Alexandra Lange
Architecture & design critic

A museum grows in Houston

Scholar’s Cloister, Menil Drawing Institute. Photo by Richard Barnes.

When Renzo Piano’s Menil Collection building opened in 1987 critics called it “just perfect.” Johnston Marklee’s Drawing Institute improves on perfection

Is it an insult to say my favorite part of the museum is the trees?

Not in the case of the Menil Collection campus in Houston. The opening of the institution’s latest building—the Menil Drawing Institute, on November 3—was also the occasion for replacing a diseased tree with a 25-year-old live oak, which arrived wrapped like a sculpture and necessitated closing a street.

This particular tree was on an open lawn opposite the Menil Collection building, the two-story Renzo Piano-designed pavilion that opened in 1987 and launched Piano’s career as architect of silvery rectangles with complicated roofs, as later seen in Basel and Chicago and Dallas and New York and Los Angeles. The first is the best—and was for many, including me, a revelation of how a museum could be.