Flij, a temporary tent in the plaza of the Institut du Monde Arabe, 2014. Photo courtesy of Oualalou + Choi.
The seventh annual SPOTLIGHT: The Rice Design Alliance Prize was awarded to OUALALOU+CHOI, formerly KILO Architectures. Founded by Tarik Oualalou and Linna Choi in 2000, the firm has offices in Paris and Casablanca and recently completed the Moroccan Pavilion for Milan Expo 2015. You can see their full talk at The MFAH here. Before Oualalou and Choi accepted the award, Oualalou gave an interview to Cite Editor Raj Mankad, which is presented in an edited form below.
Raj Mankad: You took a tour of Houston with architectural historian Stephen Fox yesterday. Tell me your impressions of Houston?
Tarik Oualalou: It was a pleasure to see it with him because he is knowledgeable in facts and ideas and gossip, which gives an insider understanding of the city. But I have to say, it was a very big surprise. [This is] the first time I have come to Texas. I’ve known Houston through the eyes of our students — the Rice School of Architecture students in our Paris studio. I understand the city through what they say and what they do. Coming here, I realize this city has some incredible things going on and is also incredibly unlucky. Its relationship to landscape is very American in that the landscape defines the city at its core … the parks, the trees lining [the streets], all this is very beautiful.
Left: interior of DZ Bank Building in Berlin, photo by Roland Halbe.
Right: Frank Gehry, photo by Atelier Courbet.
“There are a lot of interesting and true facts that don’t belong in a biography because they don’t advance the story.”
Paul Goldberger said this at Brazos Bookstore when he was explaining what he learned in writing Building Art: The Life and Work of Frank Gehry (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014, $35). This is a long book, as clean of superfluities as any biography I’ve read, and the full story of a complex man who is still, at the age of 86, building art. As Goldberger’s title implies, the art of Gehry’s building creates buildings that are art and, of course, architecture too. And to make this argument, Building Art contains the facts that are necessary and many that are more than merely interesting.
For instance: Gehry was born Frank Owen Goldberg on February 28, 1929, in Toronto, into a working-class Jewish family. He changed his name for a couple of reasons, but he changed it to “gehry” because, set in lowercase letters, the “g” and “y” sink symmetrically below the horizontal like pylons and the “h” rises in the middle like a steeple. It looks architectural.
The author bikes through Montrose. Photo by Adam Socki.
The new issue of Cite explores “speculative ideas for the near future,” as guest editor Nicola Springer writes in her introduction to the issue. Here, urban planner Carson Lucarelli discusses his choice to sell his car — in one of the most car-friendly cities in the U.S. To see all the content from “The Future Now,” click here.
I live in Houston, and I got rid of my car. I’ve been living carless for a few months, in fact. It’s not that I hate cars; I grew up a “gear head.” Sundays meant helping my dad wash the family vehicles in the driveway. My mom used to say that they looked like they came off the showroom floor. In high school, my buddies and I used to tinker on cars. We were known as the Greasers. We even converted a Jeep to four-wheel drive — no easy task for a couple of 17-year-olds, but it still runs today.
But as I matured and transitioned through my education and training as an urban planner, I began to see automobiles for what they really are — tools of convenience that have facilitated one of the largest shifts in urban development that the world has even seen. Some would argue that that shift is much to the detriment of humanity, community health, and the environment. But this story is not about why auto-centric development has marred progress. Instead, it’s a retrospective, autobiographical approach at how going carless has impacted a sole Houstonian.
Entrance to proposed Houston Arboretum Visitor Center with a vista of restored Gulf Coast prairie. Houston Arboretum.
Houston’s past of “big houses, not housing” and a “sensational lack of convivial public space” is being turned on its head. Molly Glentzer reports for the Houston Chronicle on the Houston Arboretum’s plans, which bring yet more firms of national repute to transform our parks, while RE/MAX markets micro-living in EaDo.
Putting the Wilderness Back in Houston Arboretum
Molly Glentzer, Houston Chronicle
Steven Spears of Design Workshop, Reed-Hilderbrand landscape architects, Lake|Flato architects, Texas ecologists from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, transportation planners from Walter P. Moore, cultural planners from SWCA environmental consultants, Texas A&M University forester W. Todd Watson, and park operations experts from ETM Associates reimagine the Houston Arboretum.
Micro-Living Project Coming to EaDo
Laura Cook, RE/MAX
A 24-story development of units less than 500 square feet will sit on a full 1.4 acre block at the Southwest corner of Leeland and Live Oak in East Downtown.
Map of poverty rates in Houston. Data: Shell Center for Sustainability, Rice University. Drawing: Nicola Springer.
The new issue of Cite (97) has been mailed and will be available soon at the Brazos Bookstore, CAMH, MFAH, River Oaks Bookstore, and other stores. Below is an excerpt from the introduction to the issue by guest editor Nicola Springer
Redraw the charts, trace the maps, shade between the lines … this was my way of making sense of all the data. The data points come from Lester King, PhD, an urban planner and fellow at Rice University who has developed a set of sustainability indicators for Houston and has made the information available to the public along with an array of visualization tools. My hope is that these data can provide a baseline for thinking about the projects featured in this issue, projects that are just breaking ground or that are on the boards as speculative ideas for the near future …
Fortsmith Street. Photo: Raj Mankad.
Houstonians want better sidewalks, if the consensus among mayoral and city council candidates is any indication. Please give pedestrians a safe place. Away from the cars. Why, then, did the Energy Corridor Management District invest $391,000 into a design that expects pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists to share the same lane?
First, a trip to The Netherlands. From the late 1960s to the 2000s, urban planner Hans Mondermann broke all the rules. Rather, he dispensed with rules. The streets he designed are “naked.” No stop signs, no speed limits posted, no traffic lights. Instead, drivers intuit risk from the lack of curbs, material choices, lane widths, and other cues. They slow down. Mondermann’s hunch was that people would manage themselves in the safest and most efficient manner if their attention was heightened. Several decades of data have proven him right. As Linda Baker writes for Salon.com, it sounds crazy, but it works. The “woonerf,” or street for living, was born. Or reborn. Sharing the public realm goes back to the earliest cities on the Anatolian coast like Khirokitia and Çatalhöyük (6,000 BCE).
In the upcoming elections, with early voting beginning October 19 and the big day itself November 3, Houstonians will be electing a new mayor and city council and deciding on several propositions. Cite asked mayoral and at-large council candidates who had announced their campaigns by July 17, 2015, to respond to this form questionnaire, which focuses on Houston’s built and natural environments. The questions were developed in consultation with experts by a steering committee: Raj Mankad, Editor, Cite; Rachel Powers, Executive Director, Citizens’ Environmental Coalition; Jen Powis, Environmental Attorney, The Powis Firm, PLLC; and Teresa Demchak, Attorney and Retired Managing Partner, Goldstein, Demchak, Borgen & Dardarian.
Two mayoral candidates, Sylvester Turner and Adrian Garcia, and 10 at-large city council candidates (Lane Lewis, Tom McCasland and Chris Oliver, Position 1; David Robinson and Andew Burkes, Position 2; Doug Peterson, Position 3; Larry Blackmon, Amanda Edwards, and Laurie Robinson, Position 4; and Phillippe Nassif, Position 5) responded to the questionnaire. These candidates’ full answers are available here and in this compilation organized by question. Below is a summary and highlights of the responses. In the coming weeks leading up to Election Day and the subsequent likely runoff races, OffCite will follow up with more analyses of the responses on key topics. You can click to jump directly to read about mobility and streets; parks, libraries, and community centers; affordability, preservation, and urban development; environment; and community engagement.
The differences among many candidates are not easy to encapsulate. An exception is the race for At-Large City Council Position 1 between incumbent David Robinson and challenger Andrew Burkes. In 2013, Robinson, an architect, defeated then-incumbent Burkes, a businessman, who is running to retake the seat. Robinson is a strong proponent of Plan Houston and general planning. By contrast, Burkes consistently argues for district-level planning.
Below, the background information that accompanied the questions is followed by a summary of the candidates’ responses. Because of space limitations, this summary is not complete and the reader is encouraged to review the candidates’ complete responses to the entire questionnaire.
Rendering for George R. Brown Convention Center updates. WHR Architects.
Several efforts underway for years have come to a head in Houston. City Council approved Plan Houston. As Planning Director Patrick Walsh explains in this Houston Matters interview, though the document is short on measurable goals, it contains the vision, policy directives, and performance indicators that will provide the foundation for more detailed plans that city staff and leaders can work together on more effectively. More news below:
Cigna Sunday Streets HTX is back this October 4, along Washington Avenue between Heights Boulevard and the roundabout from noon to 4 p.m. Watch my video guide to the event below.
Washington Avenue was the site of Houston’s first oil boom — the cottonseed oil boom that is. Around the railyards and warehouses were little cottages for the workers, many of which have been demolished and replaced with townhouses. Density can be great if accompanied by vibrant public life …
4224 Emory by studioMET Architects. Photos: Yoon You.
You can tour this house and seven others on the 2015 Houston Modern Home Tour on Saturday, September 26, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. OffCite reviewed a house designed by Christopher Robertson and Vivi Nguyen that appeared on last year’s tour.
Dr. Anoop Agrawal wasn’t sure he wanted to live in a contemporary house. But he came around, he says, after his wife, Neha, encouraged him to go on architecture tours in Houston. A house that they saw on the 2012 AIA Home Tour, designed by studioMET at 4917 Laurel in Bellaire, proved to him that contemporary architecture didn’t have to be aggressive. The boxy boxes that often tower over the street and scale of their neighbors didn’t have to be so — well, pugilistic.
Convinced, the couple hired studioMET to design something for a lot in West University that they had owned since 2012. The small house that stood on the lot was in need of so many repairs, says Agrawal, he couldn’t convince a bank to bite. It was just as financially prudent to build new. Contacting Habitat for Humanity, Agrawal hoped to minimize the waste of the teardown. He says that Habitat was able to salvage almost $65,000 worth of materials during the ensuing deconstruction — which includes the original hardwood floors, used on the second story of this new house.