The Chinati Foundation is primarily Fort D. A. Russell, but also includes the building for John Chamberlain’s work in the center of Marfa and two square miles of land on the Rio Grande for a very large work of mine made of adobe. Most of Fort Russell was a ruin. Other than the two artillery sheds and later the Arena, I was against buying it. It had been an army base, which is not so good. Most buildings were without roofs, there was trash everywhere and the land was damaged. Some of the barracks had been turned into kitsch apartments with compatible landscaping. Military landscape overlain with a landscape of consumer kitsch is hard to defeat. At any rate the artillery sheds were concrete and solid, although they leaked.
The buildings, purchased in ’79, and the works of art that they contain were planned together as much as possible. The size and nature of the buildings were given. This determined the size and the scale of the works. This then determined that there be continuous windows and the size of their divisions. The windows replaced the derelict garage doors closing the long sides. A sub-division of nine parts, for example, would be too complicated in itself and as bars in front of the works of art, smaller to larger inside, rather than larger outside as part of the facade to smaller inside as part of the sub-division of the interior. The windows are quartered and are made of clear anodized extruded aluminum channel and re-enforced glass. One window of each building slides open, which isn’t enough, but the sliding windows were much more expensive. The long parallel planes of the glass facade enclose a long flat space containing the long rows of pieces. The given axis of a building is through its length, but the main axis is through the wide glass facade, through the wide shallow space inside and through the other glass facade. Instead of being long buildings, they become wide and shallow buildings, facing at right angles to their length.
As I mentioned, the flat roofs leaked. In ’84 the one hundred mill aluminum pieces in the two buildings were nearly complete and needed greater protection. Since patching the flat roof had been futile, and since insulation was needed, and for architecture, I planned a second roof. In Valentine nearby, thirty miles, there was a large metal storage building, one curve from the ground to the ground, with very deep and broad corrugations, obviously structure itself. Similar vaults were built as the roofs of the two artillery sheds. The height of the curve of the vault is the same as the height of the building. Each building became twice as high, with one long rectangular space below, and one long circular space above. The ends of the vaults were meant to be glass, but were temporarily covered with corrugated iron. With the ends open, the enclosed lengthwise volume is tremendous. This dark and voluminous lengthwise axis is above and congruent with the flat, broad, glass, crosswise axis. The buildings need some furniture and some use for the small enclosed space that is within each one.