Forward motion on a renovation of UT's Harry Ransom Center and the lack of motion in the design of the new Blanton Museum of Art.

Ransom Redo

Though we've been trying to keep a watchful eye on all the assorted arts construction activity going on around town, one project managed to slip under our radar: the proposed renovation of the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at 21st & Guadalupe. This prestigious UT building is largely devoted to offices and libraries connected with the HRHRC, but the lower two floors are currently home to one-half of the Jack S. Blanton Museum of Art, the half that for years has been showing off the James and Mari Michener Collection of 20th-Century Art and more recently has been proudly displaying works from the Suida-Manning Collection of Old Master Paintings, as well as rotating exhibitions. Well, since the Blanton is on line to get its own building in the next few years -- that is, if the UT regents can settle on a design that they like -- the HRHRC will eventually have those bottom two floors free to do with as it pleases. And apparently it pleases to totally overhaul those floors to create new galleries, performing spaces, and lecture and study rooms. The whole package, as currently laid out, will include ground-level galleries for visual art and photography from the center's collections, as well as permanent displays for the Gutenberg Bible and the world's first photograph, a ground-level events hall for the kinds of readings, film screenings, and dramatic performances that have generally been relegated to the center's fourth-floor classroom/auditorium, a second-floor reading room, and an art-and-photography study room for scholars and students, and seminar rooms for lectures and talks. In all, reconstruction will more than quadruple the space available for exhibition and study.

Apparently, while this reporter's attention was occupied with other matters, all this was worked out, the center solicited proposals from architects, and settled on three finalists! And last week, Thomas Staley, director of the center, announced that Lake/Flato, the illustrious design firm from San Antonio that's also working the new headquarters for Austin Lyric Opera, will be the project architect. Construction is slated to begin in 2001.

Of course, I wonder if the HRHRC's renovation start date could be hampered by the eventual construction of the new Blanton. If so, I fear for its timeliness. In its Wednesday, Oct. 13 edition, the Austin American-Statesman carried more news of a contentious design presentation by Blanton architects Herzog & de Meuron Arkitekten at the latest UT Board of Regents meeting. If you recall, a few months ago, the eminent Swiss firm made a design presentation to the regents, only to have the board members criticize it for having a flat roof. According to Michael Barnes' fine report, this time the designers came back with three options and encountered similar criticisms. The idea of an undulating roof was no more appetizing to the regents than a flat one, and a single-story approach was attacked for being too low-key. Regents reportedly found the architects' favored designs incongruous with the look of other campus buildings -- this in an area that includes the Education Building, the Perry-Casteñeda Library, and Jester Center! This doesn't bode well for the Blanton's timely debut or for Herzog & De Meuron, who no doubt wish the eyes of Texas weren't upon them.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Articulations
The Harry Ransom Center has acquired all the professional and personal materials of profoundly influential acting teacher Stella Adler

Robert Faires, April 30, 2004

It's the end of an era for the city of Austin's Art in Public Places Program as Martha Peters, administrator of the program for 11 of its 18 years, departs to direct a public art program in Fort Worth.

Robert Faires, July 18, 2003


articulations, arts news, austin arts news, harry ransom humanities research center, hrhrc, thomas staley, lake / flato, jack s. blanton museum of art, herzog & de meuren arkitekten

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle