Detail of You Are Here by Paul Kittelson. Photo: Allyn West.

CiteSeeing: You Are Here

Houston’s East End is bordered by the Ship Channel, U.S. 59, I-10, and I-45. Both the edges and the essence of the neighborhood, in other words, could be defined by transportation. The convenient confluence of Buffalo and Brays bayous, allowing the early trading post of Harrisburg to be sited here by John Richardson Harris in the 1820s, has since been supplemented, if not supplanted, by freeways and heavy rail. Not to mention light rail and a few hike and bike trails, too.

That’s why the public art by Paul Kittelson installed recently along the forthcoming East End Line makes so much sense: This, it says, is a kind of manic crossroads.

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All renderings and sections by Erling Cruz.

A Proposal for Birdwatch Towers along Galveston Bay

For more on the environment, get a hold of Cite 93 and see OffCite’s previous coverage.

When 170,000 gallons of heavy crude oil spilled into Galveston Bay on March 22, naturalists noted that the timing was potentially catastrophic. In Spring, Galveston Bay is a rest stop on a superhighway of bird migration. According to a recent report in the Houston Chronicle, as of April 4, 39 dolphins, 17 turtles, and 331 birds had died in and around Galveston and Matagorda Island since the spill. Apparently, wind blew much of the oil into the Gulf. Damage to the bay could have been far worse.

Still, the best hope for our region is to see our defenses against storm surges, our industrial base, and our natural habitats as coexisting in a single system rather than locked in conflict, according to proposals backed by John Nau and James Baker, as well as academic experts associated with the SSPEED Center. OffCite covered the proposed basic idea. Lisa Gray wrote about University of Houston architecture professor Thomas Colbert’s concept for linking tourist infrastructure and a storm barrier with bird habitats.

But what would Galveston Bay look like as a tourist destination?

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Building Seagram by Phyllis Lambert

Phyllis Lambert will give the RSA Llewelyn-Davies Sahni Innovative Practices Lecture on Monday April 14 at 5:30 pm in the Farish Gallery, Anderson Hall, Rice University. Her talk is titled “Mies Constructs.”

Few people could write a book about a single building from so many standpoints as Phyllis Lambert in Building Seagram (Yale University Press, 2013). At one level, the book is a memoir. Mark Lamster’s review in the New York Times focuses on the audaciousness of the 27-year-old Lambert who wrote a letter to her father, the founder of Seagram’s, demanding that he scrap the company’s plans for a new headquarters. Reading that letter alone is worth getting hold of the book.

Lambert’s father ultimately yielded to her passion and hired her to choose the architect (Mies van der Rohe) and oversee the planning, design, and construction of one of the most important buildings of the twentieth century—the archetypal glass and steel corporate tower.

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The Architecture of Art Museums: A Decade of Design: 2000-2010

A lecture and signing for the launch of the book reviewed below will be held Tuesday April 15, 6:30 p.m., at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. The book is exclusively available at the museum store and is being sold at a discount.

Ronnie Self’s eminently readable new book of case studies, The Architecture of Art Museums: A Decade of Design 2000-2010, provides in-depth descriptions of 18 prominent museums opened in America (mostly) and Europe during the booming first decade of the twenty-first century. Laid out chronologically by date of opening—from Tadao Ando’s Fort Worth Museum of Modern Art to Zaha Hadid’s MAXXI in Rome—the works are authored by SANAA, Herzog & de Meuron, Renzo Piano, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Steven Holl, Shigeru Ban, etc.; i.e., the apex predators of the architectural world, working on what was then, and still may be, the sociocultural equivalent of the Greek temple, Renaissance palazzo, Baroque church, or early-Modern housing.

Self, an architect and Associate Professor of Architecture at the University of Houston, worked for Renzo Piano for 12 years, and he brings that office’s heightened common sense to his task. He lucidly dissects how each of these often complicated buildings works in its context, how it is perceived and moved through by visitors, how exhibitions can be hung given the architectural strategies (he is less clear about curation), how the buildings are structured and constructed, how mechanical and environmental systems operate, and how each is serviced. (His attention to loading docks is much appreciated.) Each entry is 2,000 to 3,000 words in length, with excellent architectural drawings, regularly including details of how natural illumination is controlled, and just enough photographs to judiciously describe the points made.

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Photo: Michelle Caruso.

“When Streets Close, Doors Open Up:” Sunday Streets HTX Born in the Rain

This post builds on OffCite’s ongoing coverage of Sunday Streets HTX. The next event is May 4 along Westheimer between Hazard and Yoakum.

At 11 a.m., a cold and steady rain doused the inaugural Sunday Street. My family sheltered under a bridge. White Oak Drive was empty save for the city’s golf carts and police cars. Would a year of intense collaboration with city leaders, business owners, and residents culminate in a soggy flop? It turns out Houstonians aren’t afraid of the rain. As Carra Moroni, a Senior Health Planner with the city and a lead organizer of the event, later wrote, “Rain may dampen our clothes but not our spirit.”

Jayme Fraser captured the “water-splashed” joy of the event in an April 7 writeup in the Houston Chronicle and reported an estimate of more than 3,000 participants.

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Pierce Elevated in Downtown Houston. Photo: Russell Hancock.

Will the Urban Highway Reclamation Movement Come to Houston?

It’s not just San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, Milwaukee, Saint Louis, Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles, New York, and Providence anymore. Even Dallas is doing it. Dallas! Cities nationwide are demolishing, rerouting, moving underground, or capping urban highways — reversing the devastating effects of the golden age of the automobile.

The results have been outstanding: cleaner air, less noise, better traffic flow, more greenspace, increased walkability, greater property values, and significant economic development.

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A right turn on Main Street in the Med Center. Photo: Allyn West.

Taming the Beast: An Unofficial Guide to Riding METRO

The inaugural Sunday Streets HTX takes place this Sunday, April 6, along White Oak and Quitman in the Heights. There will be plenty of activities for everyone to enjoy. But how, in Houston, do you get to an event that purposefully excludes vehicles? Here, Cite editor and long-time METRO rider Raj Mankad shares his insider’s knowledge about our public transit.

Ten years ago, I thought of METRO’s buses as huge beasts that might leap off the road and devour me. Now I use them to get all around the Houston region. Are there better transit systems around the world? Can we build a better system? Of course. Nonetheless, we do have transit, and certain aspects can work well for you.

Below are some tips I’d like to relate. I don’t work for METRO, so this is an unofficial and incomplete guide.

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Click on map for larger version.

A Bottom-Up, Unofficial Guide to the White Oak and Quitman Sunday Street

If it rains this Sunday, I will be dancing in the puddles down the middle of White Oak / Quitman. And if you follow this blog, you already know that our writers have proposed, petitioned, documented, analyzed, and publicized the temporary closure of streets to cars and opening up of them to pedestrians and cyclists. Rain or shine, the inaugural Sunday Streets HTX will be from 11 am to 3 pm between Heights Boulevard and Fulton Street along White Oak / Quitman.

The Houston Chronicle recently published my op-ed on Sunday Streets HTX. I argue that Sunday Streets will help us see anew the city we already have and that the activity during the events will come from the ground up. In this blog post, I provide a little guide to what’s already there on the route and the extra fun being planned. Before I begin, one key thing to understand is that there is no start and finish as in a parade. You can enter and leave from any point on the 2.5-mile linear route. Moreover, if you count the White Oak, MKT, and Heights trails, the route can be made into longer loops. That said, I’ll start from the east and move west.

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Addition to 1810 Bissonnet. Photo: Paul Hester.

More, Over: A Tour of Houston Residential Additions

It’s a truism by now that Houston is always changing. The stick frame standing on the corner and the cranes punctuating the skyline prove it: We restlessly, relentlessly build. Though that M.O. often requires that we remove structures altogether, it can also encourage us to get creative about adding on to and adapting what’s already here.

This weekend’s RDA architecture tour shows some of the best examples of that creativity in the city. Titled Additionally, the tour features eight residences in Montrose, Tanglewood, Meyerland, Old Sixth Ward, Boulevard Oaks, and the Heights. Each was given a substantial addition by a local architecture firm. These have taken the form of a glass-walled wing punctuating a 1920s brick house, pictured above, and a contemporary two-story private yoga studio standing behind a 1920 airplane bungalow. Another was added to make room for the homeowner’s large and intricately detailed model train layout.

The tour is open to RDA members and their guests, and membership is open to the public. You can sign up for membership here and buy tickets here.

Read on to see Paul Hester’s photos of the houses and Stephen Fox’s analyses of the architecture.

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Residents of Northwood Manor protest Whispering Pines landfill in 1979. Courtesy: Robert Bullard.

Can Houston Be Green Without Brown and Black?

This post is excerpted from “The Mountains of Houston: Environmental Justice and the Politics of Garbage,” published in Cite 93.

In 1990, environmental justice leaders sent a letter to the “Big Ten” environmental and conservation groups (Sierra Club, Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund [now Earthjustice], National Audubon Society, National Wildlife Federation, Environmental Defense Fund, Environmental Policy Institute/Friends of the Earth, Izaak Walton League, The Wilderness Society, National Parks and Conservation Association, and Natural Resources Defense Council), charging them with elitism, classism, and paternalism. The letter also called their attention to their lack of diversity in terms of staff, board members, and program. A March 2013 Washington Post article headlined “Within mainstream environmentalist groups, diversity is lacking,” hit on this same theme more than two decades later.

Progress in Houston has been slow and uneven. Although Houston is a city with people of color in the majority, for some reason it has not developed a strong network of environmental justice organizations to address issues facing its people of color population such as those in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago. Although the city has several well-known environmental justice groups run by people of color (Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services among them), much of the heavy environmental lifting in Houston is still left to the White environmental groups. One need only examine the member groups of the Houston-Galveston Citizens’ Environmental Coalition (CEC) to see that Houston’s environmental community has a serious diversity problem. Of the 102 CEC member groups, only two are organized by people of color (Great Plains Restoration Council and Pleasantville Environmental Coalition).

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