Lined with early-20th-century bungalows and shaded by live oak trees, the 30-acre campus is integral to the Menil aesthetic and experience. Tucked away in a residential enclave of a bustling city, the Menil’s collection of buildings and green spaces—acquired over the course of many decades and extending west from the University of St. Thomas and the Rothko Chapel—are a source of civic energy and domestic tranquility. Residents as well as museum visitors from around the globe have likened the Menil neighborhood to an urban oasis.
The craftsman bungalows along Sul Ross and Branard Streets serve as museum offices as well as private residences; some house fellow arts organizations. Nearly all of them were painted the same shade of gray more than a decade before the building of the museum, lending a somewhat surreal quality to the streetscape.
Connecting and unifying the museum and its satellite arts buildings with the bungalows are green spaces—including Menil Park (across Mulberry Street), expanses of lawn, and walkways—and outdoor sculpture. Major works by Michael Heizer, Max Neuhaus, and Mark di Suvero installed on the lawns, framed by trees and the gray-painted buildings invite contemplation (and also pose challenges and inspire games, as you see when children follow the trail of the Heizer earthwork that intersects the walkway leading to the museum’s entrance). From the sturdiest oak tree in Menil Park hangs a bright red swing, though it is more than just that: created as an “urban intervention” by a University of Texas architecture student, it is one of many in the globe-spanning Red Swing Project.
In 2009, David Chipperfield Architects was engaged to create a new master plan for the Menil campus. The plan recognizes as fundamental principles the meandering green spaces and dialogue between arts pavilions and residences and calls for more. The first projects to result in this plan are Stern and Bucek’s Bistro Menil and Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates’ gateway landscape and parking lot, all completed in 2014.