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A New Campus for the Rothko Chapel: 2020 Best of Year Winner for Small Museum/Art Gallery

Photography by Elizabeth Felicella.

When Mark Rothko created 14 monumental paintings for this interfaith chapel, he intended they be viewed under natural light to reveal their tonal subtleties. A large skylight was therefore integral to the octagonal building’s design, the serial work of architects Eugene Aubry, Howard Barnstone, and Philip Johnson. When the chapel opened in 1971, however, it became clear the glaring Texas sun was not what the artist had in mind. The subsequent addition of scrims and baffles to modulate the fierce light never achieved the desired effect.

As part of a $30 million restoration of the chapel and expansion of its campus, ARO has finally fulfilled Rothko’s vision. Working with lighting firm George Sexton Associates, the architects installed a new skylight with diffusing glass and louvers that evenly distribute daylight onto the paintings; a system of concealed digital projectors further regulates brightness and ensures uniform illumination at night. Acoustics were also improved, and the vestibule reconfigured to ease the transition into the meditative space. New landscaping, including a plaza with Barnett Newman’s Broken Obelisk, extends the contemplative experience outdoors. Across the street, ARO erected a simple brick-and-cedar welcome house that will further the chapel’s mission of social action.

Photography by Elizabeth Felicella.

Project Team: Stephen Cassell; Adam Yarinsky; Neil Patel; Alissa Chastain; Jayne Choi; John Collamore; Cameron Delargy; Yannik Neufang; Luke Winata; Matthew Bohne.

> See the full list of winners and honorees from Best of Year 2020

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