Glassell School Of Art
Glassell School Of Art

Glassell School of Art is an L-shaped structure that sits on an underground parking garage. It also has a green roof that rises gently from the central plaza and is open to the public. The roof entices visitors to explore the building from top to bottom in order to take in the spectacular views of the campus and city.

Case Study of Glassell School Of Art

  • Location: Houston, United States
  • Architect: Steven Holl Architects
  • Client: The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
  • Area: 8639 m2
  • Project Cost: $ 9,00,00,000
  • Year of completion: 2018
  • Project Type: Educational, Cultural, Community
Glassell School Of Art
View of Glassell School of Art

Context of Glassell School of Art

The building is close to the Ludwig Mies van der Rohe Museum and the Kinder Building; another architectural marvel constructed by Steven Holl himself. Knippers Helbig was tasked with designing the façade, as well as the work of glass construction and comprehensive planning.

Context of Glassell School of Art

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Purpose of The Building

The three-story Glassell School of Arts, built by New York-based architect Steven Holl, contains state-of-the-art studios and dynamic social spaces inside its 8639 square meters. However, it was finished in 2018 and opened as the first phase of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston’s campus development project. And the new Glassell building is double the size of its predecessor and is primarily used for classrooms and exhibition areas. This new building designed in response to the institution’s public outdoor spaces.

The building’s Façade faces Montrose Boulevard, creating a plaza that extends Isamu Noguchi’s Cullen Sculpture Garden and marks the campus’s northern perimeter. The building’s walkable sloped roof slopes at 11 degrees and includes a roof garden. It also offers views of the Brown Foundation Plaza and the city beyond. It is the nation’s only museum-affiliated arts school, educating students from pre-kindergarten through the postgraduate level, as well as the Brown Foundation, Inc. Also, it gave the city a new stunning public green space. With the addition of this new structure, the overall student population increased from 7000 to 8500.

Glassell School Of Art
Lillie and Hugh Roy Cullen Sculpture Garden


The new building replaced the old 1979 structure created by local architects Eugene Aubry and R. Nolen Willis. The historic structure was charming, but it did not meet the needs of the modern art curriculum. The Glassell School has long been a vital arts center in the city’s vibrant and diversified art scene. It underlined the Museum’s dedication to offering a venue for people to engage in the arts. According to the director, Joseph Havel, the new structure takes the MFAH’s purpose as a teaching wing to a new level. The drama and beauty of the building’s architecture, combined with a functional and long-lasting structure designed specifically for the practice of arts, will stimulate the faculties’ and students’ imaginations.

The MFAH was founded in 1927 when the first museum school was formed. In 1924, the school opened three years after the museum. Later the same year, in 1979, the Glassell School of Arts opened its doors. Alfred C. Glassell gave it as a founding gift. He was a trustee who was dedicated to furthering the museum’s art education. The core residence program for artists was created in 1982. Following that, a critic’s residency was established on campus in 1988.

the basic concept for the campus

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Design of Glassell School of Art

The building’s interior sections are well-lit. However, colors used in the interiors include whites, grey tones, and translucent glass. The white tone of the building represents a figurative blank slate for the students to construct their own imaginations.

Glassell School Of Art
View of the classroom

The main entrance to the building is located at the intersection of the two wings. It boasts a skylit atrium with a majestic stairway that adds to the interior atmosphere. Holl chooses concrete and glass to give a contemporary counterpoint to the neoclassical limestone and modern steel and glass structures that occupy the museum campus, in addition to guaranteeing enough sunlight through the skylight. In addition, the stairway serves as an informal gathering space and amphitheater seating. Upon entering, the atrium is a spatially complicated space that is lighted from above and serves as a circulatory hinge between two wings.


The architecture of the structure is highly contextually conflicting. In some ways, it draws inspiration for its material from the neighboring structures. It does, however, articulate its own expressions. The structural expressions of the structure are comparable to those of the neighboring Mies building. Both projects show how to use current technology ‘to achieve the simplest elements and combine them with the most advanced technologies. As a result, the building’s architecture is distinguished by its true manifestation through an arrangement of many precast concrete panels.

Planning of The Glassell School of Art

Glassell School Of Art
Ground Floor Plan
Glassell School Of Art
Second Floor Plan
Third Floor Plan
Glassell School Of Art
Roof Plan

The studios are the core of the building. The building houses 23 studios shared between the core program and the junior school, as well as 8 core-fellow studios. All of these spaces created with flexibility, wonderful light, and fine proportions in mind. Aside from the studios, the building also has three exhibition spaces. It’s on the ground floor, near the café with a view of the plaza.

The second gallery area is near the education court and is linked to the sculpture tunnel. As a result, this leads to the other building on campus, the Nancy and Rich Kinder Building. The third gallery area is located on the second floor’s upper forum. The roof and the amphitheater in the atrium are the most articulated places in the building.

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Visitors can gather on the concrete Amphitheatre-style seating in the triple-height forum, which is located in the central corner of the school where two wings converge. Because of the enormous skylight above, the steps of the amphitheater become a focal point here. The large stepped forum draws attention to the center of the school’s interior. In addition, the first-floor hallway wraps around this amphitheater space.

Glassell School Of Art

The roof of Glassell School of Art

The grass-covered roof forms a ramp that stretches to the top of the structure from the center sculpture garden. The walkable roof is consistent with the general approach for shaping public areas. The roof also connects two notable locations, the broad stepped amphitheater and its base at the BBVA Compass Roof Garden above.

Walkable green roof


Precast Concrete Panels

The use of precast concrete panels on the building’s facade adds to its drama. However, the façade of the building is defined by 178 distinct precast trapezoidal panels. All of the panels oriented in relation to the roof’s slope. As a result, each panel differs and provides the façade with a distinct appearance. These precast panels are not only the façade elements; they are also the load-bearing elements. Each panel is a foot thick, and the majority of them are 16 feet tall. McVoy claims that the precast panels are quite durable. He went on to say that it is one of the most tectonic buildings ever built and that it is ideal for an art school.

The design team’s initial intention was to use entirely precast panels. However, due to the difficulties in connecting all of the precast panels, they later decided to employ cast-in-place beams. As a result, all of the beams were formed on-site with vertically projected rebar, and each precast panel was mounted on top of them. The sleeves were created at the bottom and top to receive the rebar from the beams and to fit the panel on top of it. The fitting needed a substantial amount of work to construct the panel and align the sleeves with the rebar. As a result, extensive cooperation between numerous stakeholders such as the contractor, fabricator, and architect was required.

The concrete was cast in a tint similar to the surrounding school structures, Indiana Limestone. To match the precast concrete as precisely as possible, the client and architect agreed to utilize the same white hue in the in-situ beams.

West Elevation
Glassell School Of Art
South Elevation

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Windows of Glassell School of Art

The outer façade made up of big translucent insulated glass panels and precast concrete. These vast translucent windows transform the building into an enormous lantern at night, indicating the artistic life within.

Windows Detail

The building’s combination of opaque versus translucent components offers balance and a pleasing visual rhythm. The 5mx8m precast concrete alternately constructed of translucent glass. The use of concrete and glass panels alternately generated a porosity between the inside and outside.

During the day, the translucent insulated glass contributes to meeting the illumination needs of the space. Natural light has distributed into the interior rooms. Many various techniques for window punctures were proposed throughout the early stages of design. Because some windows were as huge as 24ft x 14ft, it was not possible to transport the window in a single piece to the job site.

A city subcontractor assisted in prefabricating moderately sized windows in his workshop. And they were installed as a single piece. The larger units, which could not be moved, were built in two halves, with an intermediary transom made of two half extrusions.

Glassell School Of Art
Sketch of Glassell School of Art


To conclude, to provide an exciting educational atmosphere in the Glassell Arts center, it skillfully combines the concrete aspect of the architectural space with the ephemerality of light and creativity. It has an inherent dynamic that starts in the lower-level public spaces—the lobby, café, and forum—and moves up to the classrooms and offices. The lighting is not an afterthought to the architecture, but rather an organic component of the entire design.

The Glassell School exudes a warm glow from the outside, inviting students and the community to enjoy the building’s internal spaces throughout the day. The plaza stimulates the center open area as the campus’s heart, connecting and uniting old and new structures. The lighting enhances the campus’s texture, with its gardens, reflecting pools, and various facades, and celebrates creative activity.

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