Posts tagged with "Houston":

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From The Pages of Texas Architect: Astrodome Update by Ben Koush

[ Editor's Note: For those of you who are getting excited about The Architect's Newspaper and YKK AP's Reimagine the Astrodome design ideas competition, you have until September 17 to register. Once you've done that, take the time to read the following article, which appeared in the September/October 2013 issue of Texas Architect. Written by Houston-based architect and writer Ben Koush, it covers the current status of the Dome, what it means to Harris County, and Space City's record of not bothering to preserve its architectural heritage. ] Ever since the Houston Oilers owner Bud Adams, in a snit after being refused a new stadium, took his football team to Nashville in 1997 and renamed it the Tennessee Titans, the fate of the Astrodome has been up in the air. Matters were made worse when, instead of rehabilitating the Astrodome a new, neo-traditionalist baseball stadium, Minute Maid Park, was built down-town for the Astros in 1999, and then in 2002, a hulking new football stadium, Reliant Center, was built uncomfortably close to its predecessor to house the replacement team, the Houston Texans, and the Houston Rodeo. The Astrodome, designed by local architects Lloyd, Morgan & Jones and Wilson, Morris, Crain & Anderson, opened in 1965 to national acclaim as the nation’s first covered and completely air-conditioned baseball and football stadium. It was inspired by Harris County Judge Roy Hofheinz’s visit to the ancient Roman Colosseum, where he learned that a retractable canvas cover, the velarium, was once extended to shade most of the seats from the hot Italian sun. The novelty of the covered Texas sports stadium and its one-of-a-kind AstroTurf were pivotal points in the history of sports facilities. However, the decades have taken their toll. And in comparison to the recent crop of flashy new stadiums, the Astrodome looks downright dumpy. In a city that generally equates old with bad, these kinds of situations are usually resolved by demolition. Think Shamrock Hotel (largest hotel in America when it was opened in 1949); River Oaks Shopping Center (the New Deal-era prototype for an uncountable number of strip centers in the country); the Prudential Building (Houston’s first “suburban” skyscraper); and—being demolished as I write this—the former Foley Brothers department store (the grandest and last major downtown department store to be built in any American city). Given this trend, one cannot help but be surprised by what seems to be a miraculous turn of events. Almost as soon as the Astrodome was mothballed, eager would-be developers began pushing proposals for its redevelopment. The pressure increased notably when it became clear that Harris County is using some $3 million to $4 million of public money to maintain the stadium in its unused state each year. Suggestions included hotels, casinos, movie studios, amusement parks, museums, and, my personal favorite, a scheme by recent University of Houston architectural graduate student Ryan Slattery to strip the dome to its steel skeleton and repurpose it as a gigantic, 9-acre gazebo to shade a variety of outdoor activities. Reject, reject, reject. But with the news that Houston will be the location of the 2017 Super Bowl, speculation has intensified that current Harris County Judge Ed Emmett must decide if the Astrodome is to be demolished, as seems to be the desire of the Houston Rodeo in particular, or to be rehabilitated, as seems to be the desire of most Houstonians, who increasingly see it as the city’s signature architectural landmark. Rehabilitation of the iconic building would clearly avoid national embarrassment when the anticipated hordes of visiting sports commentators and football fans descend upon Reliant Stadium. National attention to Houston’s conundrum included articles in the New York Times and the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s decision to include the Astrodome on its 2013 list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places. This summer, Judge Emmett issued an ultimatum that redevelopment proposals would have to be submitted by June 10. The Harris County Sports and Convention Corporation (HCSCC) selected one of the proposals and will put it forward for a public vote in November for bond approvals. If the proposal is rejected, the Astrodome will be demolished. In late June, the HCSCC reviewed the 19 official submissions and duly approved what appears to be a somewhat banal scheme. “The New Dome Experience,” presented by HCSCC Executive Director Willie Loston, seeks to repurpose the Astrodome as a 350,000-sf column-free exhibition space, with an estimated price tag of $194 million. Why such a large convention center? For one thing, participants of the Offshore Technology Conference, which has annual trade shows at the Reliant Center, have been pushing to exhibit ever-larger oil and gas production devices—imagine entire offshore drilling rigs. Other sug­gested uses include moving the Rodeo’s carnival under cover, housing high school football games, and providing the ever-popular emergency hous­ing in times of disaster. Emmett was recently quoted by writer Whitney Radley as saying, “I think the concept is outstanding, and at the end of it, I really believe that Houston and Harris County would become the event capital of the world.” It’s not all just boosterism, however. This scheme also proposes to include some 400,000 sf of programmed, semi-public outdoor space. So here’s to its success at the ballot boxes in November and to the hope that Houston might someday realize that its architectural patrimony is indeed worth maintaining rather than destroying. Ben Koush is a Houston-based architect and writer.
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Pictorial> Library of Congress Documents Houston’s Astrodome in 2004

As enthusiasm continues to build for The Architect Newspaper and YKK AP's Reimagine The Astrodome design ideas competition, which accompanies the launch of the forthcoming AN Southwest edition as well as YKK AP's expansion into the region, we thought we'd take the opportunity to share a collection of excellent black and white photographs of the Astrodome from the Library of Congress. These pictures document the dome as it looked in 2004, after its last tenant, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, had moved out in 2003, before it was used to house refugees from Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and well before it was declared unfit for occupancy in 2008. Take this opportunity to subscribe to AN Southwest and sign up for the Reimaging The Astrodome competition. These pictures show off several of the more impressive architectural and engineering features of the venerable structure, including the trusses and compression ring that support the 642-foot clear span of the lamella roof, the mechanisms that drive the movable seating sections, and the sensual 1960s modernist character of the exterior concrete screen wall with its stacked parallelograms.
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Houston’s 1927 Buffalo Bayou Reservoir Digitally Mapped and Open for Reuse Proposals

During construction on the Buffalo Bayou Partnership's (BBP) Buffalo Bayou Park Shepherd to Sabine project—which began in 2010 and is seeking to transform the downtown park into a catalyst for making Houston a more livable city—workers rediscovered an underground concrete cistern that had been built in 1927 as the city's first drinking water reservoir. It performed decades of service before springing a leak that couldn't be located or contained, at which point the 87,500-square-foot subterranean chamber was sealed up and forgotten. Today, the old piece of infrastructure is an inspiring, if somewhat erie space. Accessed through manholes and 14-foot ladders, the man-made cavern features row upon row of cathedral-like 25-foot-tall columns standing in several inches of still water. BBP would like to see the space adaptively reused, but such an endeavor currently lies outside the scope of its Shepherd to Sabine project. So to drum up interest in renovating the space, the organization commissioned Houston company SmartGeoMetrics to create a 3D fly-through of the cistern.
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Reimagine The Astrodome: Houston Design Ideas Competition Launched

To launch the forthcoming Southwest edition of the Architect's Newspaper, and to kick-off YKK AP's expansion into the region, AN and YKK AP have teamed up to host Reimagine The Astrodome, an Astrodome Reuse Design Ideas Competition. The competition is open to anyone who wishes to participate, whether it be professional architects and engineers or students and artists. Registration opened yesterday afternoon and will close on September 17. Entrants who register by September 6 will get $10 off the registration fee, which is $50 for professionals and $20 for students. The top five proposals, which will be selected by a jury of prominent architects and educators in Houston on October 4, will receive cash prizes and be published in the first issue of AN Southwest, cover date November 6, which will be distributed at the Texas Society of Architect's 2013 design expo and convention in Fort Worth. Register today!
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Ceilings Plus Soars in Texas

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Gensler’s design at the University of Houston is realized in a cloud-inspired, sound-absorptive ceiling solution.

Gensler and Ceilings Plus have brought a touch of the Big Apple to the University of Houston’s recently completed Quiet Hall in the Classroom and Business Building. Gensler drew its design inspiration for a ceiling in the new building from the New York Central Library’s Rose Reading Room. The firm hired the California-based Ceilings Plus to translate its interpretation of this classical interior, which includes perforations and geometric folds, into an affordable, buildable, and installable ceiling solution. Ceilings Plus used digital software to marry the design architect’s vision with a workable model that offered minimal joint tolerances and maintained compatibility with HVAC systems. “Since the architect was interested in doing something completely new, it was important to realize that process together,” said Michael Chusid, who works in marketing and business development for Ceilings Plus. Gensler produced three conceptual renderings in Revit, then turned them over to project engineer Robert Wochner, who developed sound-absorptive perforations and a suspension system that could support the various angles of the Quiet Hall’s multi-planar ceiling.
  • Fabricators Ceilings Plus
  • Designers Gensler
  • Location Houston, Texas
  • Date of Completion October 2012
  • Material Illusions ceiling system, sheet aluminum, Saranté PVC-free laminate, non-woven acoustical fabric, recycled cotton batt, blue felt, modified tee-bar system, torsion spring clips
  • Process AutoCAD, Revit, SolidWorks, CNC milling, punch pressing, cutting, folding
Wochner used AutoCAD to reconcile Gensler’s rendering, which depicted a cloud of perforations across the ceiling for sound absorption. Acoustically there was an ineffective number of apertures, so Wochner filled in the original design with smaller, carefully angled perforations. By leaving an ample amount of space between the dropped ceiling and the planchement, the perforations are able to absorb vibrations in an efficient and lightweight system. Nearly 50 configurations were considered before arriving at a final design, which was modeled in SolidWorks. Ceilings Plus fabricated the panels using stock products and a CNC router. The architect’s chose the company’s PVC-free Saranté laminate in a henna-toned wood finish, which is affixed to an aluminum sheet. A punch press knocked out the perforations, revealing a blue felt backing. Despite the ceiling’s complex appearance, Ceilings Plus developed a suspension system based on a conventional T-bar system, making it easy to install. Since the ceiling is not flat, attachment points were individually set to hang each of the 280 panels from between six and eight torsion springs. “With this firm pressure downward, you can extract the panel and lower it out of place to gain access to the ceiling cavity to maintain the HVAC system, ductwork, and other mechanicals,” said Chusid. Custom-fabricated brackets help support the unique angles. Ceilings Plus deployed several expert installers to assist the installation process. “Any time there’s a slope on the ceiling and it interfaces with something round, like a column, it goes from a circle to an ellipse,” said Wochner. “Though we have precise information about the field location, it’s not uncommon to make adjustments on site.”  
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Michael Van Valkenburgh Overhauling The Menil Collection Campus

New York-based landscape architecture firm Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates (MVVA) has been selected to develop new designs for The Menil Collection’s 30-acre campus in Houston, Texas. The appointment kicks off the Menil’s “neighborhood of art” master plan, designed in 2009 by London-based David Chipperfield Architects. Chipperfield's scheme attempts to tie together a group of six buildings spread across several blocks and interspersed with outdoor sculpture gardens and green spaces. The museum anticipates that groundwork for the initial stage of MVVA’s design will begin this September. Chipperfield Architect's master plan calls for new visitor amenities, such as a cafe, as well as new buildings for art. The first of these, The Menil Drawing Institute designed by Los Angeles-based Johnston Marklee, will be dedicated to the display, preservation, and study of modern and contemporary drawings. MVVA will design a new entry on the north side of the Menil’s campus. The firm’s scheme will usher guests from the parking area to a new Menil café, which will be housed in one of the campus' historic bungalows, and the Renzo Piano–designed museum building. Mr. Van Valkenburgh told the New York Times that “it’s always a challenge to take a landscape that has evolved incrementally and a landscape that has a subtle and modest character and to somehow succeed in improving it.” Outdoor garden space is indispensable to the collection and the museum aims to do a better job in curating the landscape. Menil director Josef Helfenstein emphasized in a statement that appreciating art is linked to the entire experience of where it is viewed, including the journey between disparate buildings in an institution like the Menil.
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Six Outstanding Libraries Honored by the AIA and American Library Association

As cities across the country struggle to bring new life to aging athenaeums and cash-strapped local libraries, the AIA has honored six outstanding examples of library design in this year’s AIA/ALA Library Building Awards. In the past we have seen a Walmart transformed into a library, a controversial starchitect renovation in New York, and an interactive, LED light-show—now take a look at these honored projects. From democratic design in the nation’s capital to a stunning Beaux-Arts restoration in St. Louis and high-tech solutions in North Carolina, this year's winning projects present a range of answers to the challenges facing our fading repositories. The jury for the biannual award included Jeanne M. Jackson, FAIA, Chair, VCBO Architecture; John R. Dale, FAIA, Harley Ellis Devereaux; Charles Forrest, Emory University Libraries; Kathleen Imhoff, Library Consultant; J. Stuart Pettitt, AIA, Straub Pettitt Yaste and John F. Szabo, Los Angeles Public Library. Anacostia Neighborhood Library Washington, D.C. The Freelon Group From the AIA: The small-scale residential context provided the inspiration for the design of this new branch library, located in a low-income, underserved neighborhood in Washington, D.C. The project not only fulfilled programmatic needs but also provided a stimulus for community pride and economic development. The residential scale is reflected in the library design as a series of pavilions for program areas that require enclosure: the children’s program room, the young adults’ area, support spaces, and public meeting rooms. The remainder of the level one plan is high, open space for the main reading room, stacks, computers, and public seating areas. A large green roof structure provides shelter over all program areas. Central Library Renovation St. Louis Cannon Design From the AIA: Cass Gilbert’s grand Beaux-Arts library, now 100 years old and a St. Louis cultural landmark, was in need of a transformative restoration that would increase public access and modernize it for the 21st century. On the interior, the centrally located Great Hall is surrounded by five wings, four dedicated to public reading rooms and the fifth, the north wing, to a multistory book depository closed to the public. The transformation of the north wing truly rejuvenated the library and brought it into the next century. Old book stacks were removed, and a new “building within a building” was inserted. Now, a multistory public atrium provides an accessible and welcoming entry. The new “floating platforms” surround the atrium without touching existing interior walls. Glass-enclosed upper levels house the collection with compact high-density bookshelves. The windows of the north wall, now clear glass, bounce natural light deep into the interior and provide striking views. New York Public Library, Hamilton Grange Teen Center New York City Rice + Libpka Architects From the AIA: The center, located on the previously empty third-floor space of Harlem’s Hamilton Grange branch library, designed by McKim, Mead and White, is NYPL’s first full-floor space dedicated to teens. In an effort to attract and engage neighborhood youth, the 4,400-square-foot space challenges the norms of library design. The light-filled floor is divided into specific zones that foster small-group interaction and socialization. Visibility is maintained across the entire floor. Two programmatic elements—a 20-foot-diameter Media Vitrine and a bamboo bleacher—occupy the center of the space and work to define the seven zones between and around them. The vitrine’s open-top glass enclosure upends the notion that multimedia spaces must be dark, hyperisolated rooms. The bleacher allows views out to the street from the existing high south-facing windows and provides a sunny hang-out for a range of group sizes. Custom L-shaped lounge benches bracket this space and can be rolled away to allow for other uses and activities. James B. Hunt Library Raleigh, North Carolina Snøhetta and Pear Brinkley Cease + Lee From the AIA: An $11 million reduction in the budget for this library during the schematic design phase prompted the design, construction, and client teams to formulate a range of new ideas to maintain functionality and quality. The building would need to be highly programmed and reasonably versatile as well as comfortable and stimulating to visitors. One innovation was the introduction of an automated book delivery system (ABDS), which effectively reduced the total area of the building by 200,000 gross square feet and allowed more space for collaboration and technology. The ABDS is supported by user-friendly browsing software that matches and even enhances the traditional pleasure of browsing a collection. Oak Forest Neighborhood Library Houston NAAA + AWI + JRA From the AIA: This 7,600-square-foot modern brick and glass structure opened in 1961. Fifty years later, there was still great nostalgia for the library’s mid-century modern design, but the building no longer met the standards of the Houston Public Library system or the needs of the surrounding neighborhood. The 2011 renovations and additions respect the character of the existing library and enhance its accessibility and functionality. The original building’s restored signature green tile mosaic still graces the parking entry area on the north, but now the neighborhood is welcomed by a tree-shaded second entry and outdoor reading room framed by new dedicated adult and teen areas on the west. The original tile mosaic and globe light canopy of the old circulation desk were restored to create a toddler-sized reading nook. Each age group—from toddlers through teens and adults—now has appropriate facilities, furnishings, and technology. A new lobby and circulation space, lit by a continuous shaded clerestory, occupies the seam between old and new and unites the two entries. South Mountain Community Library Phoenix richärd+brauer From the AIA: The building integrates the varied uses of a contemporary public library with the needs of a state-of-the-art central campus library, allowing each to function both independently and collaboratively. The design is modeled after that of an integrated circuit, providing insulation between disparate functions and promoting interaction and connection between like functions and spaces. The simple massing of the building is attenuated to focus views on the surrounding mountains and provide shade and transparency. The site was once home to fertile agricultural valleys and citrus groves, and the building consciously merges interior and exterior spaces to connect to the area’s rich history. A series of rooftop monitors and light shafts flood natural light into the first-level core. The rain screen, formed of bent planks of copper, calls to mind the pattern of an abstracted bar code. Variegated cedar strips reinforce the digital aesthetic of the building. Further echoing the design of a circuit board, building systems are organized and expressed within an internally lit independent distribution soffit.
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Memory Cloud Taps Tradition At Texas A&M

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Re:site and Metalab's site-specific installation for Texas A&M's 12th Man Memorial Student Center uses 4,000 networked LEDs to create an animated display that speaks to tradition as well as to the future.

The Corps of Cadets. Kyle Field. The 12th Man. Reveille. Texas A&M has more than a few strong traditions, most of which are centered around and given expression by the university’s football games and its alumni’s illustrious history of military service. At the same time, the school is well known for its robust and forward thinking science and engineering departments. Both of these characteristics factored into the conception for a permanent sculpture to inhabit A&M’s new Memorial Student Center (MSC). Created by art collaborative RE:site and design and fabrication studio Metalab (both located in Houston) the sculpture, titled Memory Cloud, is a chandelier of 4,000 white LEDs that are animated by two distinct feeds: one derived from archival footage of the Fightin’ Texas Aggie Band, the other from live infrared cameras that monitor people passing through the center’s atrium. “To interpret tradition visually we thought of moving patterns of people,” said Norman Lee of RE:site. “A&M has a strong marching band. If you remove the specifics of what the band is wearing and focus on the movements, they’re the same from 1900 to now. Once you reduce the figures from archival footage to silhouette patterns, you can’t identify the different points in time. Time and space collapse and bring together the school’s tradition in visual terms.” The archival silhouettes interlace with silhouettes from the live feed, generating ambiguous patterns that take time to sink in. “We envisioned incoming freshmen seeing the shadows and after three or four weeks realizing what the figures are in a powerful ‘ah ha’ moment,” said Lee. Memory Cloud is composed of a 14-foot-wide by 21-foot-long diagrid 1/8-inch powder-coated carbon steel frame and 220 LED arrays housed in clear acrylic tubes that hang in 21 rows from 16 gauge aluminum raceways carrying the data cables and electronics. The arrays are between 9 and 13 feet long and end in acrylic disks that are angled to give a billowing profile to the bottom of the sculpture. The disks also act as luminaires, picking up and diffusing the light of the lowest LED node via fiber optic effect. The piece is suspended from one point on the ceiling with a cable rigging. A winch can raise or lower it for maintenance. RE:site and Metalab used Rhino and Grasshopper to model Memory Cloud’s geometry as well as to develop quantitative data sets for the lighting purchase orders and assembly inventories. The diagrid structure was developed by Houston-based structural engineering firm Insight Structures using finite element analysis (FEA) software that determined a varying depth of profile to deliver the necessary support within the weight requirement. “We had a weight limit of 3,000 pounds,” said Andrew Vrana of Metalab. “At first we wanted to use 3/16 aluminum, which is light weight, but it deformed too much under welding. So we went with carbon steel and by optimizing the profile wound up with a final weight of 2,400 pounds.” The team also used the Lunchbox plugin for Grasshopper, which was developed by Nathan Miller of CASE, which helped to create clean data structures that retained their organization as the geometry of the cloud was refined. To create and program the LED matrix, RE:site and Metalab worked with Digital Media Designs (DMD), which did the digital lighting display for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. The company worked with a Chinese manufacturer to develop a custom LED product capable of meeting the sculpture’s size requirements while functioning within a broad range of daylight conditions. It also had to create a DMX control system that would take RE:site’s 2D silhouettes and replicate them in Memory Cloud’s 3D LED matrix, an unprecedented task from a software point of view. DMD worked with UK company Avolites Media to customize their AI software to this purpose. “With that software we were able to utilize a method called pixel mapping and find a way to interpret RGB values into black and white and also to transpose that into XYZ coordinates, creating a 3D virtual cloud,” said Scott Chmielewski of DMD. Memory Cloud was prototyped and fabricated in Houston, then trucked the 100 miles to College Station. The on-site assembly and erection process took 10 days to complete. Gig ‘em Aggies!  
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Providence Takes Top Award in Bloomberg Mayors Challenge

Bloomberg Philanthropies has announced the winners of its Mayors Challenge, a competition meant to generate innovative ideas for the improvement of city life. Out of the 300 cities that submitted proposals, the giving institution created by New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg gave the Grand Prize for Innovation to Providence, RI, and its mayor, Angel Taveras. The city was awarded $5 million to implement its project, what Bloomberg Philanthropies called a "cutting-edge early education initiative." Under the initiative, participating children will wear a recording device home that will monitor the conversations they have with their parents or other adults. The transcripts of these conversations will then be used to develop weekly coaching sessions in which government monitors or someone will coach the grownups on how better to speak with their children. Bloomberg Philanthropies said it selected the "revolutionary approach" for the way it uses "proven technologies to measure vocabulary exposure in low-income households and help[s] parents close the word gap." Hello Big Brother! But, then, it's not a surprising choice coming from the man who has recently tried to ban jumbo sodas, did ban smoking in public places, and ordered the erection of signs at fast food restaurants telling consumers just how fat they're about to become. Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, and Santa Monica also made the top five list, each taking away $1 million to put toward the implementation of their own proposals. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel plans to build a data system to help city leaders make better decisions to prevent problems before they happen. Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter will launch a new procurement process to make it easier for entrepreneurs and "social innovators" to answer RFPs. Santa Monica is developing an index to measure well-being and thereby make it part of policy making. Houston walked away with the Fan Favorite prize, which added $50,000 to its purse. This prize was co-sponsored by the Huffington Post and resulted from 58,000 votes. Bayou City mayor Annise Parker is developing a one-bin recycling program, or One Bin For All, as it is called. The measure will save citizens the nuisance of sorting their refuse. Instead, recyclables will be separated from regular garbage at transfer facilities, with the goal of recycling 75 percent of all waste. Houston is currently seeking a private company to partner with on the project. In addition to the money, each of the five members will receive a trophy designed by international art star Olafur Eliasson. While no image of the trophy was available at blog time, a description was: "The Mayors Challenge Prize for Innovation award is a spherical sculpture formed by three concentric circles—square, circle, and dodecagon—encircling a hanging compass. The compass indicates steadily north, uniting the prize winners and assisting viewers in imagining their collective responsibility to navigate towards the greater good for all."
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Twaddle and Topocast Make Houston Textural

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Topocast and Randy Twaddle used Rhino to produce a 3D version of a 2D pattern. The 3D model became a 3D print, which was used as a prototype for casting 65 sculptural tiles.

The entrance portal of Mirabeau B, a 14-unit residential complex in Houston’s Hyde Park neighborhood, is home to a 7-foot-high, 25-foot-long white wall of deeply textural tiles. Each tile is 20 inches square and features on its surface a three dimensional pattern that resembles nothing so much as the carapace of a Sci-Fi race of crab creatures. In fact, the pattern was derived from a photograph of a power transformer and its tangle of intersecting wires atop an electric light pole. It was worked into its current condition through a collaboration between print and textile artist Randy Twaddle and Dallas-based design and fabrication studio Topocast. Twaddle had used this image to generate several of his designs for wall coverings and rugs and the like. In this instance, he manipulated the image until arriving at a pattern that could be repeated and assembled modularly in a system of tiles. Twaddle delivered the 2D pattern to Topocast, which began to develop a workable 3D version. “Most of the 3D was done in Rhino,” said Topocast founder Brad Bell. “We also used the Rhino plugin T-Splines to create the intricate curvature and geometries.”
  • Fabricator  Topocast
  • Artist  Randy Twaddle
  • Location  Houston, TX
  • Date of Completion  2013
  • Material  hydro-stone
  • Process  Rhino, T-Splines, 3D printing, silicone molds
Topocast created a series of surfaces from the 2D image that could be extruded or manipulated to create the expressive curvature of the 3D tile. The fabricator then went through a process of prototyping with CNC milling machines and 3D printers. It also experimented with a variety of materials, including concretes, resins, and woods. In the end, the team decided on hydro-stone, one of the strongest of all gypsum cements. Topocast created the final prototype from a nine-part 3D print made directly from the Rhino files then assembled to appear as a single, seamless tile. This prototype became the cast for a series of silicone molds. “The reason we went with silicone rather than a urethane mold is that, while silicone is less durable than urethane, it does provide a greater range of material options,” said Bell. “Certain resins have a chemical reaction with urethane.” Topocast cast 65 of the tiles at its shop in Dallas. Each tile weighs 40 pounds and has a surface depth that varies from 2 ¾ inches to 5 ¾ inches. The fabricator prepared an A cast and a B cast, each with identical surfaces, but differently spaced bolts imbedded in the back. This variation allowed for exactly calibrated spacing on an off-the-shelf Unistrut mounting rack. The team attached 60 of the tiles to the Unistrut mounts in 15 separate columns, each four tiles high. The columns were then shipped to Houston and bolted onto the wall of Mirabeau B’s entrance portal. Twaddle and Topocast are currently working on refining the tile to make it viable as a commercial product. “We’re working on how to lighten the tile, how to make it smaller, and we’ve done some demonstrations with LED lighting that projects different colors across the surface,” said Bell.
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Renzo Piano’s Menil Collection Wins AIA Twenty-Five Year Award

The Menil Collection in Houston, Texas, has been honored with the 2013 AIA Twenty-Five Year Award. Renzo Piano designed the museum to house Dominique de Menil’s impressive collection of primitive African art and modern surrealist art in the heart of a residential neighborhood. The design respected Ms. de Menil’s wish to make the museum appear “large from the inside and small from the outside” and to ensure the works could be viewed under natural lighting. Click on a thumbnail to launch the slideshow.
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James Turrell Captures a Slice of the Vast Texas Sky with Twilight Epiphany Pavilion

For many, work by American artist James Turrell is instantly recognizable. Using light and basic geometric forms as the material of his compositions, Turrell subtly alters space and perception for visitors, creating weight and depth through visual experience that evokes meditation and contemplation. Turrell's work is at its height when gazing skyward. Multiple iterations of his Skyspace series have appeared around the world framing a dramatic slice of the heavens in his pristine geometry. The work is, essentially, a skylight: an opening above a room or pavilion for viewing the sky above, but to reduce the work to its function would disregard the transformative power of a simple yet moving experience. In each installation, a confined aperture begins to decontextualize the sky, featuring the color and texture of what is seen as an element of the art. A few weeks ago, a new Turrell Skyspace was completed at Rice University in Houston, Texas. The work, entitled Twilight Epiphany, features Turrel's unique understanding of perception while building dramatically upon prior installations. A gently-sloped pyramidal mound carpeted in turf rises from the surrounding courtyard. A knife-edged white square floats above the hill, appearing as a horizontal plane without vertical dimension, into which a square aperture has been cut. From the top edge of the pyramid, LED lights wash the underside of the ceiling plane in color. To receive the full experience of the light compositions, visitors enter the structure from the two opposite sides, either decending down a ramp into an interior void or ascending staircases to sit in a ring around the outside rim of the pyramid. "If you take a photo of the sky in this skyspace, the color you see in the opening is not actually going to show up in your camera because in fact it is not there," Turrell said in a statement. "This is a gentle reminder that because we give the sky its color and then change the color of the sky, we create the reality in which we live." Besides the surreal light shows, Twilight Epiphany has been designed as an acoustics-conscious performance space. Twelve speakers are embedded in the pyramid's interior walls, offering musicians a chance to compose for the unique space, fitting since the pavilion is located alongside the Shepherd School of Music.