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:
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.
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 …
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.
A new 15-minute film, “You Turn Yourself Around,” caught OffCite’s attention for the sense of place and the presence of Houston and Austin architecture. Lone Star College Professor Greg Oaks calls it a reminder “that life is really about the small moments, often when you’re alone.” The video is embedded below with an interview of the filmmaker, Harry Perales, by creative writer and critic Aaron Reynolds.
Aaron Reynolds: Can you describe the initial genesis of this project, how it started, and how it’s changed over time?
Harry Perales: My friend Patrick Stockwell asked me if I wanted to participate in his show The Short Fiction Soundtrack after he decided he wanted to add a Benshi video component. He was going to use a story that he’d been working on for several years and I happened to be in the writing workshop in which he’d first written it, so I was very familiar with it. However, I didn’t want to do an adaptation of the story. Instead the initial idea was to present a visual companion piece to work off of the narrative instead of commenting on it, but inspired by the emotional state of the lead character in the story. I had originally wanted to do a very simple visual narrative and I had thought up shots and where it was going to go, but Patrick thought it would be too confusing for the audience to have to focus on both. I had gathered the people I wanted to use and really just began filming them and really only directed them to do whatever it was they wanted. Unfortunately, the Short Fiction Soundtrack show for “You Turn Yourself Around” itself was cancelled and it never got screened. My writing mentor Greg Oaks had always been a fan of the footage I showed him, and he suggested that I re-edit it without the audio of the short story and suggested music by the jazz pianist Gonzales.
Parking Day, in Houston and all over the world, just happened last Friday. Organized in San Francisco in 2005 by design firm Rebar and embraced by landscape architects, designers, architects, and others worldwide, the event draws attention to the overwhelming amount of concrete dedicated to parking, and what might otherwise go there. On Parking Day 2011, there were 975 parks built in 162 cities across 35 countries and on 6 continents, and the event keeps growing.
The Fall 2015 RSA/RDA lecture series begins today, Monday, September 14 with renowned designer, author, and Harvard professor Farshid Moussavi. Below, Cite editor Raj Mankad interviews Andrew Colopy, who curated the series as a faculty member of the Rice School of Architecture, which is also where this publication is based.
Raj Mankad: It’s easier for me to understand the way “cute” is used to describe a poem, a painting, or video than for a work of architecture.
Andrew Colopy: For the sake of simplicity, let’s just say that for something to be understood as cute you need to be able to perceive it as small and simple. It’s easy to see how this condition emerges from the relationship between a parent and child, but anything we can perceive as small and simple can be cute. That’s clear from your example of a poem — a small, deceptively simple (if it’s good) text. How that might relate to architecture has to do with our shifting perceptions of scale and complexity. Consider for a moment what sets your standard for bigness. You might have once said a building, but today it’s hard not to see the entire planet as a constructed object. As a result, buildings seem less significant, and easily slip into cuteness. The “seriously cute” acknowledges that this reduced position isn’t powerless, it just produces a different form of power, a soft power, one inherently concealed. Beauty may still be loved, delight may be pleasurable, but it’s the cute that’s interesting today.
This article by Los Angeles Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne [@HawthorneLAT] appears in full in Cite 96, a special issue on museums also featuring Walter Hood, David Heymann, and Ronnie Self, as well as interviews with Steven Holl, Gary Tinterow, Johnston Marklee, Josef Helfenstein, Linda Shearer, and others. The issue is available at bookstores and to subscribers.
The master plan that the Menil Collection in Houston is relying on to guide its own expansion seems not just genuinely but almost radically understated. Produced by David Chipperfield Architects, the plan emerged from an invited competition overseen by Josef Helfenstein, the director of the Menil since 2004, and was approved by the museum’s board in 2009. It calls for measured growth over time, one small standalone art gallery at a time, along with the addition of a café and expanded parking lot. It does not call for a grand new central building or a linked collection of impressively scaled wings. Nor has it been a vehicle for the museum to correct or flee from the perceived missteps of other capital projects or smooth over the errors of earlier architects, directors, and boards of trustees, as has arguably been the case at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), the Whitney Museum of Art, The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, or the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), to name just a few in what has grown to become a very long list of art-world institutions plagued by that kind of intergenerational architectural regret.
The master plan is instead a document intended to build on and indeed safeguard the considerable, singular appeal of the museum’s original gallery building, designed by Renzo Piano and opened to the public in June 1987 — as well as the bungalows from the 1920s and 1930s that line the edges of the museum campus and the simply treated landscape, made up mostly of grass, substantial oak trees, and a small handful of artworks, that holds the 30-acre parcel together.
You can learn more about “Inside/Out” at a lecture and reception at the Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture at the University of Houston on Thursday, September 3, starting at 6 p.m. Visit the project’s GoFundMe campaign to learn about other ways to give back.
Call it a transplant, an implant, a stent — third-year Interior Architecture students at the Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture at the University of Houston are performing not only quality design, but a kind of complex surgery — imbuing new life into a blighted plumbing supply store in Houston’s Fifth Ward.
Like many operations, the building’s rehabilitation won’t be visible from the outside. Inside, a gently curving wood structure of slightly tipped and offset custom designed ribs will arc across the ceiling. Between the individual ribs small nooks for seating and shelving will be created for resting passers-by. In early renderings of the project, young-looking urbanites consult the gleaming screens of e-books in a softly lit and gently curving space.
In national transit circles, Houston has received glittering coverage for its reimagined bus system. Most recently TransitCenter heralded Rice School of Architecture senior lecturer and former Cite editorial chair Christof Spieler for his pivotal role on the Houston METRO board. All this national attention came in advance of the new plan going into effect. Last Sunday, the bus system launched, and we already have some firsthand assessments. I will survey what I’ve read and finish with my near-spiritual experience.
Kyle Shelton of Rice’s Kinder Institute published a piece titled “To See If METRO’s Bus Overhaul Works, I Rode It With a 1-Year-Old.” He travels on a Sunday with his family down Montrose Boulevard to Buffalo Bayou Park on one of the system’s new 22 high-frequency, seven-days-a-week lines. He writes, “My son laughed as we watched dogs leap into the dog park ponds. Our family stopped by the Wortham Fountain and watched the mists carry off across the pathways.” In the accompanying photo, the child gives a chubby-fingered thumbs-up to a METRO bus. Shelton’s experience points to a whole new demographic and type of user for METRO — the Sunday-picnic rider. What of the construction workers and phlebotomists on their daily commutes?