Artpace, renovated by Lake|Flato. Photos: Allyn West.

Artpace, renovated by Lake|Flato. Photos: Allyn West.

State of Museums: Artpace in San Antonio

Follow OffCite’s State of Museums series and the forthcoming issue of Cite, guest edited by Ronnie Self, author of The Architecture of Art Museums. Use the hashtag #StateOfMuseums to view related content on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

The Texas Historical Commission has estimated that there are at least 660 museums in Texas, ranging from spectacular cultural institutions in our biggest cities to strange “cabinets of curiosities” in our smallest towns. I took a road trip to sample from this state of museums, trying not to take for granted the architecture, design, role, mission, even the very reason for museums.

I began at Artpace, opened in San Antonio in 1995, founded by artist and philanthropist Linda Pace. (You can watch a short video about its history here.) It’s just a short walk from the River Walk and shares a small trapezoidal city block with the parking lot for the Alamo Music Center. A former Hudson automobile dealership, the brightly painted 18,000-square-foot building dates to the 1920s. In the early ’90s, Pace sought out San Antonio firm Lake|Flato to renovate the dealership and create room for galleries, offices, archives, event spaces, and — crucially, for the mission of Artpace — residences and studios for visiting artists.

Three times a year, guest curators choose three artists — one Texan, one American, and one international — to live and work at Artpace for two months. It’s a sweet deal. The residency includes a stipend, the support of a full staff, and funding for tools and materials to produce whatever they’d like. This spring, the artists are Oscar Murillo from Colombia and England, Henry Taylor from Los Angeles, and Autumn Knight from Houston. (You will be able to see the result of these artists’ residences starting on March 19.) For San Antonio, then, Artpace is like DiverseWorks plus Box 13.

Thus, much of the building is reserved for studios and living quarters, so the spaces showing the work seem tight in comparison. It’s not that the art isn’t properly displayed, though. It’s just that the organization — and therefore the building — seems more committed to the process of getting things made, rolling things out. The building’s not fussy. It retains a kind of “rawness,” as Ted Flato describes it, the industrial character of its former life as a dealership. Thick concrete columns, garage doors, mismatched window panes, even an old Hudson hubcap on the wall keep much of the building’s past in the present.

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Fayez S. Sarofim Campus: Law Building designed by Mies facing Kinder Building designed by Holl (left), Brown Foundation, Inc., Plaza extending Cullen Sculpture Garden (center), and new Glassell School of Art (upper right).

Fayez S. Sarofim Campus: Law Building designed by Mies facing Kinder Building designed by Holl (left), Brown Foundation, Inc., Plaza extending Cullen Sculpture Garden (center), and new Glassell School of Art (upper right).

A Binding Debate, Renewed: Steven Holl’s Kinder Building for The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

The full review by David Heymann of the MFAH plans to expand, from which this excerpt is drawn, includes a description of Holl’s master plan and his design for the Glassell School. It will appear in the next Cite, a special issue on museums with contributions by Walter Hood, Christopher Hawthorne, and Ronnie Self as well as interviews with Steven Holl, Gary Tinterow, Johnston MarkLee, Josef Helfenstein, Linda Shearer, and others. Subscribe here or call 713 348 4876.

Steven Holl’s promising design development proposal for the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston’s new Nancy and Rich Kinder Building is both ambitious and reasonable. Holl’s site plan, which includes a new Glassell School of Art enfronting a large open plaza, brings legibility and continuity to the museum campus. His design for the Kinder Building maximizes gallery space on a difficult, triangular site, and holds the center by strength of presence. By irregularly slicing its upper edges with the curving offset planes of its roof, Holl has worked to make the building’s substantial mass hard to perceive precisely. Clad in backlit half circular tubes of fritted glass that add further ambiguity, the new Kinder Building will shimmer, organizing urban space in the way a vase can give order to a slightly disorganized room.

Though the glowing facade of the Kinder Building is like that of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, also designed by Holl, the design is more reminiscent of Hans Scharoun’s extraordinary, idiosyncratic Berlin Philharmonie – another opaque, scooped mass shining against a great, dark Mies museum. Like that pairing in Berlin, the organic functionalism of Holl’s Kinder Building establishes a handsome debate with the rationalism of Mies’ great Brown Pavilion. I think as master planning and architecture, it is going to work well. So — breathe a sigh of relief — let’s get to the details of the Kinder Building.

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Photos: Mary Beth Woiccak.

Photos: Mary Beth Woiccak.

Ancient Kiln: Postcard from Tokoname

This is the second in a series of postcards from Japan by Mary Beth Woiccak. To read the first, a panoramic view of Nagoya from the 46th-floor Sky Promenade of Midland Square, click here.

The rhythm of the Pottery Footpath in Tokoname, Japan, fluttered quickly up and down the steep terrain. The narrow paths were lightly scattered with visitors and quiet the afternoon I passed through in late November. I can only imagine what the energy of this area was like when the kilns were in the height of their burning and productive years.

There is evidence of Tokoname’s past as one of “The Six Ancient Kilns of Japan” and current activity all around. Pottery can be seen either in the earth for support, underfoot embedded in the path, in piles between houses, alongside kilns, on display, or in the numerous small shops along the way.

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Canal Street Apartments, New Hope Housing, 2005, Val Glitsch. Photo: Raj Mankad.

Canal Street Apartments, New Hope Housing, 2005, Val Glitsch. Photo: Raj Mankad.

Nine Ways to Make Houston Affordable (Again)

A feeling of malaise, even panic, has permeated a swath of Houstonians even as we receive national attention for job growth. We have lost Houston’s greatest attribute — affordability. Erin Mulvaney reported for the Houston Chronicle on the spike in housing costs and quoted a couple moving to Portland, Oregon, for the lower rents! A recent salon.com article by Anis Shivani, who was evicted from a complex to be partially demolished for a new luxury development, claims Houston’s oligarchs have destroyed the city and the planning commission has sold out to developers. Though some of Shivani’s claims are overstated and have been questioned, his anger and dismay speak to Houston’s affordable housing problem.

Shivani appeared on Houston Matters with Kinder Institute for Urban Research Director Bill Fulton, who distinguished between changing demographics and new development. Fulton argues that “you cannot freeze-dry a neighborhood.” Preservation ordinances might protect the built form, but the underlying economics of the “great inversion” will still lead to wealthy people displacing those with fewer resources.

I am no expert on affordable housing, but as Editor of Cite I am exposed to all kinds of ideas, and I collect a few relevant ones in this blog post. The ideas don’t form a comprehensive analysis or a cohesive strategy. Rather, I’m trying to get across the breadth of possibilities for those with low to moderate incomes given the political climate of Houston. There are as many ways to approach affordable housing as there are keys on a piano, but we seem to be stuck in a one- or two-note song. Here are nine ways to polyphony:

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View from Sky Promenade. Photos: Mary Beth Woiccak.

View from Sky Promenade. Photos: Mary Beth Woiccak.

Postcard from Nagoya

When guest speakers or family members visit Houston for the first time I like to take them Downtown to the JPMorgan Chase Tower‘s Sky Lobby on the 60th floor. When the elevators open and they first step out, their faces light up, and they let out a little “ohhhh.” They glide past the sitting area and glue themselves to the glass to peer over (most) of the city and take in the landscape. They note the areas of green, ask about the surrounding buildings in Downtown, inquire about that tall building off by its lonesome (Williams Tower), or ask do many people live in the area? I had a similar experience firsthand when I visited Nagoya, Japan, last month. The city is the 4th “most populous urban area in Japan,” so I thought this might be an interesting comparison to my hometown for the last eight years.

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Austin Autophagia: A Review of David Heymann’s My Beautiful City Austin

“Austin had naively existed in my mind as an antidote to the overstuffed burrito-ness of America,” says the unnamed narrator of David Heymann’s new book of fiction, My Beautiful City Austin (John Hardy Publishing, 2014). The narrator is a residential architect who fails again and again to dissuade his clients from building 8,000-square-foot Italian villas. He participates in the erasure of the landscape he loves.

The long lament is beautifully balanced by lyricism and humor. Many of the scenes take place in lakes, creeks, and swimming holes. I felt like I was right there in an inner tube, a floating cooler within arm’s reach. I read the book in one sitting.

Early on, the narrator explains that he came out of school in the mid-1980s and you get a sense of the impact the dismal economy had on his psyche: “When you start in architecture, especially when you first start studying architecture, it’s all high-mindedness, a hangover from the Frank Lloyd Wright Fountainhead idea of architects actually having a say in the way the world becomes. But Wright could behave the way he did, telling people how to live, because he had work, and everything in architecture, all authority and identity, stems from having work.”

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Urban Movement members demonstrate parkour on the Navigation Esplanade. Photos: Allyn West.

Urban Movement members demonstrate parkour on the Navigation Esplanade. Photos: Allyn West.

Rehearsing Possibilities: Sunday Streets HTX in the East End and Fifth Ward

Though last weekend’s Sunday Streets HTX was not quite as lively with participants or as busy with the pop-up shenanigans of previous ones, it was compelling, all the same. The 1.5-mile route along Navigation Boulevard, connecting the East End and Fifth Ward, showed parts of a city in transition and invited us to experience close-in neighborhoods still on this side of gentrification.

Land use, in these neighborhoods, has always been truly mixed. As Raj Mankad pointed out in his “unofficial guide,” heavy-duty industry and family-owned restaurants co-exist. Buffalo Bayou is bordered on the north by a noisy Prolerizing facility and on the south by a serene hike and bike trail. Empty buildings are decorated with murals; decommissioned railroad tracks sinking into the pavement lie just a few blocks from shiny new brass sidewalk inlays marking the stamp of a management district initiative. Which is it?, the question seems to be. Past or future? These neighborhoods answer that — at least for now — it’s both.

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1920s Houston streetcar on Mandell Line headed toward Montrose.

1920s Houston streetcar on Mandell Line headed toward Montrose.

Should Streetcars and Bus Rapid Transit Be in Houston’s Future?

City-wide gridlock. Long stretches of highway that look like parking lots, not at rush hour, but midday. Welcome back to traffic panic, Houston. In the past we have given ourselves brief reprieves by widening our highways, but there’s little appetite for swallowing up whole neighborhoods for right-of-way and no money to do such a thing. Can light rail save us?

Two new light rail lines set to start service early next year will drastically expand Houston’s rail network, but our city will remain dreadfully underserved by the system. Many neighborhoods seeing a greater density of midrise and townhouse developments will not be reached by rail. The bus system is undergoing a much needed reimagining but it will be difficult to coax those moving into luxury apartments to ride the bus. Furthermore, the current political climate will not yield federal funding for new light rail anytime soon. Now is a good time to consider further expansion of transit through a combined streetcar and Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system that we can afford, and possibly even agree upon.

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A Bottom-Up, Unofficial Guide to the East End and Fifth Ward Sunday Streets

The next Sunday Streets HTX is December 7 from noon to 4 p.m. along Navigation and N. York in the East End and Fifth Ward. The city closes the street to motorized traffic and opens it to human-powered traffic like walking and bicycling. This 1.5-mile curve through historic Houston neighborhoods becomes a 2.5-mile loop if you include the hike and bike trail along Buffalo Bayou that intersects with the route at both ends.

This final of six Sunday Streets held in Houston this first year promises to bring together all the elements that distinguished the previous routes. The rapid succession of landscapes is unparalleled. You’ll move from urban to small-town feel to industrial ruins to active industry to alternative art to agriculture and back again. The layers of history in the built and natural environments, and the connection of the communities there to the history, are visible. As in the Third Ward last month, streets that were dividing lines in a segregated Houston will serve as public spaces where all are invited.

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Rendering from http://www.houstonneedsaswimminghole.com/.

Rendering from http://www.houstonneedsaswimminghole.com/.

Houston Needs a Swimming Hole … or Pool … or Hole-Like Pool

Monte Large, Jeff Kaplan, and Evan O’Neil have launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund a feasibility study of building a swimming hole in Houston several acres in size with a capacity of hosting more than 2,000 people. Their efforts rapidly gained momentum after coverage in Andrea White’s column for the Houston Chronicle.

According to Springs of Texas, Volume 1, Harris County once had swimming holes with “pure white sand and clean and limpid water.” Beauchamps Springs, now beneath I-10 or possibly trickling out on its margin, was a popular swimming spot on White Oak Bayou. I have heard that high school students swim in Spring Creek to this day.

Houston no longer turns its bayous into trapezoidal concrete-lined ditches. In 1973, when the Rice Design Alliance (publisher of this blog) held a forum headlined by Terry Hershey and published the findings as Bayous: Recycling an Urban Resource, using the bayous for anything other than drainage was a controversial idea. Yet, the real skin-to-water intimacy that the first Houstonians enjoyed remains rare.

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