Rendering of the Rothko Chapel renovation, set to open in June 2020. (All images are © Architecture Research Office, unless otherwise noted)

For art worshippers, there are a number of locations that are literally secular, but few are as devoted to art as a vehicle for nondenominational communion with the sublime as the Rothko Chapel in Houston. Devotees of the chapel, which features 14 works by painter Mark Rothko, may have been both excited and dismayed last March by plans to close the grounds for over a year to attend to necessary renovations and expansion of the chapel’s campus — but they may once again take heart, for a reopening is on the horizon.

New campus design, featuring a new Visitor Welcome House.

Broken Obelisk and reflecting pool (image courtesy of © Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects)

In a February 10 press release, the Rothko Chapel formally announced plans to reopen in June 2020, following the successful first phase of a $30 million-dollar master plan for its campus. The project will “more closely align the building with the original vision of Mark Rothko and John and Dominique de Menil, the Chapel’s founders.” This vision, manifest in the chapel’s founding in 1971, aspires to “offer a space for ecumenical and interfaith celebration and contemplation, as well as to foster community engagement on critical social issues.” The project hopes to provide visitors with an expanded set of experiences, including more programs and educational offerings, as well as invest in preservation of the space for future generations of art lovers.

The new campus design offers more accommodations for visitors and expanded opportunities for quiet reflection.

As a space devoted to the promotion of social justice, expanded facilities will enable the Rothko Chapel to better serve as host for colloquia for scholars and religious leaders to engage in discussions on issues affecting human rights, and to work towards a culture of mutual understanding.

Design and rollout of the Opening Spaces plan was led by New York-based firm Architecture Research Office, including the restoration of the Chapel — with lighting design firm George Sexton Associates — and the expansion of the campus. Features of the restoration include reconfiguration of the skylight that illuminates and activates Rothko’s paintings, and the campus expansion includes a new Visitor Welcome House to the north of the Chapel, set to open in March. This building will act as a new gathering point for groups and guided tours, as well as housing the gift shop and bookstore, thus removing these concerns from the Chapel space and allowing it to function purely as a space for reflection.

“As we approach the reopening of the restored Chapel in the months leading up to our 50th anniversary, we have a truly momentous opportunity to celebrate all who contributed to the building, design and stewardship of the Rothko Chapel, while ensuring their legacy for the next 50 years and beyond,” said Christopher Rothko, Opening Spaces Chairman and son of Mark Rothko. “The Chapel was built with a vision that brought together modern art and a sacred space to promote human unity, solidarity, justice and peace. The universality of this vision is very relevant for us today and I believe will remain so for generations to come.”

Sarah Rose Sharp is a Detroit-based writer, activist, and multimedia artist. She has shown work in New York, Seattle, Columbus and Toledo, OH, and Detroit — including at the Detroit Institute of Arts....