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Category: Design

Installation of ReFRAME x FRAME in Hermann Park. Photo: Patrick Peters.

ReFRAME: How Unwanted Cubicles Became Emergency Housing

In 2011 alone, the Environmental Protection Agency noted that more than 22 billion pounds of furniture and furnishings and another 22 billion pounds of ferrous metals, much of which is found in office furniture, were discarded in the U.S. waste stream. Carole Nicholson, a regional A&D workplace manager for Allsteel, the world’s second-largest manufacturer of office products, was acutely aware of these figures. “Fifteen or 20 years ago there was a big segment of the market for used office furniture. But now there’s so much of it that people don’t want to deal with it,” she said. “It costs them money to take it away, so a lot of it ends up in landfills.” When Allsteel was contracted to replace the existing furniture in a 14-story office building in Canada, Nicholson, who lives in Houston, was struck with an idea.

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Townhouses in East Downtown. Photo: Allyn West.

A Vote for the Houston Townhouse

At the end of every year, Swamplot hosts a wickedly irreverent competition called the Swampies with categories like “Best Demolition,” “Most Overrated Neighborhood,” and “Favorite Houston Design Cliché.” Normally, I refrain from participating in the voting and commenting because the process is too below-the-belt for me. I’m only comfortable snickering from a distance.

This year, however, I would like to join the fray by campaigning for the Houston Townhouse as “Favorite Houston Design Cliché,” even though I will argue that it is not correct to call that building type a design cliché. First, let’s consider the text for the nomination:

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DeZavala Elementary School students connect the dots. Photo: CDRC.

Super Little Things: What a New Sidewalk at De Zavala Park Means

Paint. Some masking tape. That’s it. That’s all it took to brighten a sidewalk at De Zavala Elementary School in Magnolia Park — and help to brighten the entire neighborhood a bit. Directed by Susan Rogers, who also serves as chair of the Cite editorial committee, students in the Community Design Resource Center (CDRC) at the University of Houston Gerald D. Hines School of Architecture partnered with community leaders to conceive of and complete the 600-foot-long Zona de Juego (Play Zone). Where there had been dull, anonymous concrete, there’s now color and personality. A means of conveyance, a means of play. A sidewalk, a journey, one punctuated with diverting graphics and activities, as in a video game.

Little things like these can create big effects. They emphasize interaction, imagination. Students — and their family members, too — can play hopscotch or tic-tac-toe or four-square, draw or doodle with chalk. (They could even diagram the sentences that tell the story of this predominantly Mexican-American neighborhood near Navigation Boulevard and the Ship Channel.) A little part of the built environment that almost everyone had been overlooking is now something almost no one can miss.

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Brise-soleil shades on ExxonMobil Building in Downtown Houston. Photo: Allyn West.

Facelift: The Old ExxonMobil Building Becomes a High-Performance Office Tower

Here’s a clever idea from developers: Rather than build expensive brand-new office towers in Downtown Houston, why not take our old, vacant, or no-longer-functional buildings and simply give them a facelift? This is exactly what Ziegler Cooper Architects is proposing for the 1962 Humble Oil building on the south side of Downtown, now occupied by ExxonMobil.

The building was once the tallest tower west of the Mississippi and is a great example of what might be termed climatic modernism: that is, architecture attempting to deal with Houston’s hot-humid climate through passive means. Its most characteristic feature — a series of 7-foot-deep brise-soliel shades — will be stripped off and the floor plates extended to add “new rentable area” and “lease-depths of 42 feet.” Instead of the passive shades that currently shield and cool the building from Houston’s sun, we’ll get a high-performance glazing system (as well as roughly 100,000 new square feet to be air conditioned).

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Click on the image to watch a video about the making of Cite 91.

The Making of Cite 91

Check out my online video showing how the new issue of Cite was printed. The video is about 7 minutes in length and takes you through the offset process for the interior pages, the letterpress work on the cover, and the pad binding that brought it all together. You can get a sense of the extraordinary amount of labor and skill that goes into the fabrication of each issue. Be sure to pick up a copy at Brazos, Contemporary Museum of Art, DOMY, The Menil Collection, the MFAH, or Issues. Or subscribe online.

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Team at Workhorse and Spindletop Design (from left)---Jennifer Blanco, John Earles, Travis Smith, Joe Ross, and Laura Tait. Photos by Mary Beth Woiccak and Tom Flaherty.

Cite 91 Celebration

Cite celebrated the release of issue 91 at Workhorse Printmakers, located just off Washington Avenue. Writers, designers, photographers, illustrators, and other extraordinary people packed in the space between vintage letterpresses. John Earles, Pressman and Head of the Department of Obsolete Technologies at Workhorse, gave a little talk about the cover. He then invited partygoers to try their hand at producing a letterpress print.

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Soldering class at Tx/Rx labs. Photographs by Wanjun Zhang

The Unknown Future Pastimes of America: Houston’s TX/RX Labs

The Fabrication Issue (Cite 84) was recently named by Print magazine as a finalist in its regional design annual. In celebration, the pdf archive of the issue is now available at no charge. Allyn West follows up on an great story we had hoped to include in the Fabrication Issue, but that was not fully hatched at the time.

My younger brother and I are in a secret competition. He doesn’t even know about it, it’s that secret. We’ve both become tinkerers, over the years, hacking around with tools and salvaged materials and playing a perpetual game of finders-keepers with other people’s garbage; when he lived in Chicago, we’d walk the alleys in Rogers Park to look for castaway things he thought he could use.

He’s in Austin, now, and the pickings there are just as good. He’s upcycled suitcases into storage for vinyl LPs, downed branches into coatracks, teacups and saucers into finch feeders. This spring, he harvested the sides of a crib to improvise a fence for his garden and keep squirrels from his strawberries.

He’s winning, in other words. It’s not even close. This spring, painfully aware of how far behind my brother—my baby brother!—I was slipping, I noticed a poster at Bohemeo’s. This thing called TX/RX Labs was holding classes over on Commerce Street. Just the classes I needed, it seemed. Classes in woodworking. Welding. Soldering. Visiting their website, I started giggling. I’d take a full load, I thought, beginning with CAD/Drafting Basics, maybe graduating to Intermediate Analog Circuits. In time, I’d be ready for Advanced MicroControllers—whatever that was.

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Greg Lynn’s Korean Presbyterian Church of NY. Photograph by Jan Staller 2003

An Interview with Greg Lynn

On April 3, 2012, Gregg Lynn delivered the 2012 Sally Walsh lecture at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. The full lecture is available on Youtube at this link. Lynn is a Studio Professor at UCLA’s School of Architecture and Urban Design. His studio, Greg Lynn FORM, works within and among multiple fields, partnering with companies such as BMW, Boeing, Disney and Imaginary Forces. A more detailed bio is at the bottom of the post. Following the lecture, Scott Cartwright and Jenny Lynn Weitz Amaré-Cartwright of WAC Design Studio interviewed Gregg Lynn over a series of emails.


Jenny Lynn Weitz: Algorithms, math, digital manipulations, surfaces and animations are clearly present in your works. Can you explain differentiation in your projects? What makes you invest capital and labor on one derivative over another?

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Christine Ha on MasterChef

Christine Ha on Workshop Houston's Style Shop

Christine Ha contributed the article below to Cite 85 in Spring 2011. Since then she has achieved some fame as the first blind contestant on the TV show MasterChef. In the first episode, she was chosen as one of eleven finalists. “Notorious tough judge Joe Bastianich teared up during the show while critiquing her work,” Huffington Post noted. “Her palate’s way beyond everyone else’s,” he said. I met her at a group dinner a year ago and was impressed by her without realizing she had any visual impairment, so I asked her to write about a young woman practicing fashion design at Workshop Houston. She offered to take up another assignment given that she would not be able to see the design, but she rose to the challenge in her now well-known inspirational fashion about a subject who is herself an inspiration:

Under a haze that settles over the skyline, the houses-turned-workshops sit unassuming and quiet. Inside, though, there is a bustling of adolescent energy. Up a flight of steep stairs is the Style Shop where Arbay Muya spends her afternoons spinning ideas into clothes.

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Alexandra Kelley, Carla Munoz, Debra norris, and Juan Negrete of Internum

Cite 88 Party at Internum

Yesterday evening, Cite celebrated the release of its new issue at Internum, a recently-opened high-end furniture store. The clean lines of the furniture and the crisp white walls made everyone look sharp. No one made speeches or declaimed poetry. It was an evening of good conversation and taking joy in beauty.

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