Since 1972, the Art Museum of South Texas has been a landmark on the Corpus Christi Bay.
Designed by Philip Johnson, the three-level facility is constructed of poured white concrete and shell aggregate.
An addition completed in October 2006 doubled the Museum’s size, adding new gallery spaces, an expanded
Museum Store and a new Café that overlooks the Bay and the ship channel. Designed by Victor and
Ricardo Legorreta of Mexico City, the addition features 13 roof-top pyramids as well as stunning use of
color and light. Taken together, the two buildings represent a visually appealing “meeting of the minds”
between Mexican and American architecture.
Philip Johnson was born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1906. He received an A.B. in architectural history from
Harvard University in 1930 and upon graduation became the director of the Department of Architecture at
the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. During the 1930s, Johnson championed the cause of many
modern architects, most notably Ludwig Mies van Rohe. In 1940 Johnson returned to Harvard’s Graduate
School of Design, where he trained under Marcel Breuer. He received a B.Arch. in 1943 and practiced
architecture in Cambridge, Massachusetts until 1946 when he moved back to New York to serve as director
of architecture at MOMA. He became a trustee of MOMA in 1958, received the American Institute of
Architects Gold Medal in 1978, and received the Pritzker Architecture prize in 1979.
Johnson’s association with Corpus Christi began in the late 1960s. A group of prominent civic leaders and
philanthropists had begun a private sector movement to fund and build a new art museum along the
Corpus Christi Bayfront. Museum patrons Patsy and Edwin Singer were interested in being more involved
with the modern art movement with which Johnson was associated, and traveled to New York City to talk with
the internationally renowned architect. Upon being challenged by Johnson to come up with $1 million for the
project, Patsy Singer returned to New York within six months with her pledges and sealed the agreement.
The Art Museum of South Texas is often identified as one of Johnson’s finest small public buildings and
remains an important signal for the still unknown Post-Modernism movement that would begin 10 years later.
In 1997 when it became evident that there was a need to expand the Art Museum campus, the highly
respected modernist architect Ricardo Legorreta of Mexico was contacted. Working in the tradition of his
mentor, Luis Barragan, Legorreta expressed interest in designing a building that would be appropriate in scale
and complement the character of the Johnson building, which he had visited soon after the building opened
in 1972. After a fact-finding trip to Mexico City and a subsequent tour by trustees and staff to see major public
buildings in Monterrey, the Art Museum board voted to hire Legorreta in 1998.
Ricardo Legorreta was born in Mexico City in 1931. He graduated in 1953 from the Universidad Nacional
Autonoma de Mexico with a degree in architecture. While in school, Legorreta worked as a draftsman. After
graduating, he worked for Jose Villagran Garcia in Mexico City, becoming a partner in 1955. In 1960 he
established his own practice, and in 1964 Legorreta became the principal of Legorreta Arquitectors, Mexico City.
The firm subsequently expanded to include son Victor in Legorreta + Legorreta.
Ricardo Legorreta’s most famous work is perhaps the Camino Real Hotel in Mexico City. He was awarded the
prestigious UIA Gold Medal in 1999, the American Institute of Architects Gold Medal in 2000, and the Praemium Imperiale in 2011.
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