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The Byzantine Fresco Chapel

Houston, Texas

Client: The Menil Foundation
Architect: Francois de Menil
Completion: 1997

In 1983, two 13th century Byzantine frescos, stolen from the Church of St. Euphemianos’ in Cyprus, were recovered and restored by the Menil Foundation. The 4,000 square foot building, designed by Francois de Menil, combines rough stone, glass, and rich woods, to create a design that is both art museum and spiritual space, evoking the original site in Cyprus.

The chapel is a consecrated space, used for religious ceremonies. The lighting challenge was to convey spirituality while illuminating the only intact Byzantine frescos in the Western hemisphere; and provide adequate light for the chapel’s varying functions. Using suspended walls of luminous diffused glass, while uniformly highlighting the frescos through the use of a preset dimming system provided flexibility in controlling the contrast, color and intensity of the light. An essential requirement was that no shadows were cast onto the frescos or the glass. In 2012, the Menil Foundation returned the frescos to Cyprus.

1998 IALD Award of Merit
1998 IESNY Lumen Award of Merit
1998 IES Illumination Award: The Edwin F. Guth Memorial Award of Excellence
1994 AIA|NY Chapter Design Award