Detail of Cleveland Turner's Francis Street house. Photo: Sara Cooper.
Cleveland Turner, a.k.a. the Flower Man, has died, reports Glasstire. Houston has lost one of its most beloved artists. In his honor, OffCite republishes Lisa Simon’s 2005 essay about Turner’s home on Travis and Dowling. The article first appeared in Cite 63.
A house is often much more than where you hang your hat. Its location, style, and the appearance of care (or disregard) convey something about the people who live there. Once you enter the perimeter of a private home, the sense that the inhabitants are trying to express themselves through aesthetic signs increases. Visitors are meant to “read” a home’s yard and entryway—the occupants have designed them (or hired someone else to do so) for just that purpose.
Exterior of Rice Stadium in 1994. Photo: Fondren Library Archives.
With all the attention this fall paid to the preservation of the Astrodome, there is an opportunity to recall the other sports palace that put Houston on the map a decade earlier: Rice Stadium. Plans for remodeling the stadium have been discussed since 2011, but they are largely out of the headlines because no public funds are involved. Most of the attention has been on the narrow programmatic needs of the Rice Athletic Department, despite the importance of the project to the quality of life and economic well-being of Houston. The historic preservation and architectural issues might be even more significant than those at the Dome.
Some background: In the fall of 1949, while on their way to their fourth SWC Championship in 15 years, Rice Institute decided to build a new football stadium. Since the 1930s, Rice football had been the biggest game in town. All-Americans like Weldon Humble and Froggie Williams were local heroes. Victories over powers like Texas, Texas A&M, and Louisiana State were expected and often delivered by the Owls. Crowds were overflowing the old Rice Stadium at the corner of Main and University.
Houston Metro bus. Photo: TTMG.
DeZavala Elementary School students connect the dots. Photo: CDRC.
Paint. Some masking tape. That’s it. That’s all it took to brighten a sidewalk at De Zavala Elementary School in Magnolia Park — and help to brighten the entire neighborhood a bit. Directed by Susan Rogers, who also serves as chair of the Cite editorial committee, students in the Community Design Resource Center (CDRC) at the University of Houston Gerald D. Hines School of Architecture partnered with community leaders to conceive of and complete the 600-foot-long Zona de Juego (Play Zone). Where there had been dull, anonymous concrete, there’s now color and personality. A means of conveyance, a means of play. A sidewalk, a journey, one punctuated with diverting graphics and activities, as in a video game.
Little things like these can create big effects. They emphasize interaction, imagination. Students — and their family members, too — can play hopscotch or tic-tac-toe or four-square, draw or doodle with chalk. (They could even diagram the sentences that tell the story of this predominantly Mexican-American neighborhood near Navigation Boulevard and the Ship Channel.) A little part of the built environment that almost everyone had been overlooking is now something almost no one can miss.
Brise-soleil shades on ExxonMobil Building in Downtown Houston. Photo: Allyn West.
Here’s a clever idea from developers: Rather than build expensive brand-new office towers in Downtown Houston, why not take our old, vacant, or no-longer-functional buildings and simply give them a facelift? This is exactly what Ziegler Cooper Architects is proposing for the 1962 Humble Oil building on the south side of Downtown, now occupied by ExxonMobil.
The building was once the tallest tower west of the Mississippi and is a great example of what might be termed climatic modernism: that is, architecture attempting to deal with Houston’s hot-humid climate through passive means. Its most characteristic feature — a series of 7-foot-deep brise-soliel shades — will be stripped off and the floor plates extended to add “new rentable area” and “lease-depths of 42 feet.” Instead of the passive shades that currently shield and cool the building from Houston’s sun, we’ll get a high-performance glazing system (as well as roughly 100,000 new square feet to be air conditioned).
Three boys at a garage sale. Durban and Clay. Photo: Melissa Fwu.
Mount a map on the wall. Throw a dart. Photograph the quadrant where it lands, but not with the idea of taking pretty pictures. Frame the image to deepen our understanding of the city as it is.
The view camera is a cumbersome obstacle perched precariously on top of a three-legged metal sculpture. The scene beyond is projected onto a sheet of glass where it flickers off and on and upside down, difficult to see without a black cloth to shut out the reflections of bright lights and the honking of drivers calling attention to themselves when confronted with this apparition of mystery.
Leonel J. Castillo Community Center. Photos: Raul Ramos.
Situated on a hill at the confluence of I-45 and I-10 on the north side of Downtown, the new Leonel J. Castillo Community Center recently opened, looking like a beacon to the near future of Houston. A joint project of Neighborhood Centers and Houston Parks, the renovated former Robert E. Lee Elementary School scheduled its ribbon-cutting months ago. As fate would have it, the center’s namesake and Houston Latino community leader passed away days before the event. The opening now took place between his velorio on Friday and the funeral that Monday, adding an unforeseen tone to the morning.
The center’s large meeting hall was filled on Saturday with community members, Houston representatives, and the families gathered to celebrate Castillo’s work and impact on generations of Houstonians. The opening became a tribute and commemoration of Castillo’s life and the many intimate ways he affected people around him. It made the grand opening even grander, elevating the expectations of what the center can be.
Sicardi Gallery in Montrose. Photo: Paul Hester.
Rarely do we see art galleries in buildings designed specifically for gallery use; often they are in generic commercial properties or in structures converted to exhibition space. Brave Architecture was given the unusual task of designing the Sicardi Gallery in Montrose from the ground up. Fernando Brave embraced the project’s blank slate and in his building has crafted a collection of deliberate gestures that accommodate the needs of its occupant. The building, completed in 2012, reads as a carefully assembled compilation of display and operational spaces that intermingle within the overall building envelope.
Exhibition space stretches across both floors and takes many shapes, as if the building were assembling a kit-of-parts to maximize gallery versatility. There is a high-ceilinged room for large installations and an intimate alcove for smaller ones. There is a sun-filled niche for those pieces that benefit from natural light, and a room with blackout shades for video art or low-light works. Art that should be viewed from afar can hang at the focal point at the gallery’s far wall, while pieces best seen up-close can greet the visitor in the building’s shallow front vestibule. Sculpture can even perch on the staircase’s substantial central partition. Brave described his approach as a “formulaic response” to both the site on West Alabama and the gallery program.
Minsuk Cho visits James Turrell's Twilight Epiphany on the Rice University campus. Photo: Mary Beth Woiccak.
The Spring 2014 Rice Design Alliance/Rice School of Architecture Lecture Series is shaping up. Here, Alfonso E. Hernandez of Kirksey Architecture reflects on a lecture from the Fall 2013 series, Re:Architecture [NSFW], by Minsuk Cho of Korean firm Mass Studies.
A limping Minsuk Cho — his leg had a cast and brace — made an appearance on October 2 at The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, to present his work and talk about his design process. Head of the firm Mass Studies in Seoul, Cho emphasized the idea of working from seemingly binary oppositions that do not always seem binary — old vs. ephemeral, simple vs. complex, etc. These dichotomies show how Mass Studies goes about the design process: diagrammatic creativity is always a positive feeding force, while rigor and self-editing act as negative feedback, closing the loop.