent, covered by approximately 1,100 semicircular glass tubes, 30 inches in diameter. The glass tubes are commonly referred to as the “cool jacket” attached to a concrete wall, supported by a catwalk system to allow maintenance and cleaning. Another feature includes the “billowing clouds of Texas” roof, with concave individual pieces forming scallops, and within the scallops are clerestory windows to provide natural light to the third-floor galleries and the atrium. The steel for the roof was custom-built, with no two beams the same, reflecting the different curves in the ceiling and roof.

McCarthy incorporated several technological advances into the project, including leveraging the design team’s Architectural Rhino 3D model of the geometric roof structure. The ceiling contractor manufactured the ceiling grid framing to build the organic finished ceiling shapes on level three that mimic the overall shape of the roof.

McCarthy has a long-standing history of building complex, architecturally significant projects in the entertainment and arts industry. In addition to the MFAH, McCarthy’s Texas portfolio of entertainment and institutional projects includes the award-winning Glassell School of Art, the Kinder High School for Visual and Performing Arts, and the Holocaust Museum Houston, as well as the AT&T Performing Arts Center Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre in Dallas and the Dallas City Performance Hall, among others.

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