Aspiring architects at the Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture and Design had the semester of a lifetime—the chance to collaborate on a project with the world-renowned Museum of Fine Arts Houston (MFAH). It was a golden opportunity, challenging 18 graduate and undergraduate students to make the museum more mobile.

The students took their talents beyond the usual digital designs to blend art with architecture, building interactive structures called “non-pavilions.”


“This project represents a new take on a museum, which you think of as an iconic, permanent bastion of high art that everyone goes to visit,” said professor Gail Peter Borden, director of Graduate Programs, who co-taught the vertical design studio with professor Peter Zweig. “Instead, this is a contemporary approach that goes to the community and tries to catch you at a time that you might not be thinking about art.”

For students, it created an opportunity to bring their designs to life. They examined the museum’s programs, culture, material, mobility and experience and then went to work building the mobile pavilions. It resulted in 14 diverse proposals, prototypes and full-scale experimental fabrications.

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“It’s not just design on paper. You really have to think about the materials, the connections and how everything works together,” said graduate student Dina Abdullah who, along with classmates, built an inflatable installation recognized by MFAH project leaders as “best in show.” “It’s art and architecture at the same time.”

The museum will choose a winning design, which will be constructed and taken on tour across the city. Caroline Goeser, chairman of Learning and Interpretation at the MFAH, said the partnership with the University of Houston focuses on community and audience engagement outside of the museum walls.


“We wanted to collaborate with emerging artists,” said Goeser, who is working with Cindi Strauss, assistant director, programming and curator for Modern and Contemporary Decorative Arts and Design at the MFAH. “The students have run with this idea and made us aware of the possibilities of this project that we would not have thought of ourselves.”

Four large prototypes were displayed during an exhibition in the College atrium of the MFAH, but the project is far from over. The next stop for the exhibition is the new gallery at the Glassell School of Art, set to open at the MFAH in fall 2018. Once the UH-designed mobile pavilion is constructed, the MFAH plans to send the winning design on tour across the city in 2019.