Rothko Chapel ticks the final box, in light of its original architectural ambitions

Written by Adam Bryce

Photography Supplied

The Houston, Texas chapel sees its skylight vision complete after 50 years in the pipeline. Just in time for its September re-opening.

In 1964, American artist Mark Rothko was commissioned by philanthropists John and Dominique de Menil, to create a meditative space filled with 14 of his purpose-painted artworks.

A secular space, conceived to celebrate interfaith and social engagement, emerged in the late 1960s. An octagonal structure, designed with architect Philip Johnson, Howard Barnstone and Eugene Aubry, rose however, Rothko died of suicide before viewing the build in person.

Sadly, Rothko’s vision was never quite realised as the development was fraught with artist vs architect clashes. Nevertheless, it was still a triumph and, in 2000, the Rothko Chapel was added to the National Register of Historic Places, post an 18-month restoration of the building and the paintings, themselves.

But there was one vision missing from the final build — Rothko’s skylight. Utilising a mix of louvres and laminated glass, it was intended to cast natural light upon the open-plan space without damaging the artworks. As good fortune would have it, another restoration project has been beavering away behind the chapel doors with Architecture Research Office intent on completing Rothko’s original concept.

September 24th, Rothko Chapel will once again welcome one and all, worshippers and Rothko fans alike. Another post-pandemic must-see.


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