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Award-winning renovation of Blaffer Art Musem

AIA Houston recognizes renovation of 38-year-old museum with design award

Blaffer Art Museum - building sign

Image courtesy of Iwan Baan

For more 38 years, the Blaffer Art Museum has been the public face of contemporary visual art at the University of Houston.

But after nearly four decades, it was time for a facelift.

The Blaffer brought in one of the best renovation architecture firms in the nation to design its new look – WORK Architecture Co. in New York City.

After shutting its doors for several months to complete the $2.25 million renovation, the museum reopened in September 2012 to high praise for its innovative redesign. This summer, the Houston chapter of the American Institute of Architects recognized the Blaffer Art Museum and WORK Architecture with a 2013 Design Award for restoration/renovation.

“Jurors particularly liked how one material was used to clarify the program. This addition adds a ton of bang for the buck, and adds whimsy to a very sober building,” the AIA posted on its website about the award-winning Blaffer project.

“The renovation began a new and exciting chapter for Blaffer. It marks the most significant facility improvement in the museum’s 38-year history, providing both a much-needed physical upgrade and an identity –defining statement,” said Blaffer Art Museum Director and Chief Curator Claudia Schmuckli.

The redesign of the museum space included opening up the previously blank north side of the building, which faces Elgin St., by constructing a new entrance pavilion. On the opposite side of the building, which faces the UH campus, a second entrance was created. This entrance houses a small café space, providing a common area that connects the front pavilion with the back courtyard, allowing the public to freely move between the city and campus via the museum.

The renovated interior includes a new, grand staircase that provides street-level views of the museum’s interior activities, while also allowing for the expansion and diversification of the museum’s gallery spaces.

The AIA Houston Design Awards program recognizes design excellence in architecture, residential architecture, interior architecture, restoration/renovation, and urban design. Criteria utilized to determine award recipients include quality of design, resolution of the program idea, sustainable responsibility, innovation, thoughtfulness, and technique.

“I think it’s fair to say that the renovation will not only redefine Blaffer’s presence on campus, but also its role in the city of Houston,” said Schmuckli.

Photos of the award winning architecture can be seen at

- By Monica Byars

Update, Oct. 10, 2013:

The Houston Press recognized the Blaffer Art Museu with two of its 2013 “Best of Houston” awards  - best artistic renovation and best college campus building.

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