Asia Society Texas Center Opens to Fanfare

A New Addition in the Museum District

by Marene Gustin


Just when you thought the Houston Museum District couldn’t get any better - some of the finest museums in the world nestled around the verdant Hermann Park with galleries and restaurants dotted about - well, it does.

Adding another jewel to the crown, the $48.4-million Asia Society Texas Center is set to open with four days of festivities April 12 through 15.


Fritz Lanham, director of communications and marketing, says the building, the first permanent structure for the society, is the “difference between being a small institution and a major one that can have a major impact in the community.”

Since its founding in 1979 to increase understanding of Asia and forge cultural, educational and policy ties between Houston and Asia, the society has held functions at various venues. That all changes now as the 38,000-square-foot center opens with a performing arts theater, a gallery, an education center, two-story grand hall, office spaces, a café and gift shop.

“All spaces except the gallery, where we’ll feature traveling exhibits, will be available for rent to the community,” adds Lanham.

As far back as the mid 90’s the Asia Society Texas began talking about a building but planning began in earnest in 2000, raising the funds and then hiring renowned Japanese architect Yoshio Taniguchi in 2004, the same year his redesign of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City opened. “We knew we wanted a theater, an exhibition space,” Lanham says. “And the building committee had input, but Taniguchi was hired because of his work and designs.”

The result is an elegantly restrained multi-use building that fits beautifully into the tree lined landscape. Not only is the design lovely but also the materials used are amazing. The sleek exterior and interior walls are made up of Jura limestone that began as a shallow seabed in Germany during the Jurassic period. Taniguchi was so demanding of his materials that he rejected 90 percent of the limestone offered, all from only two of the 27 levels in the quarry.

Then there’s the exquisite cherry wood paneling in the dazzling Fayez Sarofim Grand Hall and the 280-seat Brown Foundation Performing Arts Theater, all from a single 100-year-old cherry tree from North America.
The ground level floor is of the volcanic Basaltina Italian stone while the 3,000-square-foot education center boasts a floor of fine grain Appalachian white oak.

But the most stunning feature is the second-floor lounge and water garden terrace overlooking the Elkins Foundation Water Garden with its infinity pool. Lanham calls it the “serene heart of the building.” And you can see all of this yourself during the opening celebration.

“We’re thrilled to be opening this beautiful, landmark building and are eager to share it with all of Houston and Texas,” says Asia Society Texas Center Executive Director Martha Blackwelder who adds that the opening will be the most important day in the organization’s history. It begins with the annual Tiger Ball April 12 where an expected crowd of 700 to 1,000 gala-goers will sip champagne and nibble Asian bites while touring the building then dine under a block-size party tent on the grounds. Friday will see a cocktail party for society members and invited guests and then the public is invited for a free open house Saturday and Sunday featuring an official ribbon cutting, tours, food, performances and children’s activities.

The festival also marks the opening of the first art exhibit in the 4,000-square-foot Louisa Stude Sarofim Gallery where Treasures of Asian Art: A Rockefeller Legacy will be hung. The exhibit culls 60 masterpieces from the Mr. And Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection housed at Asia Society New York. Rockefeller founded Asia Society in 1956 and bequeathed his collection to the society upon his death. The entire collection of less than 300 classical pieces is considered one of the most notable collections of Asian art in America and this is a rare chance for Houston to see part of it through September 16.
Already there are programs and events lined up for the spring including a reading by Rumi translator Coleman Barks, a musical concert by Biwa master Yoko Hiraok and a lecture on Vietnam’s economic growth.
So, whether you’re looking to be educated or entertained, or just what to marvel at the beauty of the Museum District’s newest jewel, check out Asia Society Texas Center and enjoy Asia without ever leaving Houston.

Asia Society Texas Center
1370 Southmore Boulevard
Houston, TX 77004
The center is free and open to the public Tuesday – Sunday from 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Programs and events usually require tickets.