The Voice for Texas Architecture

The Vision of Paolo Soleri

More than 10 years in the making, Lisa Scafuro’s documentary “The Vision of Paolo Soleri: Prophet in the Desert” can be classified as nothing less than a labor of love. And Scafuro, who served as the project’s producer, writer, director, and editor, is at last reaping the benefits of her labor as the film continues to be screened across the country.

The story captures the life and work of the late Italian architect Paolo Soleri (1919–2013). Born in Turin, Soleri move to the United States and was an apprentice under Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin West. Soleri established himself as an iconic figure of counterculture living through his Arcosanti settlement in the high desert of Arizona and his philosophy of “arcology” — the symbiosis of architecture and ecology.

“I first met Paolo in the summer of 1996,” said Scafuro. “I was immediately intrigued by his work and quickly wanted to know more.” She discovered a wealth of information and documentation about Soleri’s life form the 1940s to the 1980s. “I realized that Paolo’s work had long been voiced to the public by his wife, Carolyn “Colly” Soleri, but when she passed in 1982, the information-sharing ceased.”

So Scafuro set out to revive the documentation of the man behind the vision. But with Soleri’s busy schedule, filming did not take place until 2002 and took over a decade to complete. After years of dedication, Scafuro’s dream was realized when she was able to screen a rough cut of the film to Soleri on his 93rd birthday. “Paolo was such a humble man, but you could tell that he was pleased with how the documentary turned out,” said Scafuro.

Architect, urban planner, and environmentalist Soleri’s principles touched and made an impace on the lives of many. Scafuro captures his story through a series of interviews with “wish list” individuals — ranging from architect Steven Holl to 60 Minutes journalist Morley Safer — whose stories weave the tale of Soleri’s life and career.

“The Vision of Paolo Soleri: Prophet in the Desert” allows the legacy of Soleri to live on. Scafuro says it best: “Paolo was so much more than an architect. He remains a relevant contemporary of the built environment that we should all take a chance to learn from.”

Charlotte Friedley is the communications specialist for the Texas Society of Architects.

This article is online content for the September/October 2014 issue of Texas Architect.

Do Ho Suh

Beginning on September 20, The Contemporary Austin will feature work by Korean-born sculptor and installation artist Do Ho Suh. His first major solo exhibition in the U.S. in more than a decade will be on display at the Jones Center on Congress Avenue and the Betty and Edward Marcus Sculpture Park at Laguna Gloria.

“Do Ho Suh has assembled a collection of pieces that seamlessly thread the museum’s two sites together,” said Heather Pesanti, curator at The Contemporary Austin. “The exhibition focuses on a mini-survey of his architecturally inspired works based on domestic spaces and objects.”

Do Ho Suh’s meditations on the built environment explore the transient and impermanent quality of the “home” — an issue that increasingly confronts the Austin population. The “348 West 22nd Street” series, for example, is characterized by ephemeral, sheer structures created as an homage to the artist’s various living spaces in New York. It is presented at the Jones Center alongside the “Specimen” series, which features intimately-scaled everyday objects rendered in fabric stretched over stainless steel pieces.

Do Ho Suh’s dynamic installation “Net-Work” has been re-fabricated for display at Laguna Gloria and will be installed along the shores of Lake Austin. Inspired by the artist’s observations of Japanese seaside villages, “Net-Work” mimics the configuration of a fishing net while being comprised of thousands of intricately-fashioned, gold and silver human figures seamlessly joined at the hands and feet. An installation that would not be at home unless lightly touching the water, the metallic net promises to glimmer and sway in the current.

The Contemporary Austin’s Executive Director Louis Grachos notes that the exhibition is particularly appropriate for Austin: “With a population that has always been identified by its creative class, it makes sense that Austin should host one of the most highly respected and critically acclaimed artists working today.”

Charlotte Friedley is the communications specialist for the Texas Society of Architects. 

This article is online content for the September/October 2014 issue of Texas Architect.

Renovating for Play

In 1985, Houston’s Collier Library opened its doors for the first time to its Oak Forest patrons. When the building at 6200 Pinemont Drive once again opened its doors in 2011, the library had undergone a full interior renovation by the local firm Brave Architecture. The Collier Library is the third in a series of joint-venture renovations by Brave and the Houston Public Library that are creating a standard for future rehabilitations of libraries throughout the city.

The 12,000-sf renovation was prompted by an outdated aesthetic and lack of overall functionality. Working within the existing footprint, Brave executed minimal, judicious interventions to redefine the library spatially, establishing distinct areas for a variety of age groups through the use of new partitions and specialized branding.

The radial arrangement expands out from the welcome desk at the center of the plan, a position which eases staff monitoring while providing a central location to cater to each group area. A minimally invasive series of glass partitions enforces the radial plan, and supporting super graphics and color strategies identify the distinct adult, teen, and kid sections. The color code — blue for the Adult Area, red for the Teen Area, and white for the Kid Area — is enhanced by etched glass signage labeling each space.

Brave tailored each area for the specific user group. Thoughtful detail defines the furniture, color, millwork, signage, scale, and spatial layout of the three sections.

The Adult Area adheres to more conventional library features: Chair and table heights are standard, and there are several bays of computers and numerous tall stacks filled with books. But Brave designed the Teen and Kid areas with a contemporary audience in mind. Vibrant red and blue partitions enclose this space, an ode to a generation defined by technology and social interaction. Adorned with

fewer stacks and more computer stations, the Teen Area has sleek furnishings with a variety of seating accommodations that range from paired high-chair tables to casual low-slung lounge sofas, which appeal to teenagers who embrace the evolving definition of how a library should look and feel.

Walking along the entry corridor toward the welcome desk, guests are immediately drawn to an area that can most adequately be described as for play — the Kids Area. Bold-colored furniture enlivens the space while also helping to identify distinct activity areas — different hues mark areas for reading, sitting, and exploring. Houston-based artist Bree Wristers — better known as BREE “The Mural Girl” — was brought on by Brave to paint an anamorphic typology that inspires readers of all ages to further investigate the world of their imagination through reading. The text painted on the library wall bleeds onto a wooden cubby installation, which was purposefully left empty and reads differently depending on one’s vantage point, ultimately reinforcing a childhood sense of wonder and discovery.

While elements of the existing building and previous library design, such as the wooden ceiling and grid of fluorescent lightings, remain, the collaborative interventions made by Brave Architecture and Houston Public Library have created a newly invigorated space, which not only to serves as a model for future library rehabilitations, but also embraces design solutions for the evolving needs and desires of contemporary libraries.

Charlotte Friedley is the communications specialist for the Texas Society of Architects.

This article is “More Online” content for the May/June 2014 issue of Texas Architect.

An Interview with Brooke Hodge, Guest Curator at the Nasher

On September 13, the Nasher Sculpture Center opens its third exhibition dedicated to architecture. “Provocations: The Architecture and Design of Heatherwick Studio” details the iterative process of the wildly creative London-based firm of Thomas Heatherwick. Texas Architect Editor Catherine Gavin interviewed guest curator Brooke Hodge about the exhibition.

How did you choose the exhibition materials?

Because Heatherwick Studio is not as well known in the U.S. as they are in the U.K., I wanted to show visitors the full range of the practice, from small objects to very large buildings and developments. Each project is represented by materials that architects and designers use in the design process — models, prototypes, inspiration, or research objects — to test their ideas. The film and video footage shows how the actual object or structure (i.e. the Plank furniture, the Olympic Cauldron, or the Rolling Bridge) works. In architecture exhibitions, the real thing (the building) can never be shown, since there is only one of it and it’s too big to fit into a gallery space. Because of this, a number of different types of materials need to work together to explain the project and the design process. Also, visitors can’t touch things in museums, so the simple film demonstrations of how someone works are really important. Films are also an important part of Heatherwick’s design process, which really focuses on problem solving and making sure things work properly. The photographs show the finished buildings or structures. If a project is still in process, then we have included the studio’s rendering (or visualization) of what it will look like.

What inspired the special section dedicated to Heatherwick Studio’s creative process?

The creative process of designers and architects is something that I don’t think most museum visitors understand, so I wanted to open a window onto how Heatherwick and his team think about their projects. The studio is really like a laboratory for problem solving, and they start each project with a question, or provocation (hence the title of the show), and then work through many iterations to come up with the best way to answer that question.

What does the work of Heatherwick Studio say about the current state and the future of design and architecture?

I think the work of Heatherwick Studio shows that it’s possible for a studio to be working on many scales at once and without a particular signature style (i.e., not all of their buildings look the same). The studio’s signature is ingenuity. The number of projects the studio has in Asia shows how much building is going on there and also that clients there may be more willing to take a risk with a studio that doesn’t have the worldwide recognition of a Norman Foster or a Frank Gehry, because they are interested in the ingenuity of Heatherwick’s approach to each individual project.

Why is the Nasher an appropriate venue for this exhibition?

I think the Nasher is appropriate because it has shown several other architecture exhibitions in the past. Many of the Heatherwick models and prototypes are very sculptural, and we thought they would be amazing in the Nasher’s galleries, which are especially well suited to three-dimensional objects.

This article is online content for the September/October 2014 issue of Texas Architect.

Soto: The Houston Penetrable


The first question I ask myself when walking into (and I mean into) Jesús Rafael Soto’s “Houston Penetrable” is, “What would Mies think?” Granted, I ask myself that a lot, having spent a good deal trying to think as Mies van der Rohe did; however, in this case, with the work installed inside Cullinan Hall, the van der Rohe-designed addition to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston’s Caroline Wiess Law Building, the question truly makes sense.

It is necessary to walk through the work, experiencing the piece from all angles. The PVC tubes gather around your body, tangling up and hanging onto you as you walk from one side to the other. Looking toward the ceiling allows one to notice the simple yet intensive rigging system — a feat of engineering. Standing perfectly still and looking straight into the suspended pipes, tiny alleys appear, beckoning you to walk through them. The upper floor of the pavilion allows a view from afar, with the glowing yellow orb floating amongst movement from other visitors.

Soto, whose work is well known in South America (he was born in Venezuela), Europe, and Asia, where he realized many projects, conceived of the site-specific architectural work shortly before his death in 2005. This remarkable installation, which took 10 years to produce and install, is, by any standards, the ultimate piece in Soto’s oeuvre of penetrables. He was a pioneer in the exploration of movement as it relates to both the object and the participation of the viewer, and his work in Houston is completed only when the viewer enters into the work. Hand-painted PVC tubes dangle 28 feet from ceiling to floor — with the bright yellow orb swaying slightly in the middle of the space. Weighing 

over 15,000 pounds and needing a team of architects, producers, and engineers working together to produce it, “Houston Penetrable” is, honestly, somewhat magical.

Soto began his series of penetrables in the late 1960s, and they were mostly temporary, on a smaller scale, and installed both indoors and outdoors. His work with penetrables grew from early sculptures and wall works. They are not kinetic in the sense that they move on their own; the movement happens when the viewer walks by the sculpture, creating illusions that animate the sculpture to the naked eye. The movement helped create another type of space — a space occupied not only by the object, but now also by the person activating that object. With these works, Soto is also classified as an optical artists, and he participated in “The Responsive Eye,” a historic and controversial exhibition at MoMA in 1965. The “Houston Penetrable” is Soto’s only indoor, site-specific permanent installation; a small collection of sculptures and wall works are on view in the lobby, creating a context for the larger work installed beyond.

Returning to my original question of what van der Rohe would think, I know he would be pleased — dare I say excited — to see what Soto envisioned for the building. Sometimes, it is as simple as glass, steel, and concrete, and other times, it includes painted PVC pipe and a plethora of visitors.

Rachel Adams is an Austin-based curator and writer. 

This article is online content for the July/August 2014 issue of Texas Architect.

Clients’ Corner: Vicki Faust’s Boutique Hotels

Within Vicki Faust’s growing collection of boutique hotels exists the miniature retreat of the Art Barn. As a stand-alone addition to the Kimber Modern SOCO, the Art Barn remains true to the hotelier’s theme of architectural connectivity to the community through the chalkboard facade treatment displayed on the prominent elevation of the building. – photo by Julie Pizzo Wood​

Vicki Faust and Kimber Cavendish have got it right. As Austin’s hospitality industry reaches skyscraper heights, they’ve established a niche within the industry. Their intimate boutique hotels began with the petite Kimber Modern in the city’s South Congress neighborhood. Designed by Austin-based Baldridge Architects, the hotel was a 2012 Texas Society of Architects Design Award recipient and set a new standard for boutique hotels in the city. Faust and Cavendish recently broke ground on their second venture with Baldridge Architects, the Kimber Modern Rainey, and I took the opportunity to catch up with Faust about the Kimber Modern’s success.

Faust is the first to say that she and Cavendish are relative newcomers to the hospitality industry, but first-hand experience has taught the duo a lot since 2005, when they first approached Burton Baldridge, AIA, about designing their hotel. The South Congress location was challenging, to say the least. But Faust recalls that Baldridge’s proposal quickly stood out amongst the other designs. The building cut into the slope, almost becoming one with the steep topography. “Burton gave us a little bit extra in his design,” says Faust. “It made all the difference in the world. He delivered a livable piece of art.”

Tel: 512 441 1700

Instead of perching the building on top of the primary slope, Baldridge Architects cut the building mass of the Kimber Modern SOCO into the hill while maneuvering the building mass to accommodate the existing live oak population. – photo by Casey Dunn

When Faust and Cavendish decided to expand and construct Kimber Modern Rainey, they wanted to maintain the look and feel of their brand while also pushing the design envelope. Baldridge was a natural fit. The four-story, approximately 30-room downtown hotel will be nestled among numerous bars and restaurants and not too far away from other larger hotels under construction. The hope is for the Kimber Modern Rainey, which is programmed with a restaurant, bar, lounge, and pool, to become a neighborhood hot spot. “We wanted another standout building,” says Faust. “We’re not copying anybody. We are creating something completely new.” 

The four-storied Kimber Modern Rainey represents a departure from Kimber Modern SOCO in terms of the building’s urban context; however, by partnering with Baldridge Architects once more, Faust and Cavendish are ensuring a consistency in the look and feel. – courtesy of Baldridge Architects​

One would think that, between running a successful boutique hotel and managing the construction of another, Faust would have her hands too full for yet another project. Not so. “Kimber jokes that my epitaph will read, “I have an idea!’” jokes Faust, who also made time recently to spearhead a small addition to the Kimber portfolio. The Art Barn is a one-room space designed on the footprint of an 1800s carriage house. Faust collaborated with Austin-based Derik Demerey to create a Corten silhouette of the old structure and then finished the street facade with an art wall featuring New Orleans-based artist Candy Chang’s “Before I Die…” project. The building’s chalkboard facade treatment has transcended the aesthetic dimension to become an active and ever-changing reflection of community participation.

Art Barn, located in a primarily residential neighborhood, addresses the street with its unique solid facade. – photo by Julie Pizzo Wood

“Several guests have commented that they enjoy hearing the faint sounds of people writing and drawing on the board,” says Faust. “The community and the neighborhood like the interaction.”

Stray bits and pieces of chalk lay scattered at the base of the Art Barn’s wall. – photo by Julie Pizzo Wood

As lovers of modern design, Faust and Cavendish wanted to be “a part of something bigger.” The pair has definitely accomplished this. Their work is not only contributing to the design conversation in Austin but also setting a high bar to be matched. Their partnership with Baldridge Architects has successfully achieved their aspirations and made them really happy in the process. “I find absolute joy and wonderment everyday as I walk into the courtyard of the Kimber Modern,” says Faust.

Charlotte Friedley is the communications specialist for the Texas Society of Architects.

This article is online content for the July/August 2014 issue of Texas Architect.

Clients’ Corner: Gilson Riecken on his Alamo Heights Home

Gilson Riecken sits on the front porch of Hacienda Ja Ja, his Lake|Flato-designed home in Alamo Heights. – photo by Frank Ooms​

San Antonio attorney Gilson Riecken is a unique client: He practiced architecture and city planning in Texas for 17 years before becoming an attorney and developing a legal practice focused on design and construction litigation. When Riecken and his partner, Emily Sano, an independent art curator, decided to build a home in Alamo Heights just north of downtown San Antonio, they called Lake|Flato’s Tenna Florian, AIA. Hacienda Ja Ja was completed in May 2010 and is a 2,260-sf three-bedroom, two-and-a-half bathroom house in Alamo Heights. Designed to fit within 30 existing live oak trees, the house both respects and embraces the landscape.

Riecken and Florian recently spoke to Catherine Gavin, editor of Texas Architect, about the LEED Platinum-certified house. 

Can you briefly describe the state of the property when you purchased the house?

The trees were the reason we bought the property. When we purchased it, it had five structures on it. They were all of varying heights, constructed during different periods, and in general disrepair. The trees had literally taken over the all the unbuilt property. An 18-ft tree had grown up in front of one house, pushing the porch up and blocking the front door, while a 38-ft tree had pushed the kitchen off its foundation. The structural integrity of all but one of the buildings had been compromised. The Alamo Heights Architectural Review Board agreed that the trees were more significant than the four buildings and unanimously approved the demolition, and the city approved new construction and setback variances in large part because of how well Lake|Flato’s design preserved the trees.

Hacienda Ja Ja was designed to fit within 30 existing live oak trees – photo by Frank Ooms​

When did you decide to engage an architect?

From the moment we started looking at the property, we had Tenna involved. I have strong personal ties to Lake|Flato and have always admired their work. It was important to us that we work with someone who understood who we are as people and how we live. Fortunately, we already had that built into our friendship with Tenna.

How did you all work together during the design process?

The design process was very fluid. We were living in California during the design and construction, and we even went to Europe for three months during critical design development work. We had a few conferences in Texas but mostly communicated with Tenna via Skype and email. She regularly sent us drawings to review.

What elements of the design reflect Lake|Flato’s understanding of your personalities?

The kitchen and dedicated office are all Emily. Emily wanted her own “suite” within the larger house, and she wanted the ability to throw a dinner party without the guests converging on her in the kitchen work space. Tenna created a subtle separation between the dining area and kitchen, as well as separate social and working spaces within the kitchen, both of which have worked out well.

The home features a subtle separation between the dining room and kitchen. – photo by Ryann Ford

In addition, a second “kitchen office” and half-bathroom in the corridor from the kitchen to garage complete her suite. For me, one comment from Tenna that highlighted the depth of her understanding of who we are and how we live occurred when she told me why she had located the study door where she had: my desk needed to stay outside of the sightlines in the primary corridor. As she explained, “I know what your desk looks like.” Needless to say, you do not see my desk from the corridor — even with the 4-ft door fully open. 

We also wanted natural light and ample space for displaying art. Lake|Flato’s one-room-deep houses and use of porches and atria lend themselves to ample natural light and cross ventilation. Our house has all of this. It is essentially two wings — public and private sections — separated by an entry and interior courtyard that bring daylight into the middle of the house.

Daylight and space for displaying art were very important to the homeowners. Lake|Flato’s trademark one-room-deep design provides abundant natural light. – photo by Frank Ooms

The public and private wings of the home are separated by the entry and an interior courtyard. – photo by Frank Ooms

We are particularly happy with how the home fits into the site. Tenna went to great lengths to protect the trees. One corner of the house cantilevers more than eight feet to avoid interfering with a tree next to the northwest corner of the master bath. And the concrete pile that supports one corner of the porch is a feat of architectural engineering gymnastics that avoids all of the roots of the largest oak on the site.

Florian’s porch design skillfully avoided all the roots of the largest oak. – photo by Frank Ooms

What Emily and I didn’t realize was how much we would enjoy the way breezes and light pass through our home. From our bed, we can see the first rays of shimmering morning light on the trees, which turn everything golden. And in the evening, our rooms glow golden again. Tenna placed the windows perfectly so that most rooms capture the changing light for us to enjoy throughout the day.  

Tell me a little bit about the sustainable features of the house.

The house reached net-zero status in 2012, which we never expected. We had planned to cover approximately 90 percent of the energy bills through the combined efforts of smart site orientation, strategic overhangs, rainwater collection, multi-zoned HVAC systems, daylighting, and solar panels. Details like the motorized clerestory windows and shades make it easy to live sustainably in the house. We also installed an energy monitor to measure the performance of the house. Although we did that to allow Lake|Flato to learn from a post-occupancy evaluation, it has proved invaluable to us as a tool, allowing us to understand how our behaviors impact energy consumption, and even to discover and correct problems — like a blown fuse in the solar inverter — long before we might have otherwise noticed anything.

This post is online content for the May/June 2014 issue of Texas Architect.

Capturing the Alamo: A Database of Architectural History

Memorable first as the 18th century Mission San Antonio de Valero and later as the military compound that witnessed the historic Battle of the Alamo in 1836, the Alamo has changed form and use throughout its history. Created as an eminent specimen of New World Spanish ecclesiastic architecture, the mission’s expanding complex of stone, mud, and wooden structures evolved greatly over time, serving as a military garrison and barracks, a hospital, a general store, and intermittent abandoned ruin.

Each successive shift in the Alamo’s use has been accompanied by various modifications to its buildings, ranging from whole additions to the eventual integration of HVAC and electric lighting. Rainwater erosion and heat-cool cycles have contributed to a more subtle — and possibly concerning — transformation of the historical site. A comprehensive analysis that merges digital surveying technology with observational and historical data now seeks to contribute to a more in-depth understanding of the Alamo in its current state, and to catalogue the various lives that the historic site has seen.

Three-dimensional digital scanning was among the emergent technologies employed by a research team led by Professor Robert Warden, RA, director of Texas A&M’s Center for Heritage Conservation. Using a baseline reference survey as a spatial framework, laser scanning equipment gathered point data from multiple surfaces throughout the Alamo complex. With integrated photographic optics, color and textural information is compiled with locational and point cloud data to create a three-dimensional, high resolution visual database.

The resultant model offers detailed access to multiple sets of building information, available at a variety of scales.  “We can manipulate the view to see the Alamo as a whole, as well as zoom into an exact spot on a wall and analyze the plaster,” explains A&M graduate researcher Amber Holden-O’Donnell. “This multitude of information in one medium would be very difficult to get without the laser scanner.”

In addition to the implementation of laser scanning technology, the research team has utilized sensitive digital photographic equipment to bolster their three-dimensional model with a series of detailed panoramic images. GigaPan, a proprietary robotic camera mount system initially developed for NASA, was used at the Alamo to capture hundreds of close-up snapshots of the building’s interior and exterior. These albums of digital information were then “stitched” together to compose the equivalent of highly detailed elevations.

To augment the two-dimensional panoramic analysis, researchers used a photographic method for deriving three-dimensional information. Photogrammetry is a process that records multiple high-resolution images of an object from various angles. The results are often more precise than those generated from the laser scans. By integrating the high-definition imaging analysis with the existing photographic record, the research team has contributed extensively to an ongoing visual library of the Alamo.

The vast array of interrelated digital, visual, and technical data that’s been compiled through the A&M team’s research is beginning to generate a precise picture of the current Alamo, as well as a three-dimensional digital timeline of the site throughout history. “Our collection of information will help keep track of history and help others learn and be more aware of the subtle changes the Alamo is always going through,” said Holden-O’Donnell.

According to Professor Warden, aside from its significance as a research and conservation database, the project may have even greater value as instructional instrument. “The final goal of the project would be to overlay the model with more detailed educational information,” said Warden. “We’d like the data available to the public, too, so that there is a deeper educational aspect to the research.”

Phil Zimmerman, Assoc. AIA, is an intern architect at Lake|Flato Architects in San Antonio.

This article is “More Online” content for Texas Architect March/April 2014.

Art in the Park


Hermann Park is a 445-acre ecological and cultural gem in the center of Houston. The Hermann Park Conservancy is key to the park’s success as a public space and has commissioned an accomplished body of artists to display work that speaks to the mission and history of the park.

“Art in the Park” will celebrate the centennial anniversary of the park throughout 2014. The program will be made up of nine installations of loans and site-specific commissions by big names in the contemporary art scene, including artists Trenton Doyle Hancock, Ugo Rondinone, Louise Bourgeois, and Orly Genger. Patrick Dougherty’s “Boogie Woogie” promises to appeal to architects throughout the city and state.

Dougherty has completed more than 200 installations of incredible stick sculptures. A professional in hospital and health administration until the age of 36, Dougherty left that world to focus on his passion for primitive construction techniques, and today, he is an architect’s artist.

His iconic “Stickwork” series showcases his craftsmanship and in-depth exploration of sculptural, structural forms made up of intertwined, woven tree saplings. Dougherty gathers local flora native to the area, and each sculpture speaks to the sense of place where it is installed. It is a body of work that respects regional ecology and the natural lifespan of the materials used to build the pieces. The inevitable result is that the sculpture decomposes, returning to the earth. Nothing is wasted and no artificial materials are introduced nor left behind.

With his piece in Hermann Park, “Boogie Woogie,” over two tons of Chinese tallow samplings were collected from the future site of Generation Park off Beltway 8 in northeast Houston. More than 1,000 man-hours, with the help of 150 volunteers, resulted in a piece that 

speaks volumes of Hermann Park’s rich history. It was envisioned by Dougherty as a “Garden of Eden.” The woven, dense mesh of Chinese tallow is a gathering space where people of all ages can wander effortlessly. Set beneath a series of large live oak trees at the foot of the reflecting pool, the sculpture sits quietly nestled in the foliage, blending seamlessly with the surrounding landscape.

From a distance, “Boogie Woogie” appears as a solid adobe structure, yet the sculpture is transparent with a series of openings that thoughtfully frame the surrounding park from the inside and capture the activity looking inward. The interwoven texture of the piece flows with ease along an internal path as if the structure were driven upward by the wind and frozen in time. As in much of Dougherty’s work, the structure allows each person an individual journey that will change as “Boogie Woogie” deteriorates, evolving over its lifespan.

As one of many pieces to be installed over the next year to celebrate the centennial anniversary of Hermann Park, “Boogie Woogie” is an important addition to public art in Houston. With over six million visitors a year, the park is an essential resource for the city — it is irreplaceable. Urban settings ripe with activity and interaction are constantly evolving and changing. Parks where people can simply “be” are often understated and overlooked.

The centennial anniversary provides a good opportunity to focus on the role of the Hermann Park and its value for the residents of Houston. Although it is a shame that visitors will only be able to experience “Boogie Woogie” firsthand for a limited time, it seems fitting that something this in tune with the mission of Hermann Park will ultimately decompose, returning to the ground for the next 100 years.

Michael Friebele, Assoc. AIA, is an architect in Dallas.

This article is online content for Texas Architect March/April 2014.

Reflections | Design Conference 2014



“You can read about this in journals, but you don’t get all the nuances, the humor, and the poignant aspects of the projects unless you are face to face.”

– Bibiana Bright Dykema, AIA

2014 Design Conference participants warmly welcomed a diverse group of speakers, including Rand Elliott, FAIA, of Oklahoma City, Victor Legorreta of Mexico City, Marlon Blackwell, FAIA, of Fayetteville, Ark., and Victor Trahan, FAIA, of New Orleans.
Kicking off the event on Friday afternoon, Rand Elliot, FAIA urged attendees to fear not our “ugly drawings,” but instead find the beauty and appreciate the intricacies within our imperfect sketches. Elliot reiterated the poignant contention with design faced “when drawings become precious” and knowing that “your attention is in the wrong place.” The audience heard not only about the influential individuals that inspire Elliot’s work, but also about his love affair with Marfa and his ode to Donald Judd, RJ Marfa. 
Saturday morning began with a presentation from Mexico City’s own Victor Legorreta. Emboldened by the architectural vernacular, Legorreta illustrates this principle in his work by means of building mass, pattern, and spirited color palette. Whether located in Dallas, Texas or Doha, Qatar, his designs speak to a modern, regional sensibility while maintaining palpable vibrancy.
Later that day, Marlon Blackwell, FAIA, a practitioner in “the land of Bill and the billion chickens”, demonstrated his versatility and deft ability to design within budgetary and material limitations. Blackwell enlightened conference participants with his designs that combat undesirable architectural typologies. His projects instead adopt the notion of “agency and agility” to seize spatial opportunities within project constraints.

“Architects throughout the world are looking for something different, something to break the rules, something new … you see all these components here.”

– Victor Legorreta

Wrapping up the event on Sunday, Victor Trahan, FAIA, related the immense power our buildings hold as ecological responders, gems within our communities, educators of architecture, celebrations of inevitable decay, and, on occasion, physical manifestations of failure. Trahan left us in a healthy state of questioning. As architecture continually evolves with technological innovation, Trahan posed that the profession grapple with this concept: “Just because we can do it, should we be doing it?”
The speakers each approached the conference theme in their own personal way, but as one of the attendees, Charlie Burris, AIA, commented, what emerged was the notion of “Borderlands” as “more than a physical/geographical element” — one that “expands into more abstract ideas such as the many ‘borders’ we all have in our practice and our lives.” Although they covered a wide array of projects and fields of interest, the presentations remained salient reminders of the powerful ability of architecture to shape environment, culture, community, and interchange.

“It was very interesting to learn about the personalities involved, the master planning of the campus as a whole and how it was implemented, adapted and changed over the years. It was enlightening.”

–Alan Roberts, AIA

In addition to these presentations, conference participants partook in tours of three Austin-area buildings. On Friday evening, they toured a Lake Austin home by San Antonio-based firm, Lake|Flato Architects. 
The tour was led by the homeowners, which allowed the guests to hear their personal accounts of building the residence and commissioning the extensive artwork collection housed within. The tour was followed by a reception at the Liz Tirrell residence, designed by Frank Welch, FAIA.
Saturday featured a tour of The University of Texas at Austin East Campus, led by Texas Architects past president and UT Austin architecture professor, Lawrence Speck, FAIA. With the 2012 Campus Master Plan and the Dell Medical School breaking ground this last year, the university has begun the process of stitching together the acclaimed historic buildings with the revolutionary, new constructions. The approval of the 2012 Campus Master Plan has brought about monumental re-development of the university, especially to the East Campus area, with the prior comprehensive plan being from 1999. The tour gave participants an incredible insight into the tremendous growth and re-imagining efforts taking place on the UT Austin campus. Conference participants explored the new Student Activities Center and Gates Dell Complex as well as visited the Norman Hackerman Building, Belo Center for New Media, and the renovation of the Jackson Geological Science Building. Concluding the tour, Speck gathered the conference participants on the hallowed Main Mall steps to relate the building history of the campus.
Throughout the weekend, the immense importance of “Borderlands” became clear. The vital role that practitioners within the surrounding states and sovereign nation bordering Texas, along with the projects located in these unique environments, make for responsive, vibrant communities and inspiring designs. As Legorreta said: “We need to need to know more about each other. Learning about what other architects are doing across [Texas’] borders is something that should be known.”

“I don’t think the conference outcomes are ever what has been anticipated… they are always so much richer and inspiring. This one was very special.”

– Charlie Burris, AIA 

Whether it was mingling with colleagues during Friday’s reception at the Tirrell residence or chatting over tacos at Torchy’s, or exchanges between the conference speakers and audience members, more than anything, 2014 Design Conference ignited conversations — conversations on the particulars on the creative process, on designing with ever-evolving technologies, on embracing project challenges as opportunity, and on the contextual and ecological responsibility of architects.
Regardless of the subject matter, both the casual and the coordinated dialogues highlighted the mutual passion we hold for the profession. “I am happy to see the passion these architects have for the profession. Without passion, there is no architecture,” said Legoretta. In a fast-paced field filled with projects and deadlines, the opportunity to get together face-to-face provides an unparalleled opportunity for inspiration.
This event would not have been possible conference organizers Michael Malone, AIA, and Mark T. Wellen, FAIA. Additionally, Texas Architects would like to thank all of the speakers, tour hosts, staff, and last but certainly not least, all the conference participants. Without your dedication to furthering the architectural profession, Design Conference 2014: Borderlands could not have been such an incredible success. 
Charlotte Friedley is the newest addition to the Texas Architects staff; she joined the Society as a communications specialist in January. A recent graduate of UT Austin’s Architecture and Urban Studies programs, Charlotte looks forward to lending her unique perspective to enriching untold architectural narratives.