Beyond miles and miles of unzoned urban sprawl, Houston's lush Museum District offers one of the city's deepest breaths of fresh air. A showplace for art and architecture, the mostly residential neighborhood features seminal cultural buildings by Mies van der Rohe, Philip Johnson, Renzo Piano, and Rafael Moneo, among others. Building on this tradition, the Asia Society Texas Center (ASTC) has moved into the neighborhood with its just-completed, sumptuous new home designed by Tokyo-based Yoshio Taniguchi. Following Taniguchi's expansion for New York City's Museum of Modern Art [Record, January 2005, page 94]— his first project outside his native Japan—the ASTC opens to the public in April with an inaugural exhibition from the Rockefeller Collection of Asian Art. The 38,000-square-foot, $48.4 million center is a departure for ASTC, too. Founded in 1956 by John D. Rockefeller III, the nonprofit has long had a global presence, but until now its Houston branch (founded in 1979) operated out of a warren of rented offices. As the Society proceeded to purchase this residential parcel, there was one holdout: an aging house on the corner. So Taniguchi rotated his building. Rather than facing the broad esplanade to the west, it would now look north, taking advantage of the site's long end and second-floor views to the downtown skyline.
Taniguchi oversaw all the details, and even flew in to supervise the placement of the front lawn's heritage oaks. Responding to the Society's mission of fostering ties between Asians and Americans with programs in art and culture, business and policy, and education, the building includes a 273-seat theater, a 4,000-square-foot gallery, and a 3,000-square-foot meeting space, as well as offices, a café, and a gift shop. While a showpiece, the low-lying building does not bully the neighboring residences, and it demonstrates Taniguchi's trademark adherence to a whispered aesthetic and commitment to order and “stillness.” The new ASTC is serious, but not solemn.