Val Glitsch, FAIA, Texas Architects 2014 President

When Val Glitsch, FAIA, begins her presidency of the Texas Society of Architects in 2014, she will bring with her the experience of 30 years as principal of her own distinguished firm and 15 years of meaningful leadership with the Society’s programs. Her small architectural studio has produced a large number of exemplary projects that have been recognized with numerous honors and awards at the local, state, and national levels. Her work has been widely published and is often noted for its clarity, sensitive fit within its context, responsibility to its environment, and carefully detailed spatial sequences. 

In her engagement with Texas Architects, Glitsch has served on the Publications Committee (1997–2005, chair 2006–2007) and as a contributing editor. She has served as vice president of the Outreach Commission (2009–2010), chair of the Honor Awards Committee (2011–2012), and a member of the task force that revitalized the website to better communicate the vast number of resources and opportunities that the Society offers to both its members and the general public. 

A mix of early experiences provided a strong foundation for Glitsch’s work as an architect. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts (1976) and a Bachelor of Architecture (1978) from Rice University, and a Master of Architecture (1979) from Harvard Graduate School of Design. William Cannady, FAIA, one of Glitsch’s professors at Rice (and later her employer at Wm. T. Cannady & Associates) recalled, “Val had this uncanny ability to hit a problem running, solving it quickly and skillfully.” When Glitsch began her practice in the early ’80s it was a challenging economic time for architects, and her commissions were for small projects or renovations. She focused on putting materials together with economy of means, and, as an active participant in the construction and remodeling of her own first house, she refined her ideas about the act of making. 

One of her early commissions, the McAshan Townhouse, received a Progressive Architecture award in 1981, with jurors noting, “It is done artfully and without pretension.” Since then, she has completed over 80 houses, both new and remodel projects, each achieving a perfect balance of contextual sensitivity and design innovation. And her houses respond to unique client needs. The Bennett House+Studio (Texas Architects Design Award, 1993) demonstrates Glitsch’s flair for sectional complexity, which allows living and working spaces to elegantly connect and reference one another. Working outside an urban context, the Grinstead-Wood House (AIA Houston Design Award, 1998) reflects the beauty of its Wimberley site with massive stone walls that catch the Hill Country light and deep porches that offer expansive views. Val’s own house (AIA Houston Design Award, 2004) demonstrates the potential of a minimal footprint made larger by an elongated sequence of movement. Walking through a translucent gate along a slim pool, the small house reveals itself: a master class in the careful collage of materials. A burnished masonry wall begins outside and slips inside, becoming the backdrop to maple shelves holding a lifetime of artifacts: books read, mementos/souvenirs of places visited, sculptures made. A luminous photograph by her son, Eric Hester, hangs above her desk, and a steel handmade book about her daughter, Skyler Inman, sits on the table. The efficient 2,000-sf house is rich in detail and memory.

On a larger scale, Glitsch collaborated with Natalye Appel, FAIA, on the Unitarian Fellowship of Houston (AIA Houston Honor Award, 1995). Working with a modest budget, the two architects understood how careful orientation could result in a spectacular view and how humble materials could be transformed by meticulous detailing. During construction, the project superintendent was concerned about leaves from the wooded site falling on the exposed concrete. Appel recalled: “Val turned to me with a gleam in her eye and sketch paper in hand, and a few weeks later we were pounding around 200 custom-cut aluminum leaves into the slab as the concrete began to cure. Her knowledge, professionalism and talent, combined with her fun-loving nature, made the Unitarian Fellowship a great first collaboration for me, not to mention the beginning of a lifelong friendship.” 

In 2001, Glitsch began her work with New Hope Housing, and has since designed over 500 affordable housing units. She interprets the single-room occupancy typology in generous and innovative ways, designing communities where individual rooms and gathering spaces have the same level of detail as a custom home. Those rooms open to garden areas with ample seating, lush native landscaping, and shaded walkways and are infused with Glitsch’s astute sense of color: At her Perry Street project, a muted moss tone is punctuated by apple green, and at the Sakowitz Street project, she pairs orange masonry with a calm blue siding. Sakowitz was the first affordable housing project in Texas to receive Platinum certification in the LEED for Homes program; the same recognition followed for Perry, and Glitsch’s earlier Canal Street project (AIA Houston Honor Award, 2009) was a finalist for the Urban Land Institute’s Development of Distinction. These projects employ energy-saving strategies but are also sustainable in other significant ways, offering stability and economic security to their inhabitants.

In 1995, Glitsch was elevated to the College of Fellows; she is the youngest woman in Texas ever to receive that distinction. She has mentored younger architects who have worked with her in practice. Karen Lantz, AIA, said: “She encouraged me to consider all trades while solving design problems, which has been the cornerstone of my practice. She creates the most beautifully detailed drawing sets and understands how to build.” Glitsch has taught at Rice University, The University of Texas at Austin, and Texas A&M University, and in many ways, the teacher remains a student. Throughout her career, she has sought out art classes that encouraged boundless creativity, and her art pieces are personal narratives that take the form of houses, bodies, books, and boxes. 

As president-elect, Glitsch has been visiting the 17 Texas AIA Chapters over the past few months and sharing the importance of the larger network of Texas Architects to her own small practice: “Leave your desk, your own small world, and go talk to your friends about architecture.” And, as she has done in her own work, at every scale and at every level of professional engagement, she will bring her considerable talents to the Texas Society of Architects in 2014. 

Nonya Grenader, FAIA, is a Houston-based architect and professor at Rice University. 

Published in Texas Architect November/December.