Many were probably surprised to see the lesser-known Los Angeles–based architecture firm Johnston Marklee on the short list of firms selected to design the new Menil Drawing Institute. After all, the Menil Collection, part of Houston’s Museum District, is known to commission famous architects to work on its campus.

But in honor of Renzo Piano, Hon. FAIA, who designed the museum building as his first American commission early in his career, the selection committee considered firms that didn’t have a grand reputation preceding them. Enter Jonhston Marklee.

A husband-and-wife duo, Sharon Johnston, AIA, and Mark Lee are recognized for their glamorous designs, which again runs in contrast to John and Dominique Menil’s reputation. But the decision was unanimous, Lisa Gray writes in the Houston Chronicle. Josef Helfenstein, Menil’s director, says that “he and the selection committee were impressed by the concept's adept control of light - a major challenge with drawings.” The right design can make all the difference when it comes to protecting art from harsh sunlight, as witnessed recently in Dallas at the Nasher Sculpture Center.

“The commission would be a coup for any architectural firm, but it's particularly significant for Johnston Marklee, a firm that's been critically praised but isn't yet well known by architecture fans,” Gray writes.