Photo by Luis Ayala.

Photo by Luis Ayala.

Sparking Creativity: Houston’s Smaller Arts Groups Finally Meet Their MATCH

The essay appears in Cite 98. The issue explores the intersections of finance and design. You can purchase the Cite 98 at local bookstores, including Brazos Bookstore and the shops at the Menil Collection and The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. You can also subscribe.

The building is meant to be seen at night. That’s when the full context of this project, which is really a model for a type of development, can be appreciated. For the moment, Midtown Arts & Theater Center Houston (MATCH) is a beacon among blocks of darkened construction projects that border it on nearly every side. Still, the surrounding blocks are buzzing. Streets closed by reflective cones and food trucks, a beat broadcast down a block queued with cars and couples quickly crossing sidewalks. The steady flow of headlights, spilling across the pavement like the surf or swinging around corners. Within the MATCH’s breezeway — a glass-lined canyon cut through white metal panels and galvanized steel — the audiences of four simultaneous small shows spill out into the glow that emanates from the heart of the building, lighting up the block.

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Purcell-Cutts House, 1913, Purcell & Elmslie. Photos by Stephen Fox.

Purcell-Cutts House, 1913, Purcell & Elmslie. Photos by Stephen Fox.

“Baronial in Scale”: Stephen Fox Does Instagram

Stephen Fox, architectural historian and Fellow of the Anchorage Foundation of Texas, led a Rice Design Alliance (RDA) tour of Minneapolis and St. Paul during the first week of June. Fox is the author of several books including forWARDS: Ten Driving Tours Through Houston’s Original Wards. Now you can experience his inimitable tour of the Twin Cities through Instagram @RDAHouston. Below, OffCite brings you his photos and words about the Purcell-Cutts house.

One of the highlights of the tour involved the smallest building we visited, the spatially ingenious house that architect William Gray Purcell designed for his family in 1913. The living room and upstairs bedrooms face southeast, toward the street.

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Michigan Avenue in Corktown, Detroit. Photo: Allyn West.

Michigan Avenue in Corktown, Detroit. Photo: Allyn West.

Postcard from Detroit

For a few blocks, all six lanes of Michigan Avenue, the major commercial strip of Corktown, Detroit’s oldest neighborhood, are paved in brick. Petunias bloom in plastic bins underneath the street trees. Original buildings now home to shops and cafes and offices line the wide sidewalks. The going is easy, interesting. There are a few spaces for lease, but most of the real estate is taken up and appears to be doing well.

But it wasn’t easy getting there. If you don’t have a car in the Motor City, you’re at a disadvantage. Heading west from the Renaissance Center in Downtown, where I was staying to attend the Docomomo US Symposium, I had to trudge past long stretches of vacant land and negotiate unfriendly infrastructure. A bus or two rattled past. I didn’t see any other pedestrians. As I walked, a wide strip of asphalt down the middle of Michigan stuck out, not quite covering up the streetcar tracks that signify how connected Corktown used to be.

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New Corktown proposal by Albert Pope and Jesus Vassallo, US Pavilion, 2016 Venice Biennale. Photo: Peter Molick.

New Corktown proposal by Albert Pope and Jesus Vassallo, US Pavilion, 2016 Venice Biennale. Photo: Peter Molick.

New Corktown: Reporting From the Venice Biennale

The 15th International Architecture Exhibition at the Venice Biennale (La Biennale di Venezia) opened with a Vernissage last week, a private preview of the work produced for one of the most immensely exciting times for architectural practice, research, and theory. The exhibition entitled “Reporting From the Front” was curated by 2016 Pritzker Laureate Alejandro Aravena of Chile, who placed construction and quality of life at the center of the discussion.

Curators from each country selected representatives to exhibit their work in national pavilions at the Giardini, the grounds of the Biennale. In addition, the Arsenale collated projects from various countries illustrating significant examples of vernacular building methods, formal languages, and tectonic systems in current development. It was especially interesting to be in Venice at the time of the Vernissage because exhibitors, installers, supporters, and academics alike spilled out from their respective pavilions and onto the connecting alley, Via Giuseppe Garibaldi, to socialize.

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Rendering of Ruby City. Courtesy: Linda Pace Foundation.

Rendering of Ruby City. Courtesy: Linda Pace Foundation.

Ruby City: David Adjaye Designs an “Important Civic Moment” for San Antonio

You can see in the renderings of Ruby City, the building David Adjaye Associates has designed to hold the Linda Pace Foundation’s art collection in San Antonio, the same “skewed, swelling shapes” that architectural historian Stephen Fox praises in his essay in Cite 78. “[Adjaye’s] buildings,” writes Fox, “don’t conform to their programs and sites; they deform in response to them.”

It is a very compelling, very optimistic deformation. The site, in this case, is the Pace Foundation campus on Camp Street in Southtown. The campus comprises the one-acre meditation garden CHRISpark, one-room SPACE Gallery, and the former Tobin Building, a 1927 candy factory that has been converted into residential lofts and Pace Foundation offices. The three large galleries of Ruby City will add 10,000 square feet of exhibition space for contemporary paintings, sculptures, installations, and video works.

What Fox calls “disarmingly exuberant cheerfulness” in earlier Adjaye buildings here manifests most obviously in color and material. When they met in 2007, Pace sketched for Adjaye a vision for Ruby City that had come to her in a dream: a series of magenta turrets, all bedazzled and bejeweled, atop a circular plinth like a merry-go-round. Adjaye translated this whimsy into off-kilter forms and material experimentation. To be clad in an array of red-stained precast concrete panels that Adjaye says will have embedded in them “bits of recycled red glass and other reflective materials,” Ruby City will shimmer in the Texas sun, even more so in the context of the drab buildings immediately surrounding it.

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Carlos Jimenez and John Zemanek at Peden Street. Photo: Eric Hester.

Carlos Jimenez and John Zemanek at Peden Street. Photo: Eric Hester.

Architecture is about Life: A Conversation with John Zemanek

Johnny “John” Eugene Zemanek died at the age of 94 on Monday, April 18. His obituary was written by Patrick Peters with input from Nora Laos, Alberto Bonomi, and Elizabeth Gregory. Look for a review of Zemanek’s book about his life and career, Being Becoming, on OffCite in the coming weeks. Below is an interview of Zemanek by his former student, Carlos Jimenez, who is now Professor at the Rice School of Architecture. The interview was first published in the Summer 2008 issue of Cite (75).

John Zemanek, who at 86 remains as curious and vigilant as ever, has for more than 40 years taught design and history to countless students at the University of Houston’s College of Architecture.

I was one of those students in the late ’70s. During my years at the university I spent many mornings and afternoons in one of the architect’s earliest designs: the Student Life Plaza (1971), a work of rooted subtlety where water, trees, and paving patterns composed a tranquil space amid UH’s disparate gathering spaces.

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Frame House (Harwood Taylor, 1960). Photographs by Ben Koush.

Frame House (Harwood Taylor, 1960). Photographs by Ben Koush.

Instagramming the Frame House: A 1960 Modern Design by Harwood Taylor

OffCite and Rice Design Alliance are exploring the potential of Instagram to engage more people in the built environment. A recent RDA program, #HOU_OLD6, was an Instagram Scavenger Hunt of the Old Sixth Ward. Similarly, designer and architectural historian, Ben Koush, has brought all his acumen to Instagram. (You can follow him @benkoush.) He shares images and commentary on architecture in Houston and many other cities. This post draws from his series of photos on Harwood Taylor’s Frame House.

From the front, it seems like a nice but typical postwar modern house. Once you walk past the gate, the Frame House (1960), designed by Harwood Taylor, brilliantly slinks down in section across its sloping, bayou-edged site. I think it’s his best work and probably my favorite, or close to it, house in Houston.

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Love at the pulga on Airline Drive. Photo: Paul Hester.

Love at the pulga on Airline Drive. Photo: Paul Hester.

Looking for Jane in All the Wrong Places

Around the world, the legacy of Jane Jacobs is being celebrated on what would have been her 100th birthday. She’s most famous for her critique of slum clearance and her book The Death and Life of Great American Cities. She called for the preservation of old, mixed-use districts. She called attention to the virtue of short blocks and ground-floor retail. She urged the mixing of uses, mixing new and old, mixing income groups.

In Houston, we have a few neighborhoods originally built around streetcars that still have the bones — the human-scaled streets, the old buildings — for a return to a more pedestrian-oriented past. However, most of the city was built after World War II when automobiles became dominant, blocks grew supersized, and — even in the absence of zoning — uses were separated by huge distances along highways. That means we have to be more creative about celebrating Jacobs and envisioning a future less dependent on everyone owning a car. As the contributors to Reconsidering Jane Jacobs (APA Planners Press, 2011) argue, instead of looking for the forms Jacobs wrote about, we should look with the curiosity and openness that characterized her approach. In other words, let’s look for Jane in all the “wrong” places. Here are five examples:

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Sadik-Khan at Times Square. Photograph by Olugenrophotograpy.com.

Sadik-Khan at Times Square. Photograph by Olugenrophotograpy.com.

Big Thinking on Skinnier Streets: New Books on Transportation

Books on urbanism and transportation innovation are having their moment. Here’s a look at five that have come out in the last year alone, starting with Streetfight by Janette Sadik-Khan, who is in Houston this week for a talk sponsored by Rice University’s Kinder Institute for Urban Research, Wednesday, May 18, at 6:30 pm, at The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

Streetfight by Janette Sadik-Khan with Seth Solomonow (Viking, 2016)

The wounds are fresh. Sadik-Khan, the commissioner for New York City’s Department of Transportation from 2007 to 2013, chronicles the bruising battles over the building out of 400 miles of bike lanes and 60 plazas. Though I followed the controversies over the years as they were reported in The New York Times, to hear it from her perspective is something else. I didn’t realize that the first experiments were not all that controversial. With paint and planters, an ugly triangle of pavement in DUMBO went from parking lot to well-used public space without much opposition. We could do that here. We have so many excessive expanses of concrete in Houston.

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Glenbrook Golf Course. Photographs by Paul Hester.

Glenbrook Golf Course. Photographs by Paul Hester.

Houston Botanic Gardens: Enhancement or Loss of Park Space?

There is a lot to like about the Houston Botanic Garden (HBG) master plan proposed by the Dutch landscape and urban design firm West 8. It would boost Houston’s appeal as a tourist destination, increase surrounding property values, and repurpose a golf course in southeast Houston. So, why have residents in the surrounding Meadowbrook and Park Place communities mobilized in opposition to the HBG?

The designated site, the former Glenbrook Golf Course, is located just eight miles south of Downtown Houston, right off I-45. If the HBG can reach prerequisite fundraising goals by the end of 2017, a lease agreement with the City of Houston will give them the Glenbrook site for the next 30 years. The West 8 garden experience would begin as soon as one exits I-45 onto Park Place Boulevard — a four-lane commercial street that will be enhanced with trees planted on both sides.

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