October 30, 2019
Work has just started on an unforeseen structural reinforcement project that will dramatically improve
the beloved building’s resiliency
Houston, TX - The Rothko Chapel, one of the world’s most celebrated sacred spaces, is
undergoing a comprehensive restoration – the first since 1999 – 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 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.”
“While unforeseen issues are par for the course with any major construction project, this
particular issue with the unreinforced CMUs presented us with an interesting dilemma,” says
Christopher Rothko, Opening Spaces Chairman. “While we were not obligated to fix this by
code, we knew we needed to do so in order to preserve the Chapel far into the future. We really
didn’t hesitate for a moment in spite of the additional costs.”
The Chapel is now scheduled to reopen in late Spring 2020. The new Welcome House on the
campus is scheduled to open in March 2020.
About Rothko Chapel
The Rothko Chapel is an independent nonprofit organization that promotes the intersection of
spirituality, art and human rights. The Chapel is open to the public every day of the year at no
charge. Visitors come from around the world to experience the power and sanctity of Mark
Rothko’s Chapel design and to participate in a broad array of public programs. The Rothko
Chapel is a contemplative space that connects art, spirituality and compassionate action. Founded
by Houston philanthropists Dominique and John de Menil, the Chapel was dedicated in 1971 as
an interfaith, nonsectarian sanctuary.