The Voice for Texas Architecture

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The 12,000-sf renovation was prompted by an outdated aesthetic and lack of overall functionality.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.