Ellsworth Kelly/Blanton Museum of Art

Ellsworth Kelly's upcoming non-denominational chapel in Austin points to the need for inclusive spaces in diverse but segregated cities.

Houston's got the Rothko Chapel. Dallas has Thanks-Giving Square. Now Austin's getting in on the business of building visionary non-denominational chapels.

The Blanton Museum of Art at the University of Texas is reviving plans by Ellsworth Kelly, the great minimalist painter, to build a chapel. Alan G. Brake at The Architect's Newspaper reports that Kelly first designed the project for a collector in 1968. The university museum has raised $7 million toward a $15 million campaign toward construction costs and an endowment for the chapel, which will be Kelly's first building when it is completed next year.

Anyone who's visited the Rothko Chapel realizes its value right away. (And if you have not seen it, read these very different recent essays from Aeon and the Houston Chronicle about the space.) The building is lined by paintings by Mark Rothko that encourage contemplation and quietude. The Chapel was commissioned by John and Dominique de Menil and dedicated in 1971; it is also the site of Broken Obelisk, Barnett Newman's tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr.

Model interiors for Ellsworth Kelly's Austin (Ellsworth Kelly/Blanton Museum of Art)

More important than even the art-historical and architectural value of the Rothko Chapel is how the space serves Houston's exceedingly diverse population. The calendar of upcoming events lists Jewish, Buddhist, and Hindu meditations; yoga and tai chi; and film screenings and concerts. (Mahler's Symphony No. 4 by the River Oaks Chamber Orchestra on May 21 looks good.) The Rothko Chapel offers eight holy texts for visitors. Most of the time, though, it is simply a space for anything visitors would like to reflect on or feel—regardless of religious affiliation, race, creed, ethnicity, or sexual orientation.

Kelly's Austin chapel will be built by San Antonio's Overland Partners in the next year or so, and by all indications, the building will suit the same purpose. More than a great art resource (it will almost certainly be that), Kelly's Austin will serve as an inclusionary amenity—something cities could use more of.

When developers build golf courses, they signal who is welcome in the community and who isn't. Building churches is exclusionary, too: While many churches serve their communities devotedly, some churches actively exclude people who do not subscribe to their faiths. When cities build libraries and non-denominational chapels, though, they encourage inclusivity across broad communities—and that's especially important for diverse but segregated cities such as Dallas, Houston, and Austin.

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