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Category: Architecture

Flij, a temporary tent in the plaza of the Institut du Monde Arabe, 2014. Photo courtesy of Oualalou + Choi.

“Our responsibility as architects is to invent the form of public-ness:” An Interview of Tarik Oualalou

The seventh annual SPOTLIGHT: The Rice Design Alliance Prize was awarded to OUALALOU+CHOI, formerly KILO Architectures. Founded by Tarik Oualalou and Linna Choi in 2000, the firm has offices in Paris and Casablanca and recently completed the Moroccan Pavilion for Milan Expo 2015. You can see their full talk at The MFAH here. Before Oualalou and Choi accepted the award, Oualalou gave an interview to Cite Editor Raj Mankad, which is presented in an edited form below.

Raj Mankad: You took a tour of Houston with architectural historian Stephen Fox yesterday. Tell me your impressions of Houston?

Tarik Oualalou: It was a pleasure to see it with him because he is knowledgeable in facts and ideas and gossip, which gives an insider understanding of the city. But I have to say, it was a very big surprise. [This is] the first time I have come to Texas. I’ve known Houston through the eyes of our students — the Rice School of Architecture students in our Paris studio. I understand the city through what they say and what they do. Coming here, I realize this city has some incredible things going on and is also incredibly unlucky. Its relationship to landscape is very American in that the landscape defines the city at its core … the parks, the trees lining [the streets], all this is very beautiful.

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Left: interior of DZ Bank Building in Berlin, photo by Roland Halbe. Right: Frank Gehry, photo by Atelier Courbet.

Are Architects Artists? A Review of Paul Goldberger’s Biography of Frank Gehry

“There are a lot of interesting and true facts that don’t belong in a biography because they don’t advance the story.”

Paul Goldberger said this at Brazos Bookstore when he was explaining what he learned in writing Building Art: The Life and Work of Frank Gehry (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014, $35). This is a long book, as clean of superfluities as any biography I’ve read, and the full story of a complex man who is still, at the age of 86, building art. As Goldberger’s title implies, the art of Gehry’s building creates buildings that are art and, of course, architecture too. And to make this argument, Building Art contains the facts that are necessary and many that are more than merely interesting.

For instance: Gehry was born Frank Owen Goldberg on February 28, 1929, in Toronto, into a working-class Jewish family. He changed his name for a couple of reasons, but he changed it to “gehry” because, set in lowercase letters, the “g” and “y” sink symmetrically below the horizontal like pylons and the “h” rises in the middle like a steeple. It looks architectural.

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Map of poverty rates in Houston. Data: Shell Center for Sustainability, Rice University. Drawing: Nicola Springer.

Cite 97: The Future Now

The new issue of Cite (97) has been mailed and will be available soon at the Brazos Bookstore, CAMH, MFAH, River Oaks Bookstore, and other stores. Below is an excerpt from the introduction to the issue by guest editor Nicola Springer

Redraw the charts, trace the maps, shade between the lines … this was my way of making sense of all the data. The data points come from Lester King, PhD, an urban planner and fellow at Rice University who has developed a set of sustainability indicators for Houston and has made the information available to the public along with an array of visualization tools. My hope is that these data can provide a baseline for thinking about the projects featured in this issue, projects that are just breaking ground or that are on the boards as speculative ideas for the near future …

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Rendering for George R. Brown Convention Center updates. WHR Architects.

ICYMI: Plan Houston Passes and Other News

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:

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4224 Emory by studioMET Architects. Photos: Yoon You.

Playing in a Machine for Living: studioMET’s Emory House

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.

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Seriously Cute? An Interview with Andrew Colopy

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.

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Radically Understated: Menil Drawing Institute and Master Plan Balance Caution and Innovation

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.

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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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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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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

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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