Rothko Chapel Restoration by Architecture Research Office

Rothko Chapel

The Rothko Chapel, one of the world’s most celebrated sacred spaces, is undergoing a comprehensive restoration as part of a $30 million campus master plan that will allow the Chapel to better fulfill its dual mission: to be a space for ecumenical and interfaith celebration and contemplation, as well as a place for community engagement on critical social justice issues. The Chapel is now scheduled to reopen in late Spring 2020.

The capital campaign, Opening Spaces, will enhance the visitor experience in the Chapel and on its grounds, while developing a campus that offers visitors new experiences, programs and expanded education offerings in harmony with the original vision of John and Dominique de Menil and Mark Rothko, the Chapel’s founders. The first phase of construction includes the restoration of the Chapel itself.

During the course of construction, engineers discovered that the concrete masonry walls behind the exterior bricks were constructed without steel reinforcement – a common and approved building practice in 1970 when the Chapel was built. If built today, reinforcement with steel rebar would be required by code to improve the building’s ability to withstand lateral wind loads over 130 miles an hour.

Given the increased frequency of hurricanes and other weather-related incidents today, this increased resiliency is particularly urgent. In response, Cardno, the Houston-based structural engineering firm, worked with Architecture Research Office, who designed the restoration and expansion of the campus, and Linbeck, the construction firm, to devise a method of augmenting the existing structural walls with steel reinforcement throughout the Chapel.

This process necessitated the removal and replacement of all interior plaster and removal of parts of the exterior brick façade. Work began last week on the reinforcement project, which will cause a four-month delay in the overall construction schedule and will cost an additional $1.1 million. Faced with this issue, the leadership of the Chapel decided to address the problem now as part of the ongoing construction in order to eliminate future risk and enhance the long-term safety of the Chapel.

David Leslie, Executive Director of the Rothko Chapel explains, “This is a simple matter of stewardship. The additional costs and time are of course not ideal, but we also knew that we had to take this step to ensure that the Chapel is available as a place of solace for generations to come. While I do not usually use a double negative, this is an important intervention that we could not NOT do.” Source and images Courtesy of Kubany Judlowe.

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