Environmentalist and "philosopher housewife" Terry Hershey. Photo: Center for Public History at the University of Houston.
“It is hard to be a female figurehead at 8:30 in the morning.”
These were among Terry Hershey’s opening words at a 1970 meeting of the Soil Conservation Society of America (now the Soil and Water Conservation Society) in Waco, Texas. A year prior, she had earned a permanent place in Houston history. At the invitation of newly elected congressperson George H.W. Bush, Hershey successfully petitioned Congress to prevent the Army Corps of Engineers from transforming the meandering, Cottonwood- and Black Willow-lined banks of Buffalo Bayou west of Shepherd Drive into a concrete drainage ditch. That win, following an almost 20-year fight, is arguably the defining moment for Houston’s environmental movement.
Volunteers at Sheldon Lake State Park. Photo: Texas Sea Grant.
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.
Exterior of Rice Stadium in 1994. Photo: Fondren Library Archives.
With all the attention this fall paid to the preservation of the Astrodome, there is an opportunity to recall the other sports palace that put Houston on the map a decade earlier: Rice Stadium. Plans for remodeling the stadium have been discussed since 2011, but they are largely out of the headlines because no public funds are involved. Most of the attention has been on the narrow programmatic needs of the Rice Athletic Department, despite the importance of the project to the quality of life and economic well-being of Houston. The historic preservation and architectural issues might be even more significant than those at the Dome.
Some background: In the fall of 1949, while on their way to their fourth SWC Championship in 15 years, Rice Institute decided to build a new football stadium. Since the 1930s, Rice football had been the biggest game in town. All-Americans like Weldon Humble and Froggie Williams were local heroes. Victories over powers like Texas, Texas A&M, and Louisiana State were expected and often delivered by the Owls. Crowds were overflowing the old Rice Stadium at the corner of Main and University.
Leonel J. Castillo Community Center. Photos: Raul Ramos.
Situated on a hill at the confluence of I-45 and I-10 on the north side of Downtown, the new Leonel J. Castillo Community Center recently opened, looking like a beacon to the near future of Houston. A joint project of Neighborhood Centers and Houston Parks, the renovated former Robert E. Lee Elementary School scheduled its ribbon-cutting months ago. As fate would have it, the center’s namesake and Houston Latino community leader passed away days before the event. The opening now took place between his velorio on Friday and the funeral that Monday, adding an unforeseen tone to the morning.
The center’s large meeting hall was filled on Saturday with community members, Houston representatives, and the families gathered to celebrate Castillo’s work and impact on generations of Houstonians. The opening became a tribute and commemoration of Castillo’s life and the many intimate ways he affected people around him. It made the grand opening even grander, elevating the expectations of what the center can be.
A rendering of the New Dome. Courtesy: New Dome PAC.
Harris County voters will decide in a week what to do with the Astrodome. A ballot measure, known on mobile billboards and Twitter feeds as Proposition 2, asks taxpayers to foot a $217 million renovation, designed by Kirksey, that would convert the Dome into convention space. The rendering above shows what that might end up looking like: The stadium’s below-grade playing field would be raised; the rainbow seats removed; exterior scrubbed; entrances enlarged with glass panels; and the concrete perimeter made into greenspace. If the measure fails, it’s likely that the Dome will be demolished.
Cite has been covering such propositions—and the rest of the Dome drama—over the years:
InHouse OutHouse brought to the site at Project Row Houses. Photos and video by Mary Beth Woiccak.
After decades of suburban growth, Houston has seen a recent shift back toward the desire for urban life. Older neighborhoods, some of which were established more than a century ago, are seeing increasing property values and coordinated revitalization efforts. But the cost to bring historic homes up to modern day standards can be greater than to build new, and without deed restrictions or zoning, the character of many of Houston’s oldest neighborhoods is at risk of being lost to new development.
Three Rice University graduates believe they have a solution—one that accommodates the need to modernize while keeping a neighborhood’s material identity and social fabric intact. Drawing on the experience of the Rice Building Workshop and its experiments with small-scale housing and core consolidation, Andrew Daley, Jason Fleming, and Peter Muessig realized that the majority of residential renovation costs are associated with mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) systems. Under the direction of faculty at Rice School of Architecture, they designed the InHouse OutHouse, a prefabricated core that consolidates residential MEP systems, as well as a kitchen and full bathroom, into a roughly 8.5-by-14-foot module. As the core is assembled off site, an opening is cut into the side of the existing house. The core is then shipped to the site, inserted, and the building envelope resealed. Once the MEP systems are coupled to on-site services, the transplant is complete.
The Shanghai Bund, all image courtesy SWA Group unless noted
The following is an excerpt from Cite 88, a special issue that offers a unique and critical glimpse into the evolving state of architecture, economic growth, and overall well-being in China. Below is an interview conducted by Tom Colbert and Raj Mankad with SWA Group’s Scott Slaney, who recently moved from Houston to Shanghai. You can pick up a copy of Cite 88 at Brazos Bookstore, CAMH, MFAH, Issues, Domy, River Oaks Bookstore, and other stores. Don’t miss it!
Cite: What are the big differences between working as a design firm in China and in Houston?
Scott Slaney: There are three primary differences. One is the greater scope and scale of our work in China; the second is speed, projects happen at an incredibly fast rate; the third is design depth. We take most of our work in China only to a design development level then work with a local design institute who will prepare construction documents, seal drawings, and provide some construction observation, though typically pretty light. Taken together, greater scope and scale, speed and relatively shallow design depth, the net result is that building projects that live up to our quality standards is a real challenge. Meeting this challenge is one of the key reasons our SWA Shanghai office has been established. The good news is that more and more clients are asking us to get involved in construction to ensure that the design intent is realized in an enduring fashion. We characterize our role as “design oversight during construction.”
Magic Island site at Southwest Freeway and Greenbriar Street. All photographs Paul Hester.
Paul Hester’s retrospective Doing Time in Houston at Architecture Center Houston—culled from his extensive archive documenting Houston’s architecture through all its transitions over the past 45 years–invites the viewer to contemplate all that has ever stood on this viscid alluvium we call home. Row houses razed to make room for rows of gated townhomes; first ring suburbs mowed down to clear space for skyscrapers. Here, a saddlery turned ballet parking lot; there, a sea food market turned newspaper headquarters. Even the buildings left standing have been stripped and fused and cloaked in marble panels or kitschy Egyptian temples (see my “Ancient Curse of Freeway Frontage Excavated from Archives,” Cite 81, Spring 2010).
In this Hear Our Houston audio tour and contribution to Unexpected City, Musician Pete Gordon takes us on a looped walk around Midtown where he has owned and operated The Continental Club for ten years. 3700 Main used to be a general store in the 1920s and is now a thriving music venue and bar run by Pete, who loves preserving the old architecture while importing some of Austin’s quirkiness after the original Continental Club. I personally recommend stopping by on a Monday night to hear the masterful contemporary tango composer and piano man Glover Gill. Sink into a Southern pace and the pats of Pete’s cowboy boots while he recalls the area’s evolution over the past ten years, marvels at his favorite buildings, and hopes for preservation of historic architecture moving forward. Listen by clicking on the link below:
Midtown by Pete Gordon
Cover image cropped from Monu issue #14.
Houston has always had a tricky relationship with historic preservation. Unlike numerous other global cities, Houston often allows its older structures to grow over with weeds or be demolished, eventually making way for new development. Traditional preservationism would imply that this approach is morally wrong: not to preserve architectural history is to lose it forever.
Yet both the new issue of MONU: Magazine on Urbanism and a recent show called Cronocaos, curated by Rem Koolhaas at the New Museum in New York, question our common approach to preservation. Should old buildings be preserved in a pristine state forever, or should they be allowed to remain an active part of a city, even if they continue to deteriorate from use? Has historic preservation done more damage to cities than good, by airbrushing and sanitizing them for tourists and the wealthy, while making them less accessible and useful to citizens? The image portrayed by Koolhaas is of preservationists cleaning facades, scrubbing interiors, and then putting up metaphorical velvet ropes that prevent users from getting too close to the architecture—“please do not touch. Even clean hands can harm the art….etc.” Even the term preservation implies an object sealed off from the effects of time, petrified, as it were.