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Category: Art & Culture

It Creates Its Own Light: Havel Ruck Projects Puts “Sharp” in Sharpstown

“Sharp,” located at 6822 Rowan Lane, is open to visitors daily for a period of a few months. Click here for a map.

On the 10-block shuttle bus ride from the remote parking to the latest house-conversion project by Havel Ruck Projects (Dan Havel and Dean Ruck), the driver felt that he needed to warn me. “People that weren’t expecting it were startled. It’s like arriving at a fire.”

“Sharp” is one of Havel Ruck’s conversions of an existing house, in place, in its setting. In its last life, it was a typical suburban house, a ranch on a slab with a yard. It had caught fire.

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The Hangout: Why the White Poles?

In my sophomore year, I began to feel that the Rice campus did not fully accommodate its students’ often unpredictable oscillation between stimulation and decompression. Instead, the university favors spaces programmed for productivity. The traditional academic quad, planned to inspire intellectualism, fails to accomplish the type of communal space for students and teachers seen at Jefferson’s University of Virginia Lawn.

Even Rice’s new wave of architecture, such as Brochstein Pavilion and “Twilight Epiphany,” the James Turrell Skyspace, exerts a level of control over the user—one interacts in Brochstein and meditates in the Skyspace.

All things considered, though, we have one of the most spectacular campuses in the country, a result attributable as much to the landscape as to its institutional monuments and architectural edifices—your first look of Lovett Hall is made memorable by the oak branches that gradually unveil the monolithic Sallyport. Moments so glorious are made almost commonplace with all of Rice’s greenspaces, yet nature in this context tends to feel ornamental or sacred, to be seen and not touched.

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Westbury Automotive at 5502 W. Airport. Photo: Paul Hester.

Uncommon Attention: A Photographic Exhibition of Houston’s Mid-Century “Background Buildings”

Uncommon Modern” is currently on exhibition at Architecture Center Houston through February 19. A panel discussion and release of a catalog of more than 400 buildings takes place Monday, February 15.

You would probably recognize most of the buildings in “Uncommon Modern,” but chances are you don’t know them. You wouldn’t be able to say when they were completed or who the architects were. But these are buildings you have passed a hundred times. They are, in fact, common, and it’s the exhibition that’s uncommon, paying an unusual amount of critical attention to architecture that might not seem, at first, to deserve it.

Curated by Anna Mod and Delaney Harris-Finch, the exhibition features photographs by Aker Imaging, Hester + Hardaway Photographers, Mark Johnson Photography, Peter Molick Photography, and Rocio Carlon Studios of dozens of “background buildings,” for lack of a better term: restaurants, clinics, insurance agencies, churches, gas stations, do-nut shops. They date from the ‘50s to the ‘70s, inflected with the tendencies and tropes of Modernism but absent the singularity (or the patronage!) that gave rise to the great works of mid-century architecture. These are the places that great architects might have driven-thru to cash their checks.

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Entrance to proposed Houston Arboretum Visitor Center with a vista of restored Gulf Coast prairie. Houston Arboretum.

ICYMI: Big Outdoors, Micro-Living, and More

Houston’s past of “big houses, not housing” and a “sensational lack of convivial public space” is being turned on its head. Molly Glentzer reports for the Houston Chronicle on the Houston Arboretum’s plans, which bring yet more firms of national repute to transform our parks, while RE/MAX markets micro-living in EaDo.

Putting the Wilderness Back in Houston Arboretum
Molly Glentzer, Houston Chronicle
Steven Spears of Design Workshop, Reed-Hilderbrand landscape architects, Lake|Flato architects, Texas ecologists from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, transportation planners from Walter P. Moore, cultural planners from SWCA environmental consultants, Texas A&M University forester W. Todd Watson, and park operations experts from ETM Associates reimagine the Houston Arboretum.

Micro-Living Project Coming to EaDo
Laura Cook, RE/MAX
A 24-story development of units less than 500 square feet will sit on a full 1.4 acre block at the Southwest corner of Leeland and Live Oak in East Downtown.

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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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Looking at Cite 95. Photo: Carrie Schneider.

Participatory Drawing: Fuel Drips on Concrete

Artist Carrie Schneider reflects on “Horizon Lines” with a new artwork in which she erases cars from an aerial photograph by Alex MacLean of a Houston highway interchange. An animation showing the original photo fading into the artwork and the artwork itself are below.

Since being struck by the first section of Cite 95, I’ve been driving around with the satellite view on my Google maps. Instead of pastel road lines, I’m navigating between driver’s-seat-eye level and aerial perspective, through brown, gray, and green sandcastles punctuated with the titles of sponsored destinations and locations tracked from my previous search history.

More than 30 years after Alex MacLean began the practice featured in “Horizon Lines,” now common in an age of drones, satellite imagery, and Google Earth, he has a lot of company up there. Much of it perhaps less interested in an enlarged collective or artistic perspective than increased height in the vertical distribution of resources, collecting have-alls-and-see-alls in superior, higher resolution space. So it’s mesmerizing, getting to see this landscape that’s so carefully withdrawn, hard to apprehend in more than just peeks.

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Images courtesy ArCH and Thomas Colbert.

Ariadne’s Thread: Drawings by Thomas Colbert at the Architecture Center Houston

Drawings by Thomas Colbert is on view May 21 to August 14 at the Architecture Center Houston. Click here for more details and read Bernard Bonnet’s brief essay on the drawings below.

The beauty of Thomas Colbert’s drawings lies in their complexity. When I saw his work for the first time, I immediately thought of the myth of Ariadne’s thread and the Minotaur’s Labyrinth. Which one of these thousands of lines that escape all around from the dark jumble should I unroll to get to the core? When I discovered recently the very beginning of Colbert’s drawings, the sumptuous free-hand volutes, the purity of these lines, I perceived the complexity of the ensemble. At that point, we are poles apart from the scribbles one might see first. There is a construction (the architect/artist?), a patient weaving (many of his drawings do look like fabrics), an endless progression. In a scribble, there is no attention, no focus: it is only a leisurely, instinctive movement of the hand. Colbert’s drawings are obsessive, relentless, never finished and this is the reason for which he cannot draw anything else.

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A Bottom-Up, Unofficial Guide to the Cigna Sunday Streets on 19th Street

Cigna Sunday Streets HTX returns to 19th Street in the Heights April 26 from noon to 4 pm. Watch the one-minute video of the unofficial guide below.

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Cite 96 cover.

Cite 96: Art and Architecture

The new issue of Cite (96) has been mailed and will be available soon at the Brazos Bookstore, CAMH, MFAH, River Oaks Bookstore, and other stores. Below is an introduction to the issue by guest editor Ronnie Self.

Museums may be our best patrons of architecture, allowing and even encouraging experimentation while demanding more exacting design.

Cite 96 looks at four art spaces — one realized, one ongoing, and two on the boards — one in Fort Worth and three in Houston. The four are the recently completed Piano Pavilion for the Kimbell Art Museum, the projects for the neighborhood and buildings of the Menil Collection, the ever-evolving
community of Project Row Houses, and the designs underway for the campus and buildings of The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH).

All of these institutions, varied in size, structure, and mission, are ambitious and provide a range of ideas and approaches for art spaces. They also offer an extraordinary collection of architecture that is well worth study and discussion. With that in mind, Raj Mankad and I invited three writers (Christopher Hawthorne from Los Angeles, Walter Hood from Berkeley, and David Heymann from Austin) to examine and analyze the three projects in Houston mentioned above. I had the pleasure of reviewing the Kimbell Pavilion in Fort Worth.

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A dining table in the Cargo Space bus is the site for many discussions. August 2014. Photos: Chris Sperandio.

Social Practice in the Time of Cholera: Can Mobility and Tiny Living Save an Art Form?

For more articles like this one by Christopher Sperandio, subscribe to Cite or call (713) 348-4876 to purchase the forthcoming special issue on museums that includes an article by Walter Hood on Project Row Houses.

Part rockstar-style tour bus, part utility vehicle, and ultimately a blank platform that sleeps six, Cargo Space has crisscrossed 7,000 miles of this country with Houston as its base. We hold one-night events and host all manner of functions, playing host to cultural workers of every stripe (local, national, international). It’s great fun that is rooted in an urgent art form called Social Practice. To explain the Cargo Space project any further, let’s step back for a moment, review some history, look at contemporary debates roiling the art world.

Social Practice—an underknown art form rooted in the Conceptual Art and political activism of the 1960s—is alive and well in Houston, but for how long? Social Practice and the communities it engages are facing a real challenge for efficacy in the face of massive social and political upheaval, specifically the gonzo real estate market and the growing gap between the haves and the have-nots.

You might not have heard of Social Practice for a couple of reasons. First, as a field of art practice it goes by many names: Relational Aesthetics, Community Art, Socialized Art, Social Art, or New Genre art, to name a few. Just as it defies labels, it’s also a field of art-making that has historically resisted commodification. With a few exceptions, say Chicago’s Theaster Gates, whose ceramic and sculptural works are gobbled up by collectors, Social Practice artists generally don’t make products that fit easily within the luxury consumer goods industry into which most art making has been absorbed.

If you haven’t been paying attention to Social Practice, you soon will.

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