Behind the Scenes

If God is in the details, Kendall/Heaton Associates is a prophet. Since 1978, this discreet Houston firm has been the hidden wizard behind many noteworthy buildings in Texas and beyond — designed by such internationally famous architects as Tadao Ando (Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth), Norman Foster (Winspear Opera House in Dallas), REX Architecture and OMA (Wyly Theatre in Dallas and Milstein Hall at Cornell University), Rafael Moneo (Audrey Jones Beck Building for the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston), Renzo Piano (Kimbell Art Museum expansion in Fort Worth), Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa, SANAA (Toledo Museum of Art Glass Pavilion in Toledo, Ohio), Yoshio Taniguchi (Asia Society Texas Center in Houston), and others. Kendall/Heaton Associates is a unique practice exclusively devoted to the role of architect of record. They collaborate with design architects and manage details — be they architectural, technical, production, contractual, or administrative. They act as facilitators and problem-solvers. They are the people behind the scenes that make things work.

Before founding their office, Bill Kendall and Jim Heaton were both partners in the office of S.I. Morris Associates in Houston. Morris was the architect of record for downtown Houston’s landmark Pennzoil Place (1975) designed by Johnson/Burgee and developed by Gerald D. Hines. Bill Kendall helped manage the project for Morris. With that experience, Kendall and Heaton focused their own firm specifically on architect of record services. One of their first major commissions was again with Johnson/Burgee for 101 California Street, a 48-story high-rise in San Francisco. More importantly, the project’s developer was again the Houston-based Gerald D. Hines. Over the years, Kendall/Heaton has realized numerous high-rise buildings throughout the United States with Hines and architects such as Pelli Clarke Pelli, Robert A.M. Stern, Pickard Chilton, SOM, and HOK. With the Alice Pratt Brown Hall for the Rice University Shepherd School of Music (1991) by Ricardo Bofill and the Glassell Junior School of Art and Administration Building (1994) for the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston by Carlos Jiménez, the firm began to diversify and expand into the market for cultural institutions. Clients for cultural projects apparently placed great value on the management skills that the firm had developed in its commercial projects.

Though Jim Heaton died in 1992 and Bill Kendall in 2013, their firm continues to thrive with 88 employees: 74 architects including 15 principals, seven interior architects, and seven support staff. The firm does not run on a studio system; rather, architects follow designs from beginning to end and move from one project type to another in order to form well-rounded professionals and maintain a consistent culture of quality and knowledge across the firm. The belief is that lessons learned from one building type can often lead to unexpected benefits when applied to other building types. And there are certainly many lessons learned, and many skills added to the firm’s professional repertoire as each new design architect shares his or her own values, experience, and knowledge.

Kendall/Heaton’s collaboration with Tadao Ando for The Modern in Fort Worth is something of a lucky coincidence. When Osaka-based Ando was seeking a local collaborator for The Modern, Kendall/Heaton was not yet as well known for their cultural projects. As the story goes, Ando asked Renzo Piano (who was then completing the Kansai International Airport in Osaka) if he could recommend an architect of record in Texas. Piano’s suggestion was the Houston firm of Richard Fitzgerald with whom he had worked for the Menil Collection. Fitzgerald, having closed his firm in the meantime, suggested Kendall/Heaton — and the match was made.

For the Modern Art Museum, Kendall/Heaton traveled to Japan to visit Ando’s projects and job sites in order to better understand the methods necessary to match the quality of his trademark concrete. There they found dozens of carpenters wearing soft slippers as they moved across meticulously crafted formwork. Upon returning to the U.S., the architects plunged into extensive research and sought out various formwork systems and concrete placement techniques. They then made multiple mock-ups until they arrived at a finish that met Ando’s standards.

At the Winspear, one of Norman Foster’s preoccupations was the precision of the curtain wall that surrounds the volume of the performance hall: Mullions should be minimal in size, and their corners should be sharp. Foster’s desired glass type was not commonly available in the United States, and paint finishes were to be of a specific color and texture. Kendall/Heaton sought out the few companies worldwide that had the capacity to deliver an acceptable product, and the firm Seele, headquartered near Munich, was selected. In the end, virtually a complete curtain wall system made in Germany was imported to Dallas.

Rem Koolhaas’ Milstein Hall is an expansion of the College of Art, Architecture, and Planning at Cornell University. The project is dominated by a large elevated mass, the “horizontal plate,” that links two pre-existing buildings, houses studio spaces, and cantilevers 

almost 50 feet toward another, smaller building, the Foundry. The cantilever is critical to the formal composition. Initially, it was even bigger, pushing closer to the one-story, wood structure Foundry building.

During an early design review with Koolhaas at his office in Rotterdam, the team was grouped around a model to discuss the structure. From the back of the room, Kendall/Heaton had the unhappy role of pointing out that the exposed steel trusses of the cantilever would require fireproofing because of their proximity to the Foundry. Though Koolhaas was not pleased and resisted, the cantilever was eventually reduced to just a little less than the dimension that would have required fireproofing.

Rafael Moneo brought relatively small bronze samples from Spain to Houston to be replicated for interior and exterior finishes for his Audrey Jones Beck Building for the MFAH. A subcontractor in Chicago was found who eventually succeeded in reproducing the dark bronze tone using four different chemicals and 19 distinct steps. When the acceptable “formula” was concocted, the contractor retained it as proprietary information.

Travertine was the original material Renzo Piano considered for cladding his Kimbell Art Museum pavilion in Fort Worth. The stone would be a response to Louis Kahn’s earlier building that it faces. When he changed his mind and decided to use architectural concrete instead, Kendall/Heaton was off on another adventure with this fluid material. Piano admired the concrete work that Tadao Ando had achieved for his renovations to the Palazzo Grassi in Venice, and he wanted to use this Italian example as a touchstone but obtain an even higher quality finish. In order to achieve that goal, the same Italian concrete consultants and contractors came to Fort Worth to assist in developing specifications and executing mock-ups. Some of the Italian specialists stayed for over a year and formed a team with U.S. subcontractors to realize the project. Little was left to chance, and even Italian concrete vibrators were shipped to Texas in order to guarantee the desired effect.

If Piano opted for concrete over stone for the Kimbell, limestone is a key material for Yoshio Taniguchi’s Asia Society Texas Center. Taniguchi is partial to a Jura limestone from specific quarries in Germany, and the coloration and figuring he desires come only from a certain depth in the quarry — Level 14. Kendal/Heaton made a trip to Germany to verify that the stone being quarried for Houston met the quality of the sample approved by Taniguchi. As with many of the projects with international architects, Kendall/Heaton also researched American metal products and finishes to find close matches for those that Taniguchi typically specifies in Japan.

Kendall/Heaton was selected as architect of record to collaborate with SANAA on the Toledo Art Museum Glass Pavilion. (They were already known in Toledo, having worked with Pelli Clarke Pelli on the Owens-Corning World Headquarters there.) SANAA’s building appears extremely simple, but it is technically complex. Most everything in the building, including the structure and roof thickness, has been reduced to a minimum. The finished plan of discreet, rounded, glass-enclosed forms within a square envelope appears diagrammatic. Well into the design phase, Kendall/Heaton was obliged to assure others on the team that the project had indeed progressed beyond simple bubble diagrams!

One of the keys to Kendall/Heaton’s success is that they modify the way they work to suit each different design architect and each new project. Some design architects send team members to work in their office, but most do not. Some maintain control of all details; others do not. Sometimes, Kendall/Heaton has a contract with the client; sometimes, with the design architect; and sometimes there is a three-way contract. They believe that it is critical for both the design architect and the architect of record to be involved from beginning to end of the project to achieve the design intent and a high level of quality. In most every case, Kendall/Heaton accepts full legal liability for the project.

Web meetings and Revit models have made professional life easier, compared to the old days of frequent flights and FedEx. Over time, Kendall/Heaton has found that there are differences in what architects and clients in different countries view as “quality.” Europeans expect a much longer life for roofing systems, for example, and also anticipate a higher unit cost on enclosure systems. Building codes are no longer all that different from one place to another.

For an architect of record, success is also in the details. By tapping into the experience and talents of numerous other architects, engineers, and consultants as well as a variety of materials and methods of construction around the world, the 10th floor of the Post Oak Boulevard tower that houses Kendall/Heaton’s office has become a unique sanctum of professional know-how.

Ronnie L. Self is an architect based in Houston.