Judd Foundation begins work to learn cause of fire at Architecture Office

Photo by Sachi McClendon. Exterior of the Judd Architecture Office on Highland Avenue in Marfa the morning after the fire.

MARFA — It’s been over three months since a fire broke out inside Judd Foundation’s Architecture Office that had been undergoing historic renovations since 2018. On June 4, the day of the fire, the flames spread quickly, leaving the building a husk of its former self. 

Yet in the aftermath of the fire, the building remained largely untouched. There has been little activity outside of the building once Judd Foundation installed vertical steel beams to shore up the sides of the building. However, the foundation finally received permission from the city and its insurance company to clean up the debris inside and try to determine the cause of the fire –– a process known as remediation. 

There will be two phases to the remediation process, which is expected to continue through to the end of October. The first phase is all about protecting the structural integrity of the building, as the damage to its walls is still in question. Specialized contractors are scheduled to add steel beams to the inside to provide more support to the structure.

To install the beams, the contractors will have to use a crane to lift materials and equipment into the building. While the crane is in operation, Highland Avenue will be intermittently closed down. Judd Foundation said that it expects this work to last as long as seven to ten days, but that the contractors could finish sooner.

The second phase will begin toward the beginning of October after the shoring is complete and continue for approximately three weeks. This is when the investigation into the cause and origin of the fire will begin. Contractors will go inside the building to remove debris in hopes of determining what caused the fire that night. 

As The Big Bend Sentinel previously reported, in September 2018 the Judd Foundation began renovating the 5,000-square-foot building that the late artist Donald Judd used as his architecture office, with a living quarters on the second floor intended for guests. The plan –– budgeted at $2,000,000 –– was to open the first floor to the public, showcasing some of Judd’s architectural designs, while the second floor would include the fully-restored guest space.

The restoration was set to be complete in July, opening up to the public this fall. Then, in the early hours of June 4, the fire broke out inside the building, eventually setting the roof ablaze. The middle section of the second floor caved into the first. Inside, construction materials and equipment burned black.

“It’s a total loss for the most part. The building is basically gutted,” said Gary Mitschke, the chief of the Marfa Volunteer Fire Department, on the morning after the fire. “They had a top-of-the-line sprinkler system and alarm system that wasn’t hooked up quite yet, which is really unfortunate because it probably would’ve saved the building.”

Since then Judd Foundation has been waiting to determine the structural integrity of the building and whether it could salvage any of the renovation materials. 

Coinciding with the remediation process is The Texas Department of Transportation’s months-long road improvement project to Highland Avenue, as The Big Bend Sentinel previously reported. As the worksites for the projects overlap, Judd Foundation is coordinating with TxDOT to work around the agency’s schedule.