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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.