Former plumbing supply store near Lyons Avenue. Photo: Mary Beth Woiccak.

Former plumbing supply store near Lyons Avenue. Photo: Mary Beth Woiccak.

Fifth Ward Stent: UH Students Shore Up Old Storefront with New E-Reading Room

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.

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Frequent Network Map detail. Houston METRO.

Frequent Network Map detail. Houston METRO.

First Impressions of the Reimagined METRO Buses

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?

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Photos: Allyn West.

Photos: Allyn West.

State of Museums: The Salt Palace

I licked it. In Grand Saline, Texas, I licked the Salt Palace, the country’s largest, and probably only, building constructed partially out of stone-sized chunks of rock salt.

Grand Saline, population 3,300, is about an hour east of Dallas. The town sits on a 20,000-foot-thick deposit formed during the Permian Age that could salt the entire country for another 20,000 years, were it the only one that remained. That deposit has been overseen since 1920 by various iterations of Morton Salt, which now operates a shaft that plunges more than 750 feet down. Unfortunately, the mine is no longer open to the public. Photographs and a 20-minute video inside the Salt Palace Museum and Visitors Center show a cavernous interior that is dry and white — like a hollowed-out Moon or a more savory version of Superman’s Fortress of Solitude.

The chunks that come up out of there are saltier and kickier than you’d think, potent enough to send you into a full-body pucker. (And kosher, too, in case you’re wondering. Grand Saline invited a rabbi to bless the entire deposit.) It’s an acquired taste. The chunks I was given as souvenirs I kept for months in the center console in my Honda, and I kept popping them in my mouth for reasons that are best unexplored here.

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Works on paper conservation. Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

Works on paper conservation. Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

“Ontologically, every thing is unique”: Behind the Curtain at the MFAH

This article is part of OffCite’s museum series in conjunction with a special issue of Cite with contributions by Walter Hood, Christopher Hawthorne, David Heymann, and Ronnie Self as well as interviews with Steven Holl, Gary Tinterow, Johnston Marklee, Josef Helfenstein, Linda Shearer, and others.

Our visual experience is an art museum’s obvious concern. And our full experience depends not only on how the works look in the galleries, but also on how the galleries’ arrangements help us engage with the art and how the building’s architecture itself looks and feels. Its architecture is art too, of course, and we don’t want our museums to seem like warehouses or an office building—the Uffizi notwithstanding. Cite 96 explored many of these issues as it reported on our Houston museums’ plans for physical expansion and institutional growth.

I read the essays with a slightly new perspective because, since last September, I have been in the docent training program at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. For the first time, I understand what goes on behind the MFAH’s thick interior walls, of the many spaces and things that do not meet the museum-goers’ eyes, the things that are out of sight and probably out of mind — from the curators’ offices, for instance, to the cold-storage facilities in which color photographs have to be stored to be preserved. (Never would have guessed.)

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Scott Key and Sam Brisendine in shelter using Emergency Floor. Images: Good Works Studio.

Scott Key and Sam Brisendine in shelter using Emergency Floor. Images: Good Works Studio.

Emergency Floor: Rice Graduates Raising Funds to Improve Refugee Camps

Last year, 38 million refugees fled conflict and natural disasters. Many live in camps where tent-like shelters provide little to no barrier to the dirt below, exposing them to parasitic infections, flooding, waterborne diseases, and freezing temperatures.

“A floor under your feet is just as important as a roof over your head,” says Scott Key, who along with Sam Brisendine, developed Emergency Floor while students at the Rice School of Architecture. The project was selected as a finalist for a $150,000 grant from USAID’s Development Innovation Ventures. In order to quality for the grant, they must raise $50,000. Their crowdsourcing campaign ends July 15 and is $20,000 from reaching the goal.

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Buffalo Soldiers National Museum (formerly the Houston Light Guard Armory) by Alfred C. Finn, 1925. Photo: Peter Molick.

Buffalo Soldiers National Museum (formerly the Houston Light Guard Armory) by Alfred C. Finn, 1925. Photo: Peter Molick.

forWARDS: A Driving Tour of Houston’s Third Ward, Part 3

This is the fifth in a series of 10 self-guided driving tours of Houston’s original six wards, written by architectural historian Stephen Fox. All the tours are collected in a limited-edition zine, forWARDS, that was published in conjunction with RDA’s 40th annual architecture tour. The zine, designed by Spindletop Design and illustrated with photography by Peter Molick, can be purchased for $15. Call 713-348-4876 or email rda at rice.edu.

Start on Elgin Avenue and Chenevert Street. Pass Elizabeth Baldwin Park, the second oldest public park in Houston. The section of Third Ward east of Texas 288, now called Midtown, was historically known as the South End. The South End was Houston’s most elite residential neighborhood before development in the Montrose area began after 1905. Pass the Moran Center at 1410 Elgin (2011, Leslie Elkins).

Turn left onto Caroline Street, then left onto Holman Avenue. The South End Junior High School (now Houston Community College’s San Jacinto Memorial Building) at 1300 Holman was erected in 1914 (Layton & Smith; modernistic wings by Hedrick & Gottlieb, 1928, and Joseph Finger, 1936) and terminates the axis on Caroline. Brown Reynolds Watford just restored the monumental classical building. The Learning Hub and Science Center to the left of the main building is by Kirksey (2007). The 10-acre campus site is another undivided Holman outlot.

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The ex-Douglass Elementary School (1926, Hedrick & Gottlieb). Photos: Peter Molick.

The ex-Douglass Elementary School (1926, Hedrick & Gottlieb). Photos: Peter Molick.

forWARDS: A Driving Tour of Houston’s Third Ward, Part 2

This is the fourth in a series of 10 self-guided driving tours of Houston’s original six wards, written by architectural historian Stephen Fox. Click for Fox’s tours of First and Second wards and the first of his three-part tour of Third Ward. All the tours are collected in a limited-edition zine, forWARDS, that was published in conjunction with RDA’s 40th annual architecture tour. The zine, designed by Spindletop Design and illustrated with photography by Peter Molick, can be purchased for $15. Call 713-348-4876 or email rda at rice.edu.

Start at St. Emanuel and Grey Street below the I-45 / US 59 interchange. Head south into what is most commonly thought of today as Third Ward. The Houston Police Department South Central Patrol Division at 2202 St. Emanuel bounds the edge of the neighborhood. At the Hadley Avenue-St. Emanuel intersection is the Hadley complex of eight shotgun ranch houses, a post-war form of the “row house” complex at 2102 St. Emanuel. At 2501 St. Emanuel and McIlhenny, the Chua Dai-Goac Buddhist Temple occupies a rustic compound.

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Harris County Courthouse (1910, Lang & Witchell). Photos: Peter Molick.

Harris County Courthouse (1910, Lang & Witchell). Photos: Peter Molick.

forWARDS: A Driving Tour of Houston’s Third Ward, Part 1

This is the third in a series of 10 self-guided driving tours of Houston’s original six wards, written by architectural historian Stephen Fox. Read Fox’s tour of First and Second wards here. The tours are collected in a limited-edition zine, forWARDS, that was published in conjunction with RDA’s 40th annual architecture tour. The zine, designed by Spindletop Design and illustrated with photography by Peter Molick, can be purchased for $15. Call 713-348-4876 or email rda at rice.edu.

Of Houston’s six wards, Third Ward had experienced the most extensive territorial expansion by 1905. Consequently it encompasses a wide variety of landscapes, although these are now split by Interstate 45, U.S. 59, and Texas 288.

Because of the way traffic is routed, this tour starts on Preston Avenue at Main Street, one block south of the Main-Congress intersection. Courthouse Square, one of Houston’s two original public squares, lies in Third Ward. It is occupied by the fifth Harris County Courthouse (1910, Lang & Witchell) to be built in the square; the courthouse was spectacularly restored in 2011 (PGAL and ArchiTexas).

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Westheimer and Gessner. Photo: Raj Mankad.

Westheimer and Gessner. Photo: Raj Mankad.

Street View: Houston is the 53 Briar Forest

Every day for almost a year I caught the 5:00 a.m. 53 Briar Forest Limited bus from a stop close to Downtown, and I rode it all the way to the end of the line, getting off at Westside High School, where I started my day as a science teacher. The two-hour ride got me home by 6:30 p.m. Eat, sleep, rinse, repeat, every day for months. This commute was by necessity: several years before, I had been in an accident that left me with severe traffic-related anxiety, making driving all but impossible. Sound tiring? The truth is that I became part of a community of fellow riders.

Every morning, my work began when I got on the bus, when I got out my laptop to work on that day’s lesson plans. The first few months went by in a blurry haze. Planning on the ride to school, followed by lesson setup, followed by teaching, followed by grading, followed by an exhausted ride home, in which I tried to let my mind switch off. This turned into its own rhythm. On the dark bus ride in the morning, we were a group of regulars, quiet as we geared up for another day. The ride home was noisier, filled with the energy of students. As my mind became accustomed to the particular stops and turns, I began to look forward to a specific moment on the ride home, after the bus turned from Gessner onto Westheimer. As the bus began jolting its way down a long stretch of road, the entire city of Houston began opening up in front of me. Looking at the long stretch of road with a clustering of skyscrapers, I saw Houston as a city of possibilities.

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Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church (1924, Frederick B. Gaenslen). Photos: Pete Molick.

Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church (1924, Frederick B. Gaenslen). Photos: Pete Molick.

forWARDS: A Driving Tour of Houston’s Second Ward

This is the second in a series of 10 self-guided driving tours of Houston’s original six wards, written by architectural historian Stephen Fox. Read Fox’s tour of First Ward here. The tours are collected in a limited-edition zine, forWARDS, that was published in conjunction with RDA’s 40th annual architecture tour. The zine, designed by Spindletop Design and illustrated with photography by Peter Molick, can be purchased for $15. Call 713-348-4876 or email rda at rice.edu.

Second Ward retains much more of its historic residential fabric than does First Ward. It extended almost all the way east to the Navigation-Lockwood intersection, the east city limit line of Houston in 1905.

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