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South Texas Institute for the Arts (Art Museum of South Texas)
This is one of the earliest buildings erected in Bayfront Arts and Science Park, a seaside complex at the north tip of Old Irishtown that links Corpus Christi's cultural attractions with a convention center. The museum was prominently sited, Venice-like, at the water's edge at the entrance to the port to manifest the city's ambition to connect with the greater urban centers of Texas. A departure from Johnson's earlier Mies-inspired work in his Houston buildings ( HN74), the museum is preceded by a lengthy green esplanade with a linear water feature that leads the eye to the sharply angled building surfaced with precast, bush-hammered white concrete panels set against the backdrop of the eastern sky. At the time of its opening, Johnson related the success of the design to its setting, saying, “It can be sculptural because of the situation; right there on the water it can take it. It wouldn't work with other buildings around.” Johnson described the all-white interior, floors, walls, and ceilings “like being on the inside of a marshmallow.” Skylights bring in north light, while the few large windows mimic wall paintings of seascapes and ships entering the port.
Prior to his death in 2005, Johnson approved a new addition to his museum by Legorreta and Legorreta of Mexico City. No longer a freestanding object, the Johnson museum is now part of an ensemble that more than doubles its original size. Linked to the Johnson wing by a fifteen-foot-long hall, the expansive first story of the addition simulates the color and material of the 1972 building, and serves as a broad base for a set of thirteen, twenty-foot-tall, copper-clad pyramidal roofs that rise as skylights. With their dark color contrasting the light concrete panels of the first story, the pyramidal forms act as their own sculptural element against the Gulf Coast sky, although not as successfully as the Johnson museum once did in its original stand-alone setting.
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