We have here both a chapel and a monument. A place for worship and a memorial to a great leader. The association of these two remarkable sites should tell us over and over again that spiritual life and active life should remain united.
—Dominique de Menil
The interrelationship between individual and social identity is the essence of John and Dominique de Menil’s conception of the Rothko Chapel as both place and program. The Chapel building, completed in 1971, is a space for meditation created by Mark Rothko, an interior conceived as the unity of his fourteen monumental painted panels with their architectural context. Symbolized by the adjacent plaza, reflecting pool and Barnett Newman’s sculpture “Broken Obelisk” dedicated to Martin Luther King, the Chapel is also a platform for social justice, hosting activities that promote dialog between people. Reflecting the shared vision of Mark Rothko and the Menils, the Chapel’s identity as a cultural institution is defined through both introspection and exchange.
The studio will explore the reciprocity between architecture and identity; specifically, how site, program, and materiality define the architectural identity of the Rothko Chapel. The painting as an ambient experience and the consideration of daylight will be emphasized. The studio will work across physical and conceptual scales—from the frame of the city, to the institution, to the body as it relates to space and understanding. Both as a process and a product, identity is a filter through which we interpret, commune, and change, as individuals and as a collective. Similarly, architecture is situated within a constellation of relationships which it transforms in response to changing needs and cultural conditions. Through the design of new facilities to support the Rothko Chapel’s mission, architecture will embody and extend its identity directly through use and experience.
Grounded in the identity of the Rothko Chapel as a cultural institution, the studio will follow an empirical methodology to gather, analyze, and synthesize site, program and other information to generate design intuition and ideas. The semester will begin at the scale of the body with the design of an installation for Mark Rothko’s art in the Yale Art Gallery. Following this introductory exercise will be the design of new architecture and landscape near the existing Chapel building, including spaces for orientation, gathering, administration and archives. This will include a field trip to Houston. The small size of the program, approximately twenty thousand square feet, will enable an iterative, holistic design process encompassing site-planning, building design and the development of an interior gathering space that integrates structure, materiality and daylight.