Judd Architecture Office, damaged in fire, to undergo reconstruction

MARFA — The Judd Foundation recently announced Donald Judd’s Architecture Office, a historic downtown Marfa building which suffered extensive damage due to a fire in 2021 just as its initial renovation was nearly completed, will be reconstructed with an opening date of Spring 2024. 

The Highland Avenue building, which the late artist Donald Judd had used as his architecture office, caught fire in June of last year, leading to what Marfa Fire Chief Gary Mitschke called “a total loss for the most part.” The roof had gone up in flames, and the center of the second floor caved into the first floor. 

In the ensuing months, the foundation oversaw a multi-phase remediation process to repair the fire damage, so that the interrupted restoration work could resume. Because it had already undergone the beginnings of the restoration project at the time of the fire, the brick structure remained largely intact — it is currently braced with steel buttresses, a temporary measure to reinforce the facade. Architecture firm SCHAUM/SHIEH was on-site for much of the remediation process to help ensure that the existing structure was salvaged as much as possible.

Now, over a year since the fire, the foundation is looking forward to getting the long-awaited restoration back underway.

“As far as morale, just getting this project back underway is going to be the biggest boost there, to actually see progress again on the building,” said Peter Stanley, the foundation’s director of operations and preservation. 

But getting that process back up and running is a serious undertaking following such extensive damage — much of the second floor has been wiped out, noted Stanley. But the team will attempt to use the original elements within the structure as much as possible.

“We’re confident we can save a lot of doors and some windows,” said Stanley. “Unfortunately, a lot of the other materials like the tin ceilings, those show damage pretty quickly.” Some of the wood floors may be salvageable, but even those that survived will carry a lingering burnt smell.

What sparked the blaze will remain a mystery, per Stanley. Following an investigation led by The Hanover Insurance Group, the foundation’s insurance company, and the contractor, the cause of the fire was undetermined. 

Once re-opened, the building will be accessible to the public — meaning visitors will have access to Judd’s office, which contains architectural models, building plans, design prototypes and his furniture. The restoration of the building, said Stanley, means a significant piece of historic downtown Marfa will survive.

“This building, sitting right there on Highland Avenue, two blocks from the courthouse, is part of this historic fabric of downtown Marfa that is amazingly intact,” he said. “You’ve seen a lot of towns where, for one reason or another, their fabric was reworked, demolished. And it was really through Judd’s practice of acquiring these buildings, of holding onto them and doing his own kind of historic restoration, that we still have all these buildings and this bit of history is still very legible in Marfa.”