Posts tagged with "Houston":
The Philadelphia Contemporary, which up till now has been an itinerant “curatorial institution,” bridging art, performance, and spoken word with various pop-ups and events around its namesake city, is getting a permanent physical home by Los Angeles firm Johnston Marklee. The firm, whose partners Sharon Johnston and Mark Lee artistic directed the 2017 Chicago Architecture Biennial, have worked on a slew of cultural institutions as of late including the recent Menil Drawing Institute in Houston, which opens next week. Following on its nomadic beginnings, the new kunsthalle will be, as Lee puts it, “inextricably woven into the fabric of the city.” The Philadelphia Contemporary, sans building, has programmed cultural events across the city over the past two years, including an ASMR Film Festival, as part of its two week Festival for the People, an arts event that happened over the past two weekends and featured an impressive array of artists, performers, poets, and others from Philly and around the world, including Hito Steyerl, Andrea Bowers, and Lyrispect. The festival also featured selections from Creative Time’s Pledges of Allegiance, which is a series of 16 flags by a number of artists including Jayson Musson, LaToya Ruby Frazier, Tania Bruguera, and Rirkrit Tiravanija. Creative Time’s former chief curator, Nato Thompson, has been serving as the Philadelphia Contemporary’s artistic director. Johnston Marklee was chosen after an extensive search by a 14-member jury comprising representatives from the Philadelphia Contemporary, as well as city officials, members of the arts, design, and literary community, and other local community members. Johnston Marklee will be working with local MGA Partners, the architect of record. The final building design is to be revealed in 2019.
“We didn’t want a Disney World experience at Goodnight Charlie’s, so we pared back,” said Gin Braverman, principal of Houston-based Gin Design Group (GDG), about the city’s Montrose neighborhood’s newest (and only) honky-tonk. “We didn’t want it to feel contrived.” In order to flesh out project architects Content Architecture’s contemporary structure for a musical lineup that ranges from twang to tonk, GDG began with Goodnight Charlie’s good bones and dressed them with simple, vernacular elements. The rectangular structure’s cedar-clad exterior is complemented by interiors of warm, accessible materials that would be at home in Texas’s barns and farmhouses. Rough cedar and plywood dominate the interior, materials evocative of the simple, collaborative approach a community might take in a barn raising—and the cooperative process that came easy for the interior designer and Content, whose practices share a building. Galvanized aluminum paneling wraps an angled wall behind the bar and around the door to the kitchen—a utilitarian choice that ends brilliantly, as the aluminum picks up and diffuses the multiple light sources in the room, including a lattice of raw lightbulbs, the fresh neon signs of the bar logo, and a cheeky crescent moon behind the stage. Bar storage is achieved with rolltop doors set within a steel structure, where a rotating narrative of bottles and ephemera is allowed to build naturally, a scheme Gin Design Group put considerable intent behind. “It was important that nothing appeared staged,” Braverman added, “so the finishes and fixtures align with that direction.” Nested tables with benches in hardwood provide a flexible gathering space within the performance area, while warm leather high-top chairs in burnt sienna encourage patrons to (figuratively) saddle up to the wide bar top, rendered in concrete and powder-coated metal. Beyond the bar area is a real-life Texas porch that opens out to the neighborhood, complete with swings hung on long steel chains and classic picnic tables. Looking up reveals the structure’s exposed trusses and cedar louvers. The restrooms are more intimate and detailed, with a portrait of Goodnight Charlie’s namesake—Charles Goodnight, the first cattle rancher in the Texas Panhandle—separating genders. Inside there are farmhouse sinks and white tile that has a handmade texture. Wallpaper takes on a Federalist air, the red print featuring the Texas seal, the Alamo, and an eager American eagle above a wave of stars. “The materials are just broad enough,” added Braverman. “They are a nod to Texas in general.”
Rios Clementi Hale Studios (RCHS) plans to transform Houston’s Jones Plaza from a sterile concrete jungle into a verdant, multi-functional space for locals and visitors to enjoy. The 1.5-acre design concept called “Urban Choreography” aims to embody the charm and appeal of Houston’s celebrated Theater District. With the growing number of workers, residents, and visitors to the area, there has been an increasing demand for pedestrian and transit-friendly environments with an abundance of green and open space. “Within Downtown, the Theater District and its many venues create a ‘magnetic field’ of culture that generates buzz and catalyzes investment in the surrounding neighborhoods,” RCHS said in a statement. “Jones Plaza, at the epicenter of the Theater District, can provide an inviting green oasis that enhances downtown life and it can flexibly accommodate a wide range of outdoor performances and special events that serve the entire region.” Inspired by the fluid, dramatic, and theatrical movements of the performing arts, the Urban Choreography design concept will connect Jones Plaza to its surrounding environment while creating a unique and artistic space for gathering. The vast plaza is reminiscent of a theatrical stage, where various steps and levels culminate to a plateau of lush green space. The expansive Street Theater, tree-filled Gateway Gardens, and dynamic Spring Stage, characterized by water cascading toward the street, can be found in three corners of the plaza. Each distinct space is connected by a proscenium walk, with multi-functional media towers that allow for various performances, activities, and special events. Meanwhile, a grand staircase and elevator connect the park to an upscale restaurant on Capitol Street. Perhaps the most substantial impact Jones Plaza can have on its surrounding environment is its ability to attract people to the heart of Houston's Theater District. Its presence will only heighten the cultural growth of a region known for its art, creativity, and diversity. RCHS will collaborate with Houston First Corporation, the City of Houston, and Theater District stakeholders on the project.
Exactly one year after Hurricane Harvey touched down in Texas, Gulf Coast oil and gas industries have reportedly been lobbying hard for protection against the rising tides. As Houston residents prepare to go to the ballot over a $2.5 billion resiliency and flood mitigation bond package on August 25, the Texas state government has already approved $3.9 billion to protect oil refineries. Texas Governor Greg Abbott and other state leaders had proposed a $61 billion plan for rebuilding and hardening the state’s coast in November of last year, but at the time, officials in the fiscally conservative state balked at the cost. Texas was far from the only state swamped by a heavy hurricane season last year, and with wildfires raging across the West Coast, lawmakers claimed that disaster relief funding had been stretched thin. The most ambitious portion of the Rebuild Texas plan proposed last year was the “Ike Dike,” a $12 billion series of levees and seawalls along the Gulf Coast that would form a protective “spine.” If the plan were funded, three large barriers would be installed along the Houston-Galveston coast to protect against flooding. Now, as AP reports, while the state is still trying to secure the public funding necessary to build the spine, the aforementioned $3.9 billion will go towards building three smaller seawalls to protect oil and gas infrastructure. That was deliberate on the part of the Texas Land Commissioner’s Office, as Hurricane Harvey knocked out about a quarter of the area’s refining capability. Refineries along the Gulf Coast are responsible for 30 percent of America’s refining capacity. The taxpayer-funded sections will provide a six-mile-long stretch of 19-foot-tall seawalls along Port Arthur on the Texas-Louisiana border, 25 miles of floodwalls around Orange County, and the final swath would protect Freeport. Construction is slated to begin in the next few months and once these disparate projects are complete, they could become part of a larger protection network if the rest of the funding is secured later. Still, the irony of the fossil fuel industry asking for money to protect against the effects of climate change was not lost on advocates and casual observers. “The oil and gas industry is getting a free ride,” Brandt Mannchen of the Houston Sierra Club told AP. “You don’t hear the industry making a peep about paying for any of this and why should they? There’s all this push like, ‘Please Senator Cornyn, Please Senator Cruz, we need money for this and that.’”
The materials are still off-gassing at Goodnight Charlie’s, but every great pair of cowboy boots was new at one point, right? Houston’s newest (and Montrose’s only) honky-tonk is more barn than Bauhaus, but don’t get it twisted, the design elements have a great rhythm. Texas is right here, so says CONTENT Architecture, with its take on the vernacular form both old and new. The rectangular structure, clad in rough cedar, provides a generous cut for the recessed entrance that is as welcoming as an East Texas shotgun house. The cedar is evocative of fenceposts that dot the countryside. Louvers run front to back and then up to the gable over the patio—the de facto front porch. Hefty posts carry the weight vertically, like the jacked-up beach houses of Galveston. Gin Design Group worked some boot-scootin’ inside, creating a glowing crescent moon for the stage and cheeky Alamo print wallpaper for the restrooms.
John Saunders Chase, FAIA (1925–2012) was a Houston architect who realized a large body of work in the city, throughout the state of Texas, and around the United States. At its peak, his office had nearly fifty employees in four cities: Houston, Dallas, Austin, and Washington, D.C. Chase, an African American in a profession that has struggled with diversity and discrimination, achieved many historic firsts during his career. His life, as seen via his personal and professional achievements and the work of younger architects who passed through his office, was on display this spring in Chasing Perfection, a two-part exhibit produced by the Houston Public Library. Born in Maryland, John Chase moved to Austin in the late 1940s after receiving initial architectural training at the Hampton Institute in Virginia and serving in the Army during World War II. He applied to graduate school at the University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin) School of Architecture after the Sweatt v. Painter Supreme Court decision in 1950 that fought the “separate but equal” policy of racial segregation in college education. After graduation, no firm would hire him, so Chase established his own practice in Houston, and in 1956, he became the first African American architect to be licensed in the state. Throughout his career, he designed churches, homes, union halls, libraries, high schools, fire stations, and institutional buildings, including much of the campus of Texas Southern University. He was a founding member of the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) in 1970 and received his AIA Fellowship award in 1977. In 1980, Chase was selected by President Jimmy Carter to join the Commission of Fine Arts and was part of that committee during the contentious process of realizing Maya Lin’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the National Mall. He was the first African American to serve on this commission. During the 1980s, his office was part of a consortium of local architects responsible for the design of the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston. Chase is survived by his wife, Drucie, and their three adult children. According to Danielle Wilson, the exhibition’s curator, discussions about the show began in 2009 with Chase’s participation. At that time, his architectural archive had been donated to the Houston Metropolitan Research Center’s Architectural Archives, and his personal archive was in the process of being donated to the African American Library at the Gregory School. Wilson’s father grew up next to the Chases in Houston, so she was familiar with the family and immediately knew that she wanted to work on a show about the architect when she joined the staff of the Gregory School. After Chase passed away, it took a number of years to assemble the parts for this successful exhibition. On the second floor of the Julia Ideson Building in downtown Houston, letters, photographs, and artifacts were installed alongside photographs of built work, architectural drawings, and hand-drawn renderings. Seen together, Chase’s life and work could be understood through the staging of these personal and professional artifacts, sequenced together to tell a holistic life story. Wilson said, “When I think about architects and their work, everything goes all together. I think it’s great when you have that context of both. I think it makes works more powerful.” The room also included a large–scale model and drawings of the George R. Brown Convention Center mounted on a drafting table. At the Gregory School, the work of four architects who worked with Chase is on display and demonstrates the effect his mentorship had on a subsequent generation of African American architects. “When I was focusing on his work and life, it was hard to tell a comprehensive narrative without talking about these men,” Wilson said. Daniel Bankhead, AIA; Darrell Fitzgerald, FAIA; James Harrison; and Wilbert Taylor all worked at various points with Chase and went on to become professional and community leaders themselves. In February, the library hosted a discussion between these architects, in addition to a conversation with Mrs. Chase and her children. Chasing Perfection offered a powerful portrait of a 20th–century American architect through Chase’s life, work, and impact on the profession. Wall text for the exhibit was excerpted from a manuscript titled The Life and Work of Architect John Saunders Chase: You Can Do More from the Inside, by architectural historian Dr. Wesley Henderson with Andrea Lazar. Both worked for two years to conduct interviews with family members, colleagues, and former employees of John Chase. Henderson and Lazar believe that Chase’s life story deserves to be more widely known since very few biographies of successful black architects have been published. They were very pleased to be able to contribute to the show at the Houston Public Library. Chase’s legacy continues to be explored and celebrated. In February, UT Austin announced that it had purchased one of Chase’s early buildings in east Austin to renovate and use as a community engagement center. While Chasing Perfection closed in early June, Wilson says there are already discussions underway about touring the show at other institutions. She also said a brochure from Chase’s firm and drawing supplies from his office were recently acquired by the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) in Washington, D.C. Wilson added that she and Mrs. Chase are “going to go through his personal archives to see what materials might go to the NMAAHC, and the rest will be housed at the African American Library at the Gregory School.” Chase is an important figure among the talented architects who practiced in Houston during the second half of the 20th century. His career opened the door for many architects of color to enter the profession, and he serves as an example of the countless ways in which an architect can effect positive change in the world.
Chasing Perfection: The Work and Life of Architect John S. Chase Houston Public Library Julia Ideson Building
Chasing Perfection: The Legacy of Architect John S. Chase The African American Library at the Gregory School
When it comes to notable architecture in Texas, it would seem strange to place San Antonio on par with Houston or Dallas. As the second-largest city in the state, San Antonio seems to only mimic the kind of architectural largesse seen in those cities. There are plenty of jewel-like late modern skyscrapers and austere civic buildings by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, Caudill Rowlett Scott, and Marmon Mok in the city, but these are not the kinds of projects one would mention in the same breath as Houston landmarks like Johnson/Burgee’s Pennzoil Place and Williams Tower, Renzo Piano’s sublime Menil Collection, or Fort Worth's iconic Kimbell Art Museum by Louis Kahn. A selective itinerary of San Antonio’s past and future architectural projects reveals a steady commitment to buildings with bold, expressive forms that reference the city’s unique environment, history, and culture. Alamo City warmed up to these compelling architectural additions as it expanded during the late 1940s and early ’50s, and became a home to energy and utility companies during the 1970s and ’80s. Funded by philanthropic organizations and influxes of oil cash, many of these buildings are now hidden by giant, swooping highway overpasses, corporate plazas, and other developer-driven projects. Despite the earlier innovative and controversial projects, San Antonio remains overlooked. This will soon change. Newly appointed mayor Ronald Nirenberg has re-energized discussions about creating new housing, battling gentrification, and committing to more public art. This will certainly place a spotlight on San Antonio’s rich architectural offerings while reminding us of how these and other past projects have embodied this city’s distinctive topography, Latino heritage, and dry, arid environment. Emilio Ambasz’s Lucile Halsell Conservatory, completed in 1988 at the San Antonio Botanical Gardens, is a good starting point. Located on the city’s northeast side, Ambasz’s scheme took advantage of the sunken site with a series of prismlike canopies that appear to rise out of the bermed earth like upturned shards of glass. Each canopy creates its own kind of climate and features particular plant ecologies—architecture designed, as Paul Goldberger observed in 1987, for the interaction between plants and humans. The project is notable for its combination of building, landscape, and infrastructure into a seamless whole. The Lucile Halsell Conservatory accommodated some very particular environmental and topographical conditions, and did so with a formal and technological expressiveness unlike anything that had been built in San Antonio. Mexican architect Ricardo Legorreta’s San Antonio Central Library, completed in 1995, continues in this vein. Here, cubic volumes are stacked at various angles, creating a series of triangular-shaped courtyards intended to be outdoor reading rooms. Legorreta’s debt to Mexican architect Luis Barragán’s minimalist polychromy is clear. Working with the painter Mathias Goéritz, Barragán created spaces framed by walls and surfaces doused in highly saturated reds, blues, yellows, oranges, magentas, and pinks. At his Central Library, Legorreta appears to invert Barragán with a simple, playful interplay of volumes that seem to be wrought from its own color palette as well. The reddish-brown colored cubes appear gutted in some places, revealing inner planes of yellow, blue, and purple. When viewed from the air, the Central Library appears otherworldly, framing circular plazas made from grass and limestone and located on a triangular-shaped site near the geographical center of the city, as if something from another time had arrived here. That a Mexican architect was chosen for this project is important. As the seventh-largest city in the United States, San Antonio has one of the biggest Spanish-speaking populations. Over 62 percent of its residents are of Latino origin. The appeal of Legorreta’s Central Library stemmed as much from the need for more public libraries as it did from the desire to reflect the city’s heritage. Though this was the first building in San Antonio designed specifically to reflect the city’s Mexican-American heritage, there are older buildings that expressed the cultural richness so important to the city. The Alamo and the four Spanish Missions (recently designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites) all combine Spanish and Catholic influences while referring to the rituals and structures of indigenous peoples. This is to say that San Antonio’s architecture continues to find a way to embody its venerable cultural geography. It also incorporates its distinct environmental geography. San Antonio is a city hewn from mesquite-dappled hills, limestone quarries, and deep-set aquifers. Lake|Flato continues to be the standard-bearer among the city’s firms for a kind of tectonic and environmental sensitivity that is immediately recognizable for its ingenious references to these conditions. Imagine a version of John Lautner’s spacious geometric forms where large cornices made from corrugated metal peer over meticulous compositions of glass, limestone, slats, and brise-soleil made from local woods, all culminating in views that privilege the rolling, arid mesquite and persimmon landscapes of the Texas Hill Country. This would not do justice to Lake|Flato’s work, but perhaps it is as close as we can get to a kind of South Texas regionalism. Yet some of Lake|Flato’s current work points to something altogether different. Their recently completed pavilion at Confluence Park designed in collaboration with Matsys connects the joining of the San Antonio River and San Pedro Creek, to nearby Mission Concepción, an 18th-century basilica. This is a highly-charged site in predominantly Spanish-speaking South San Antonio. The most visually arresting parts of Lake|Flato’s project are the concrete “petals” that reference the local flora while reminding the most architecturally astute observer of Spanish-born Mexican engineer Felix Candela’s sweeping hyperboloid structures, like Los Manantiales Restaurant (1958) in Mexico City’s Xochimilco Park, or the Chapel Lomas de Cuernavaca (also 1958) in Cuernavaca. Confluence Park is also part of the larger San Pedro Creek Cultural Park. This scheme is projected to transform a once-neglected 2.2-mile-long drainage spur into a cultural attraction with water features, public art, and areas dedicated to the preservation of local grasses and wildlife. In a nod to its aspirations, lead architect Henry R. Muñoz and others have embraced this project’s more common nickname—the “Latino High Line”—which may say more about Diller Scofidio + Renfro/Field Operation’s celebrated scheme than the actual goal of the project, which is to create a version of the Riverwalk devoid of its tourist traffic while celebrating Latino heritage. Urban designers are finding new ways to move San Antonio forward while referring to curious artifacts from the history of American cities. Architect Antonio Petrov, who teaches at the University of Texas at San Antonio and is the founder of Urban Future Lab, is one of the most outspoken voices when it comes to redevelopment in the city. He is a proponent of bringing back skyrides, which were already used during HemisFair ’68 as a means of connecting the city’s downtown with San Antonio International Airport. Petrov’s proposal, though evocative of pie-in-the-sky urban transportation schemes, is to be taken seriously. Similar proposals were actually in use at the 1932 Century of Progress Exhibition in Chicago as well as in Disneyland and Disney World (which were, in a sense, attempts to envision cities of the future.) Other schemes, though funded by corporate dollars and serious placemaking advocacy firms, are barely more pragmatic in their approach. A case in point is the proposed Alamo Plaza Redevelopment. Philadelphia-based Preservation Design Partnership authored one of the first master plans, a scheme that caused controversy when it called for relocating many of the businesses surrounding the Alamo and converting them to privately run cultural attractions. Current versions of the plan have done little to improve on the previous proposal. For example, the recent Alamo Comprehensive Interpretive Plan—spearheaded by St. Louis–based “placemaking” firm Peckham Guyton Albers & Viets; the heritage consulting firm Cultural Innovations; and landscape architects Reed Hilderbrand—still hinges on the creation of a pedestrian-friendly “Alamo District” designed to turn this historically charged site into an open-air museum. A previous scheme took this idea a step further by encircling the Alamo with a glass wall, as if preserving this architectural artifact in a kind of amber. There are plenty of other projects that are reenergizing the architectural scene in San Antonio. The city is in a bit of a gut-rehab frenzy, as landmarks like the Pearl and Lone Star Breweries have been renovated as pricey hotels and higher-end restaurants, all with the end goal of molding San Antonio into a destination for design-savvy millennials with money to burn, in hopes they will ditch an Airbnb in the picturesque King William District in favor of the Hotel Emma’s posh industrial-chic. It is in this milieu that Adjaye Associates’ Ruby City arrives as one of the most exciting projects to break ground in the Alamo City. This 14,000-square-foot gallery and contemporary arts center—scheduled to open later this year near the city’s burgeoning arts district—appears as a strange hybrid, part OMA Casa da Musica, part Legorreta Central Library. Adjaye’s building appears as a literal jewel, a faceted brick-red form whose speckled, punctured surfaces make it seem fleeting and otherworldly. But it is anything but that, for this building, which sits precariously on the edge of the one-acre CHRISpark in downtown San Antonio, will anchor the San Pedro Creek redevelopment scheme, and provide the Linda Pace Foundation’s extensive collection of modern and contemporary art with a bold, exciting home. Adjaye is still earning accolades for his groundbreaking National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., and with Ruby City soon to be completed, this will be the most significant architectural gesture for San Antonio—one that will hopefully inspire an influx of more commissions and projects of a similar caliber. How should we look at San Antonio’s architectural legacies and gestures? It is tempting to stack them up against those in Houston or Dallas, but in doing so, we would risk ignoring how one of the fastest-growing cities in the United States is busy generating its own architectural identity. Don’t call it haphazard, however. The pace of architectural developments in San Antonio may appear slow, but like the city, its architecture is humming busily from what once was an undetectable purr to something greater. This sleepy South Texas city is anything but, and its architecture will demonstrate how this is the case.
1 We landed in Houston two weeks before the storm. For newcomers to Texas, Hurricane Harvey provided a terrifying crash course in the geography and hydrology of the city, its micro-differences in topography and macro-differences in resources across the city’s communities. We were told that after the water receded, nothing would be the same, that the magnitude and destruction of the storm would simply be too hard to ignore. Yet less than a year later, as rebuilding continues on the verge of another hurricane season, it is hard to see how much—if anything—has changed for the better. Money was spent reconstructing homes on their original sites, and large-scale infrastructures that were designed to flood, like Buffalo Bayou Park, have performed admirably well as examples for designing resilient landscapes in Houston and elsewhere. A slew of well-intentioned policy reports were issued in the wake of Harvey, many reiterating similar proposals that preceded the storm, seemingly to little avail. The heuristic measures of the so-called 500-year event were questioned in light of a new reality in which such mega-storms will now be separated by years, not centuries. And then the city went back, it seems, to the combination of development and dread that has apparently become the new normal. 2 I came to Houston expecting to tap into a rich body of urban writing from the late 1970s to the 2000s that placed the city firmly at the center of broader attempts to theorize the contemporary metropolis. These formed part of what Joel Warren Barna described as “a long American tradition of minority reports” in which the social, political, economic, and psychological dimensions of architecture and the city were probed. Houston’s horizontal field provided an ideal environment for such speculations. For Joe Feagin, it offered the example par excellence of the “free enterprise city,” a case study of the unceasing urban transformations wrought by capitalist development unburdened by zoning. For Doug Milburn, Houston was “the last American city,” characterized by its ever-unfinished status as process rather than product. For Lars Lerup, its diffuse ecology of mega-shapes and micro-stimuli heralded the demise of the traditional city: a fluid condition of natural and artificial strata, a metastasizing field of events and affects punctuated by moments of stim and dross. At its peak, metropolitan Houston served as a radical testing ground for new ways of understanding the relentless permutations of 20th-century urbanism at large. Far from finding new extensions of these threads of writing the metropolis, probing their limits, or harnessing their potential for new speculations, instead, I encountered a city that seemed to have little nostalgia not just for its architecture, but also for its own prior theorizations. While cities like New York and Los Angeles capitalize on the major authors of their urban histories, Houston, by comparison, has largely fallen out of the center of contemporary discussions of urbanism and its possible futures. The most significant attempts to characterize Houston ultimately left a shrinking footprint on the contemporary urban scene, perhaps condemned by their avoidance of fixed definitions in relation to a metropolis endlessly in becoming. 3 Perhaps the major characteristic of Houston in the age of its most provocative theorizations was its lateness. An economy centered on petro-capital meant that its cycles of boom and bust happened a full decade out of step with urban development elsewhere in the U.S., with its peak following the spike in crude oil prices in the 1970s at the same time that the rest of the nation suffered from a deep recession. The city was similarly subject to the end of the oil boom in dramatic fashion, as plans to build the world’s tallest tower in Houston ran aground as prices crashed after 1983. The city’s authors reinforced the sense of Houston as late: for Milburn, the “last” truly American city in its combination of frenetic pace and untimely development; for Lerup, a model for what comes “after” the conventional city. Inevitably, Houston became a capital of late modernism and its manifestations. These included lapidary icons of petro-development, like the faceted, symmetrical towers of Pennzoil Place (Johnson/Burgee, 1976), along with local masterpieces like Four Allen Center (Lloyd, Morgan & Jones, 1984), which MoMA curator Arthur Drexler praised as “absolutely staggering” in its mirrored-glass effects. Houston’s later corporate development encapsulated its seamless, stylistic transition to postmodernism in buildings often designed by the same architects, like Johnson/Burgee’s RepublicBank Center of 1984, just across the street from Pennzoil Place. Houston’s theorizations provided valuable frameworks for understanding these economic and aesthetic cycles together, from the city’s boom to the period that Joel Warren Barna called the “see-through years” in homage to the hollow, abandoned development projects that littered the city’s landscape in the 1980s, begun a decade too late. 4 Houston has emerged as ground zero for what architecture and the city have become—for good or evil—in the midst of our national politics. The genuine multiculturalism of the country’s fourth-largest city—its greatest resource—offers conflicting signals with regard to architecture’s complicity with, or resistance to, the rise of xenophobia, racism, and nationalism in the U.S. This year provided welcome news of an international competition to design the country’s first official Ismaili Center, sponsored by the Aga Khan, with the hope of producing a distinguished building worthy of serving the nation’s largest community of Ismaili Muslims. Emancipation Park, established in 1872 as the first municipal park for African Americans in a segregated Houston—but long fallen into disrepair since the 1970s amid the decline of the historically underserved Third Ward—reopened last year to much fanfare following an extensive program of renovation and new construction by a team of designers led by Phil Freelon. Such initiatives are tempered by the news that Southwest Key Programs, a Texas nonprofit, plans to repurpose a warehouse near Houston’s downtown—which previously housed families displaced by Harvey—as a detention center for “tender age” immigrant children under the age of 12 who were forcibly separated from their parents by ICE. Meanwhile, the first federal contract for an immigrant detention center under the Trump administration was awarded in April 2017 to GEO Group, a private prison company, to build a $110 million, 1,000-bed facility in Conroe, a city just north of Houston. Such cruelties underscore the presence of the vast prison-industrial complex that underlies much of the financial landscape of the city’s politics, in parallel with the multinational conglomerates centered here—such as Halliburton—that have tied the city’s petrochemical industries to the construction of military detention facilities abroad. 5 What lessons can we learn from Houston today, from its dissonant combination of the hopeful and the horrifying amidst the city’s current urban transformations? How can new thinking emerge from the multiculturalism of an expanding city? Perhaps Houston’s lateness can be redeployed in its favor: While it may be behind the beat in offering responses to climate change, urban development, and cultural conflict, Houston’s apparent condition of being out-of-time can be reclaimed as a mode of resistance, a slowness in relation to contemporary politics. In this context, what can we do differently, and what must we think anew? For one, future criticism and speculation on the city will have to become more intersectional, no longer centered around a dominant—white, male—set of voices. (Look again at the list of authors on the previous page.) New ideas will have to come from beyond the domain of the academy, from the full spectrum of actors, interests, and constituencies that together represent Houston’s enviable diversity. The way forward might be indicated by the remarkable success of Project Row Houses, established in 1994 by artist Rick Lowe as a residency program for artists, architects, and writers—primarily women and people of color—to create and exhibit work in a series of restored shotgun houses in the Third Ward. The project’s model, based on a commitment to public art and an alternative model of community development—one that includes dedicated residences for young, single mothers—offers a true praxis for how cultural identity and community work can intersect in rethinking and remaking the city. Another lesson in joint urban practice can be found in the recently announced initiative by the University of Houston and the International Center for the Arts of the Americas at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston to create a partnership focused on Latino and Latin American art and culture. In seeking to connect students to the culture and heritage of Latino communities that make up some 43 percent of the urban population, this initiative suggests how architecture and design can respond more fully to a deeply multicultural city. Such examples offer the hope of a new Houston urbanism to come, one that expands the range of those who can participate in interpreting its transformations and reclaiming its prior theorizations toward new, untimely, and more humane futures.
Like many of the most exciting young firms currently practicing across the United States, Schaum/Shieh, based in New York City and Houston, owes its existence to the financial crisis of 2008. In the immediate aftermath of the meltdown, Schaum/Shieh principals Rosalyne Shieh and Troy Schaum found themselves working as collaborators on speculative urban projects while attending graduate school at Princeton, where the pair shared studio space. Attempting to figure out “what happens when you ask a question no one tells you to ask,” according to Shieh, the pair was driven toward the “protected space” of academic work by prestigious fellowships—Shieh at Taubman College in Michigan and Schaum at Rice University in Texas—in an effort to bolster professional experiences that included stints at Abalos & Herreros and OMA, respectively. After becoming licensed and spending their fellowship years incubating their practice, the pair fortuitously landed a spot exhibiting a project in the 2012 Venice Architecture Biennale, a platform that propelled their budding firm into the realm of client-based work. In the intervening years, a mix of bespoke design and meditative restoration work for institutional clients like the Donald Judd and Chinati Foundations—as well as commercially driven work for private clients—has kept the firm busy exploring multiple facets of architectural production. Driven by an intense curiosity and interest in the blend between high and low architectural culture, Schaum/Shieh continues to build its ever-elusive catalogue of offbeat work. Over time, the two architects have learned when to hold back. Schaum explains: “Restraint is [a] remarkable lesson for young architects to learn. [You realize] there are moments when we need to step back and not do certain things.” White Oak Music Hall One of the firm’s largest commissions to date is the White Oak Music Hall in Houston along Little White Oak Bayou north of the city’s downtown. Completed in phases between 2016 and 2017, the multistage music and event center features a pair of indoor stages that can house a combined 1,400 spectators, and a 3,800 capacity outdoor amphitheater built into the natural topography along the Bayou. The bar-shaped clapboard and wood plank-wrapped structure spans across the edge of its urban infill site and features balconies and open-roof decks that face toward the Houston skyline. An on-site industrial metal warehouse and steel tower were recently converted into a small music venue and bar as well. Transart The architects recently completed work on the 3,000-square-foot Transart Foundation for Art and Anthropology in Houston’s museum district, a complex that seeks to treat the “white box gallery as a problem” by introducing softness of form and visual instability to the otherwise staid building type. The private arts foundation and gallery is spread out across two structures, including a new three-story edifice crafted out of super-size stucco panels. The building’s stucco walls feature clipped corners and upturned edges that reveal triangular windows designed to bring direct light into the galleries and support spaces. The new structure is buttressed by a 1,200-square-foot studio and apartment located within an existing structure that was re-skinned with cement panels and a standing seam roof. Judd Foundation The multifaceted firm has worked for several years on collaborative projects involving the restoration and rehabilitation of several of Donald Judd’s studios and installed spaces in Marfa. What started as an effort to “responsibly finish and maintain” Judd’s architecture office quickly morphed into a wide-ranging collection of restorations and long-term planning efforts led by the Judd Foundation for more than a dozen buildings in the town. Over time, the high-profile, low-visibility restoration and conservation-focused work became an “invisible exercise that led to a conversation you can't ever see,” according to Schaum. The architects sought to create a “Texas model” for restoration that was flexible enough to include off-the-shelf components as well as innovative solutions that stand apart from prototypical, white-glove restoration work. 420 20th Street Always eager to take on diverse projects, the firm has also tried its hand at updating the ubiquitous strip mall. Their project at 420 20th Street in Houston aims for an understated refresh by converting an abandoned 1950s washateria into a collection of bespoke storefronts. For Shieh and Schaum—both children of American suburban landscapes—the discarded 5,200-square-foot laundromat represents a type of “common” architecture that many architects are too often happy to avoid. Instead, Shieh views strip malls like this one as “a type that can be transformed, developed, and worked with,” part of an amorphous urbanism that runs counter to “traditional urban legibility,” but in a good way. For the project, the team opted to replace the building’s storefronts with new components, including custom steel and wooden door handle elements. New planters were also embedded in each of the building’s exterior columns, while the structure’s historic brick detailing was brought out with new paint and a mural. Inside, each of the serially arranged shops is separated from the others by expanses of clear factory windows that allow views through the entire structure.
New York-based studio Agency–Agency recently completed a new, light-filled headquarters for Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) Lone Star in downtown Houston. Designed alongside local firm Method Architecture, the 20,000-square-foot structure increases the visibility of the national nonprofit and connects it with its core demographic of volunteers and lower-income families nearby. Featuring a pentagonal plan, the muted, beige-gray building sits three stories tall and includes massive windows that cut through the facade, unveiling activity within. A full-height, yellow-walled atrium invites visitors into the facility while pops of coral and teal are painted throughout, adding to the interior’s playful atmosphere. “An old idea of nonprofits is to lean heavily toward modesty and frugality to show philanthropists a greater sense of need,” Pierce Bush, CEO of BBBS Lone Star, told Texas Architect. “Here, the decision was made to go bold.” BBBS Lone Star services Greater Houston, Dallas, and Tarrant counties, as well as West Central Texas. Agency–Agency wanted the design to speak to the organization’s leadership and influence across half of the state. Creating dynamic views in and out of the facility was an important priority for the project. The interior program houses community spaces on the first floor, offices on the second, and a flexible event and activity space on the third along with an outdoor terrace. “The scale of the building responds to the need to be visible in that part of the city,” said Tei Carpenter, director of Agency–Agency, to Texas Architect. “It’s meant to be seen at the speed of traffic.”
Houston is a city that revels in the intersection of event and space—it certainly has an abundance of both. Adjacent to one of Houston’s meandering and often overflowing bayous in what was once an empty lot turned parking lot, Sideout Volleybar responds to the city's social pressures and urban conditions. This volleyball social club opened in the Northside neighborhood in June 2017 and combines casual sports, bright lights, and beer. AN contributor Jack Murphy and I decided to do a bit of participant observation on a recent Wednesday and headed over for burgers and beer. Sideout has three courts lined on two sides by a covered observation porch along with a bar house, a bean bag toss court, a dog area, and a food truck parked outside. “It’s like an athletic Ice House,” Jack observed, referring to the open-air beer joints that have long dotted the city. The comparison to the classic Houston outdoor bar is apt in that everything feels so provisional, as if the wood-framed decks could quickly be dismantled and the carpet of sand rolled up if business got too slow. The bar itself is not much more than a converted bungalow with a slab of wood in the space once occupied by the living room sofa. There was an effort to cover every surface with some choice of bright yellow, millennial pink, or a color I can only describe as greenish. The lighting is simply the parking lot pylons poking out of the sandy courts, which were installed on top of the parking lot surface, like a Houston version of “Sous les pavés, la plage!” This particular evening was both a trivia night and a league night, so the jarring patter of trivia questions layered over the chatter of various teams on the courts, all atop the soundtrack of greatest hits from the early 1990’s. The music of 311 was on heavy rotation. It was a ball. Sideout is a bar for beach volleyball and this seemed simple enough. The venue calls itself a “volleybar,” but the place is alive with activity: What we discovered was a veritable volleybar ball. “I think we are in the 1 percent of people not wearing an obnoxious league shirt,” Jack comments. The team players wear generic loose-fitting league T-shirts, distributed by Houston Sports & Social Club. For expediency, the graphics on every shirt are the same, so the 20-odd teams are differentiated by a range of colors that evokes a middle-school summer day camp. What is illustrative to the architect in this situation is that what is happening is really an event-based urban choreography. Houston is a city of unparalleled diversity with very few circumstances that allow for the public to appear together—but here, people come in droves. By our rough count, there must have been nearly 200 players at any given time in the complex: trivia sharks, volleyball players, dog-walkers, and even a few just plain barflies. I can’t help but imagine the league T-shirts as some type of Situationist uniform à la Constant’s Homo Ludens. Will Thomas, one of Sideout’s owners and a local musician, cited many of the Tex-Mex establishments of his youth and their “organic informality” as his inspiration for the place. Thomas is a partner in W2 Development, a company responsible for many of the recent commercial developments in the neighborhood. Nearby, there is a new metro light rail stop, the White Oak Music Hall, designed by Schaum/Shieh, a dramatic bridge over a river (a bayou, upscaled), and a hike and bike trail in the works, all set in a loose assemblage that doesn’t quite amount to an urban system until you see it activated through its events. Whether it’s an outdoor concert, a cinema screening, or, of course, league night at the Volleybar, each time you visit, you might find yourself in what feels like a different city. If you don’t mind the sartorial constraints of the league T-shirt and would enjoy the feeling of standing at the center of a sociality you can’t quite perceive the edges of, then come over to the Sideout Volleybar. If bumping, setting, or spiking isn’t your thing, then at least you will find a unique place to imbibe and watch the sun set against the Houston skyline.
The Continuous City: Fourteen Essays on Architecture and Urbanization Lars Lerup Park Books, 2017 $39.00 Lars Lerup, the Swedish-American designer and writer, has published a new book. The Continuous City (Park Books, 2017) presents his latest thoughts on architecture, cities, and the people who inhabit them by way of 14 disparate but interconnected essays. The handsome volume is bound in a matte cover featuring René Magritte’s painting Panorama Populaire (1926), which depicts buildings, a forest, and a seashore stacked atop each other, the ground plane of each upper level sawed away to reveal the strata beneath. The picture turns out to be a perfect signpost for what lies within, as its suggestion that these (and other) seemingly discrete realms are inextricably linked is precisely the crux of Lerup’s otherwise episodic inquiry. Lerup’s two previous titles—One Million Acres & No Zoning (Architectural Association Publications, 2011) and After the City (MIT Press, 2001)—took on the postindustrial car city as a subject of serious study. They look beyond the European-oriented urbanist’s dismissal of such environments as merely “sprawl” to find and examine the often-surreal juxtapositions embedded within that type of built fabric. Both books show Lerup’s fascination with Houston, where he first moved in 1993 from Berkeley, California, to take the job of dean at the Rice School of Architecture, a position he held until 2009. He is currently a professor there. Houston was to architecture in the 1980s what Dubai is to the field today—a petro-capital spending big money on ambitious development projects without paying much attention to the rules. Lerup’s championing of this subject matter in architectural academia (his has been one voice—there are others) has done much to save the discipline from self-inflicted obsolescence, an observation driven home by the fact that approximately 80 percent of currently existing global urban environments are designed and constructed around the automobile. His leadership also supported and propelled other academics who have done important work in this area, including Rice colleague Albert Pope, whose seminal volume, Ladders (Princeton Architectural Press, 1996), laid the groundwork for serious consideration of the postwar American city, and former Rice assistant professor Keith Krumwiede, whose latest book, Atlas of Another America: An Architectural Fiction (Park Books, 2016), explores speculative futures of suburbia. Another of Lerup’s preoccupations is subjectivity. In the 1970s, during a sabbatical from UC Berkeley, Peter Eisenman invited him to the Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies in New York (Rem Koolhaas was writing Delirious New York just down the hall). Lerup’s design work exhibits ties to that lineage of formal exploration and defamiliarization, but where Eisenman seeks to liberate architecture from the user, Lerup’s ambition has been to explore the problems of the urban inhabitant. For example, he did several years of research with the National Bureau of Standards in Washington, D.C., on how people in nursing homes panic and escape buildings that are on fire. The result was a series of publications compiled into Learning from Fire: A Fire Protection Primer for Architects, composed of a series of hand-drawn comic strips that depict nurses and patients reacting to infernos. In Continuous City, Lerup says hello to the Anthropocene. Quoting from the introduction: “The Anthropocene brings with it the realization that we live in a new (catastrophic) geological era of our own making. This is no longer a squabble between liberty or community, but a need to avert disaster. Lacking easy answers, we now seek opportunities for change, skirting the dark side of the new city, which the earlier books dealt with, to find in architecture a device for positive movement forward.” He argues that conceptual distinctions between urban and suburban, or urban and rural, are no longer productive. “The urban,” he writes, “is inescapable. The city is everywhere.” Lerup’s hunt for constructive examples takes the reader on a journey that spans the globe and delves into the history of human settlement. He establishes links between the plan of Teotihuacán and OMA’s Seattle library, investigates the coexistence of natural and built environments in the work of Roberto Burle Marx, considers the synergies of Herzog & de Meuron’s Miami garage, and worries the uneasy relationship between users’ topological experience and the planner’s topographic approach. His findings are as revelatory as they are perturbing. If humankind is to survive the era of global warming (the Anthropocene’s most threatening result), there remains much more work to be done.