Project: Museum of Fine Arts Houston - Kinder Exhibition Building
The Museum of Fine Arts Houston is known as an educational and cultural epicenter with world-class exhibitions that draw local residents and visitors from across the U.S. The Kinder Exhibition Hall is the final component in an eight-year project to expand and enhance the Museum of Fine Arts Houston campus. The new building offers 100,000 square feet of exhibition space dedicated to international collections of modern and contemporary art. Wrapped with a vertical array of translucent glass cylinders that are both functional and decorative, the Kinder building itself is considered to be a Houston architectural landmark. During the day, the tubes conserve energy by trapping heat yet allowing light to pass through; while at night, they glow with a soft artificial light, creating a luminous streetscape. The building is surrounded by gardens, reflecting pools and commissioned sculptures which invite visitors to meander through the plaza.
Camarata Masonry Systems, Ltd. (CMS) was responsible for the supply and installation of 14,800 square feet of thermal finished Carnelian granite pavers, stair treads and risers, along with 4,200 square feet of Mesabi Black granite with a Diamond 8 finish at the water features in the plaza area (known as “Kinder Plaza”). Additionally, CMS installed 3,900 square feet of precast benches, walkway bridges and planters around the building perimeter.
Kinder Plaza is very unique in its design; and you realize that this “work” in itself is to be appreciated as art, just as much as any other exhibit. The Carnelian granite site paving and steps offer an inviting public entry to the plaza from the adjacent Cullen Garden and Brown Foundation Plaza. The building facade is surrounded by architectural precast walls, precast benches and expansive horizontal surfaces in front of the recessed glass walls. The irregular paving pattern with its directional changes provides the path to the one of a kind Iglesias Sculpture that is just outside the main entrance to the museum. Additionally, there are five water feature pools strategically located around three sides of the building. The pools are comprised of cubic Mesabi Black granite perimeter walls and granite paving; along with a “floating” precast walkway to connect egress doors to the plaza. Lastly, there is the infinity pool near the Cullen Garden entrance with a Maillol sculpture centerpiece. These design elements seamlessly blend with the museum campus creating a walkable urban oasis for the complex.
During construction, the directional changes of the irregular paving pattern combined with the slope changes required extra attention to avoid lippage. Furthermore, the paving required precise layout and tight quality control to meet points of transition in the paving pattern. Our field supervisors paid close attention to the detailed layout and the required interface with other exterior components in order to ensure the design intent was maintained.
The five water features, with their below water skylights to the tunnel below, required an intricate waterproofing system; waterproofing that could not be compromised during the installation of the stone side walls and the precast walkway. The cubic stone boundary was interlocked stone to stone in the head joints with stainless steel biscuits and epoxy, thereby avoiding the need to penetrate the vertical waterproofing membrane behind the cubic granite perimeter wall. In the same fashion, a method to secure the floating precast walkway without damage to the pool bottom waterproofing was required. Initially, the precast walkway was to be welded in place to concrete embeds; however, in that access to the bottom legs and waterproofing after installation was a major concern, the team worked to develop a more forgiving means of placing and securing the walkways. Recessed pockets were added to the pool bottoms at the location of the precast legs. The pool bottoms were then waterproofed prior to the placement of the walkways. The walkways were set level and in the precise line to properly access the doors; afterwards, the recessed pockets were filled with non-shrink pourable grout to secure the precast in position and allow placement of the stone paving...all without any damage to pool waterproofing.
The 64-foot border at the infinity pool had a very tight working space of only 1” between the waterfall edge and the plaza paving. The top edge of the vertical face stone, needing to be perfectly level around the entire pool, was set to the exact required level with adjusting nuts at the threaded epoxied dowels located at the base of the face stone. The time and effort put into the installation of the waterfall edge pieces was completed without any problems in the water flow and provided the intended result of the classic infinity pool edge.
Finally, factors, which were beyond any control, impacted the progress and completion of our work. The general construction of the plaza area was challenging due to the fact that much of the area is over occupied space and the museum tunnel connectors. While still early in construction, the below grade work was in a very vulnerable state in August 2017 when Hurricane Harvey arrived. The impact of Hurricane Harvey delayed the project several months. As the project was nearing completion, work was slowed as a result of the city-wide shutdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Ultimately, the materials were appropriately controlled, expertly and safely installed. Kinder Plaza is easily recognized as an extension of the art being exhibited within the Museum of Fine Arts that visitors can enjoy long into the future.