Author Archive

The Building and the Bayou: Views of The Dunlavy

In the Kitchen, patrons point their phones toward the bayou. Instead of Instagramming their meals, diners at the small restaurant in the Dunlavy train their cameras past the chandeliers to the sprawling live oak that envelops one of the restaurant’s fully glazed façades. The interior fades into the periphery and focus shifts to Buffalo Bayou Park. The reflected glare of the chandeliers is the only reminder of the shell at the edge of the building before the green patchwork of leaves and branches. But a turn of the head reveals open sky looking down on Lost Lake — the re-created pond whose banks failed in the 1970s. Broad-shouldered highrises loom on the horizon.

These are the impressions of the Dunlavy. It delineates the border of bayou-side development. It is a perch through which to view Houston’s most iconic landscape — a bayou box seat. It is a hovering mass behind the trees — an eyebrow at the banks of the bayou. What you see depends on where you stand.

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CiteSeeing: Hollie Tatnell’s Grave

OffCite invites short essays, reviews, and observations on specific moments and places. Interested in contributing your own? Let us know.

The way the girls kept their distance made me think the dog wasn’t theirs. They stood in their yard facing each other but looking across their shoulders at the small dying animal in front of the house. If it was theirs, maybe they were so disturbed by its death – the violence and uncertainty – that they left him alone. The woman who hit the dog was the only one who gave any impression of urgency. But she stood impotently outside the car looking and wouldn’t move past the open driver’s side door. Death is ultimately a private moment. The dog was still and quiet in the road.

I drove slowly past this scene in Hearne, Texas, on the way to see my grandmother. I had traveled the two hours northwest from my home in Houston because of a story I remember my grandfather telling me nearly a decade before he died. So many years later, I wasn’t sure if I had made it up or gathered it from a movie or book and added it to my memories of him. It was about a grave in the middle of a road. A cemetery had been moved, a body left behind, and now cars had to drive around the headstone. I hoped that my grandmother had heard the story, and that, true or not, she would remember where it came from.

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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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Volunteers at Sheldon Lake State Park. Photo: Texas Sea Grant.

Buried Alive: Experiencing the Resurrected Wetlands of Sheldon Lake State Park

When your boot is sucked off your foot by the snarl of reeds and charcoal-colored mud at the edge of the water, you try not to think of the alligators. You know that your focus should be on stuffing your soaked white sweat sock back into the black hole of the boot. Still, you first scan the weeds for movement before jerking your boot out of the mud and scaling the embankment that overlooks the water.

This is, of course, assuming that the platter-sized bleached-bone alligator skull on display at Sheldon Lake State Park’s Pond Center didn’t dissuade you from wandering alone into the park’s restored wetlands to examine how the soil changes. Keep in mind — you’ve been told that the soil’s what matters.

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The METRO Referendum: Are Voters Just Along for the Ride?

Though national politics get most of the attention, several major choices about the future of the local built environment will greet Houston voters at the ballot box. Colley Hodges cuts through the morass around the METRO referendum so you can make a choice. If you would like to get involved before Tuesday’s vote, you can join in the “Pro-Transit Flash Mob” this Saturday at 12:30 pm. OffCite’s next post will feature METRO board member Christof Spieler, so stay tuned.

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett described the METRO referendum facing Houston voters in the coming weeks as “a little bit of a convoluted ballot item.” He wasn’t joking. If you’re the type who only evaluates local propositions in the voting booth, good luck on this one. You’ll wish you’d done your homework. Here’s the language you see on the ballot:

Metropolitan Transit Authority, Referendum on Street Improvement Mobility Program

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Houseboat to Energy Efficient Residences (HBEER) model shown 2010 at the University of Kentucky

The Silent Stakeholders: Where Students Fit into an Entrepreneurial Education

Colley Hodges of Kirksey Architecture responds to the opening talk of the RSA/RDA Fall 2012 lecture series. Please let us know your thoughts. If you missed it, watch it on YouTube. The next talk features Alfredo Brillembourg, who shared a Golden Lion award at the 2012 Venice Biennale and was lauded this week by the New York Times architecture critic. For more information click here.

Michael Speaks set the scene. Before an audience of educators, professionals, and students, he kicked off the RSA/RDA’s Fall 2012 lecture series, NEXT: Four Takes on the Future of Architectural Education, by explaining that education and architecture are each facing crises. Schools across the country, including the University of Kentucky’s College of Design where Speaks has served as dean since 2008, are feeling the effects of the economic downturn. State funding has been cut, and you can’t ask surrounding communities for support since they’re crunched for cash as well. Meanwhile, the field of architecture is confronting the question “what’s next?” Ideologies come and go, and supposed next-things like parametricism are not the answer (actually, far from it—Speaks calls it “the most horrible thing that has happened to architecture”). The good news: these challenges present a nexus of opportunities, and Speaks has a compelling case for how to take advantage of them that cannot be summed up in a short blog post.

But when the floor opened up, audience members raised some pointed questions and concerns that highlighted exactly what’s at stake.

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