Tag Archives: texas

Perot Museum of Nature and Science

Perot Museum of Nature and Science in Dallas, Texas, by Morphosis Architects, 2012.

When looking closely at the buildings of Thom Mayne and Morphosis Architects, it's possible to see simple forms that are then violated through cuts and complicated by the layering of often translucent, metallic skins. A case in point is The Cooper Union's engineering building at 41 Cooper Square, what is basically a rectangular box enlivened by undulating perforated metal panels applied in front of a typical curtain wall; further these panels are sliced to express the atrium within. The new Perot Museum of Nature and Science (yes, that Perot) in downtown Dallas exhibits this same tendency, but to a greater degree given its cubic mass and textured concrete facade.

The museum is located a few blocks south of the Nasher Sculpture Center and the rest of the Dallas Arts District. The east border of the site is defined by the elevated Woodall Rogers Freeway (the freeway is lower west of the Nasher and adjacent blocks and has been decked over to create the Klyde Warren Park); no wonder Mayne propped up the building on a concrete plinth and focused the attention inwards. Access to the entry plaza next to the cube is via the parking lot on the south or a set of stairs from sidewalk level on the site's northeast corner. Part of the plaza is embraced by the concrete walls of the plinth, a contemporary version of St. Peter's Square.

The museum is thus a fundamentally public building – a building that opens up, belongs to and activates the city; ultimately, the public is as integral to the museum as the museum is to the city. -Morphopedia

It shouldn't come as a surprise that the most striking aspect of the cube is visible from the plaza, as if the public space that Mayne created frames his building in its best aspect. From here we see the glass-clad diagonal bar both cutting and protruding from the concrete exterior. This piece covers an escalator; the atrium that houses other parts of the building's vertical circulation is visible in a large cut below the diagonal. Given how the building is predominantly solid, these openings stand out considerably, making it clear how the vertical circulation is an important part of the experience. Mayne actually describes a spatial procession that zooms visitors to the top floor and leads them down through the galleries, an exploded Guggenheim in a concrete cube.

Getting back to Mayne's tendency to violate and complicate simple masses, the Perot Museum is the most readily graspable form of any of his recent buildings. Even with the diagonal and other cuts, it looks like a cube, and that's what it is. But instead of covering it with perforated metal to deny the form, a la 41 Cooper Square, 656 precast concrete panels are applied to give the form some texture. Yet the precast is not merely a facade material; it covers the plinth and the cube, and it extends inside the building to line the atrium space like a natural formation. Therefore the concrete unites the cube, plinth, and plaza; fitting, given that the building is envisioned as an exhibit that teaches as much about science and nature (through sustainable aspects, mainly) as the exhibitions on display.

Photographs are by Aaron Dougherty.

Cascading Creek House

Cascading Creek House in Austin, Texas by Bercy Chen Studio, 2011.

While not as common as rectangular or even L-shaped plans, there is something to be said for Y-shaped house plans. They create an outdoor space, like L-shape plans, but ones that are more intimate and enclosed, open on one side rather than one; the plan and the outdoor space are also more dynamic and directional, opening towards something. A couple houses readily come to mind: the Piku Residence by Dirk Denison and Adrian Luchini and the aptly named Y House by Steven Holl. Both of these houses look outward in the direction of the "fingers" that point to the landscape beyond.

A house that can be added to this short, but not exhaustive list is the Cascading Creek House by Austin, Texas-based Bercy Chen Studio. The design, which I learned about through a Building of the Week interview feature running this week on World-Architects.com, "inserts two long native limestone walls to the sloping site, serving as spines for the public wing and private wing of the house." So immediately we have the Y-shape , which is derived from the program but also the site -- in both the distant (views) and immediate (preserving trees) sense of the term.

This was really the first project where we were able to incorporate all of our systems that we had been working on for some time. All the systems are really working in unison and the whole is really greater than the sum of its parts. -Bercy Chen Studio

Arriving at the house (top photo) one immediately senses the presence and importance of water, here found in the "entry pond" served by an over-sized scupper that is itself fed by collected rainwater; the pond also doubles as a storage tank. Walking to the entry, which doubles as a link between the two wings, one encounters a shallow pool next to the front door. In the courtyard formed by the two wings is a pool, the last of a triumvirate of water features that advance like a chain through the house. But water is also cycling throughout the house in rainwater collection on the roof, solar hot-water panels also on the roof, water source heat pumps, radiant loops, and geothermal ground loops. These systems combine to "[establish] a system of heat exchange which minimizes reliance on electricity or gas."

After opening the front door one walks left to the open kitchen/dining/living area or right to the wing with the bedrooms. Nice touches in each include, in the case of the former, an an awareness of the site's topography through steps the follow the land falling from the garage to the living room's views of the pool and landscape; in the case of the latter, the master bathroom is treated to a small courtyard that brings light and a little bit of nature closer to the act of bathing. Between these wings is of course the courtyard and pool that steps down to the grass and creek of the house's name beyond. While the house may culminate in this distant view, it offers enough delights inside to keep the residents quite content.

Grover Residence

Grover Residence in Austin, Texas by Universal Joint Design, 2011.

Elsewhere I've documented residential architecture that incorporates cantilevered upper floors, a rarity, even within the realm of modern/contemporary architecture. Cantilevers are expensive (extra structure, cladding, insulation, etc.) and formally extravagant, but this does not mean that one cannot be an appropriate solution for a family's home. In  many cases they can be rationalized towards reclaiming the space underneath, typically a part of the landscape, and for providing views that otherwise may not be possible.

The Grover Residence by design-build firm Universal Joint Design is basically two rectangular boxes -- one sitting on the ground and the other one lifted ten feet in the air and cantilevered twenty feet beyond the first. This T-shaped diagram accomplishes a number of things: it creates a carport under the cantilever, a space further occupied by what the clients dubbed "il Ferro Tartaruga" (the Iron Turtle), a storage room that can be transformed into a jacuzzi in the future; roof terraces on the north and south are accessed via the top floor; it elevates the master bedroom like a treehouse, with a terrace and deep-set windows.

A super minimalist approach leverages the structural engineering into creating extra-ordinary outdoor spaces. -Universal Joint Design

With the master bedroom's placement over the carport and Iron Turtle, its terrace becomes, as the architects call it, a front porch (the chair in the photo at left makes that assertion all the more effective). Jutting towards the street, the cantilever and the projecting windows are the primary expression of the house to passersby. It's a pretty radical expression for Austin, Texas or any other context where houses sit on the ground rather than float in the air. In this regard it might be better to swap out the vowel and change porch to perch.

Inside the house is light and open with a fairly standard distribution of living spaces (living room, kitchen, dining) on the ground floor and bedrooms upstairs. A lightwell adjacent to the stair at the rear of the house visually connects these two levels and draws one to this point of ascent. Arriving upstairs the glance is directed back towards the front of the house through the doorway leading to the front porch. Yet inside the master bedroom, it is the projecting windows on the side that provide the most light and views, so privacy from the street is retained. And it's fitting that an ascent into the trees frames the branches and leaves, not the cars.

Urban Reserve 22

Urban Reserve 22 in Dallas, Texas by Vincent Snyder Architects, 2007.

While the Houses at Sagaponac -- a development of over thirty modern houses on Long Island spearheaded by the late Harry J. "Coco" Brown Jr. and curated by Richard Meier -- received loads of attention, even as it fumbled and reoriented itself, Urban Reserve in Dallas, Texas has moved forward under the radar. Developed by Urban Edge, the "neighborhood of modern, single-family homes, designed by a select group of regionally and nationally recognized architects" is located north of downtown Dallas, just east of 75 and the DART rail. The 13-acre modernist enclave is oriented about the north-south Vanguard Way (yes, that's the name of the street) and is adjacent to the bike trails of White Rock Creek. Suburban development and natural beauty mingle in the area.

One of the houses, Lot 22 designed by Vincent Snyder Architects, exhibits the qualities and restrictions that define the development. Design guidelines mandated by Urban Edge determine the FAR, lot coverage, setbacks, building height and other zoning aspects, but they also direct colors and materials for the exterior envelope and green building requirements. The criteria mix performance- (LEED) and form-based guidelines (New Urbanism in modern drag) to create a varied yet cohesive development. UR22 responds to the restrictions of the specific lot (visible in the site plan below) by wrapping a slate envelope across the areas that require privacy; Snyder's design makes the guidelines tangible and stands out as a strong formal statement at the same time.

One of the first homes built in the development; this project demonstrates the developer’s intention to create a high-density suburban environment with a sense of community and sustainability at the scale of both development and home. -Vincent Snyder Architects

UR22 is a two-story, 4,000-sf (370-sm) rectangular house, oriented east-west. As mentioned, the north face is primarily solid, sitting directly on the lot line and overlooking a future residence. The south facade takes advantage of a sizable side yard with large expanses of glass. Along this elevation, the roof lines zig and zag to express the upward movement of the stairs and to give the end walls a larger presence and more height for the rooms inside. The first floor is primarily an open-plan living area, centrally located between the rear garage (accessed from an alley) and the entry terrace. Upstairs, bedrooms are at either end of the double-height living space which is activated by exposed wood trusses.

What is easily the most unique aspect of the house and its site is the lack of a front yard. Instead of grass and a driveway fronting the house, a retention pond that spans multiple properties is traversed by a footbridge. Yes, the residents will most likely arrive to the house from the rear, in the garage. But by reversing the normal suburban typology, the developer and architect celebrate the role of water on the landscape. The sustainable goals are made more tangible and traversing the pond becomes something special, just like the house itself.

Five Projects by Rafael Moneo

Five Projects by Rafeal Moneo.

The following quotes are pulled from the book reviewed this week, Rafael Moneo: Remarks on 21 Works by Moneo and published by The Monacelli Press. The photographs are courtesy Michael Moran, from the same book.

Completed in 1981, the City Hall (top photo) in Logroño, Spain is considered by Moneo as "city as architecture or buildings configured by fragments of the city." Inspired by Aldo Rossi's The Architecture of the City, a triangular open space fronting the city hall sits at an angle to the city's grid. The two long elevations facing this plaza are treated differently, one colonnaded and the other with punched openings, what Moneo further describes as a "way of understanding the city hall through its composition in relation to urban space."

Another city hall project can be found in the City Hall Extension in Murcia, Spain (top left photo). Completed in 1998, Moneo approached the project as "revering the existing architecture while conceiving the new one free from contextual and stylistic references." The building fronts Cardinal Belluga Piazza and looks across to the facade of the Cathedral of Murcia. Moneo started the project as Deconstructivism was sweeping academia, having displaced Postmodernism as the prevailing style and approach to context. His design is between these two extremes, most prominently "a structure of superimposed pilasters that immediately brings to mind the idea of the facade as a retable [a frame with objects behind an altar]," therefore linking it to the Cathedral.

For the Kursaal Concert Hall and Convention Center in San Sebastian, Spain (photo at right), Moneo approached the project as one in which "singular geographic conditions demand an intuitive architectural response." This is one of the architect's best known projects, completed in 1999: two skewed and sloping cubes sit atop a plinth by the mouth of the Urumea River overlooking San Sebastian Bay. Moneo "deliberately strove to avoid a conventional architectural solution ... [and] avoid any reference to the existing urban fabric. Thus two cubes emerged, two abstract volumes capable of fulfilling the program [and] fitting into the landscape."

Moneo approached the Audrey Jones Building at the Museum of Fine Arts (photo at left) 1958 in Houston, Texas around "compactness as an architectural feature that accepts a building's urban condition without limiting the architect's freedom in the handling of its interior spaces." His design, completed in 2000, followed Mies van der Rohe's 1958 extension to the original museum and therefore raised the question of "whether to think of [the Jones Building] as yet another extension ... or to merely allude to it by building an autonomous volume." The latter prevailed, dictated mainly by its site on a separate block, linked to the old building by an underpass designed by James Turrell. A number of lantern skylights rise from a building with a predominantly solid wrapper. These skylights give freedom to the interior and make the museum "a machine for capturing light."

The last project, completed in 2003, is the General and Royal Archive of Navarra (photo at right) in Pamplona, Spain. "When requirements of appropriate use undermine the principle of 'indifference to function' in rehabilitating old buildings" is Moneo's description of his approach to the project. He skeptically approached the "trend of putting old buildings to new use" in erecting a new building on the ruins of the palace of Santo Domingo. A building that would house the records of the palace itself was developed, since "there was no contradiction between the terms 'palace' and 'archive.'" A "volumetric solution" for the intervention prevailed, with the existing helping to determine the new. To Moneo, "the building now appears above the old plateau where the city of Pamplona was founded as independent, enclosed ensemble in keeping with the original character of the palace."

Buffalo Bayou Promenade

Buffalo Bayou Promenade in Houston, Texas by SWA, 2006.

This project by SWA, as documented in their recent monograph Landscape Infrastructure, converted "a neglected, trash-soaked eyesore, challenged by entangled infrastructure of freeways and bridges, into a multifaceted urban park." It is a 1-mile (1.6 km) stretch of the 52-mile-long (84 km) Buffalo Bayou river, which meanders its way through Houston before heading to the Gulf of Mexico. The Bayou is also Houston's principal drainage system, meaning that increased urbanization last century left the watershed neglected, like many other pieces of water in and adjacent to cities.

The promenade (known alternatively as the Sabine or Sabine-to-Bagby Promenade), located just northwest of Houston's downtown core, is part of a larger project to improve the natural conditions of the waterway, remediating the pollution and making the Bayou an active part of residents' lives, not something the city turns its back on. The project can be traced back to the mid-1980s, when the city generated a master plan and the Buffalo Bayou Partnership was created. The non-profit "is responsible for developing and facilitating improvements to the Buffalo Bayou greenway system," a 10-mile (16 km) stretch in Houston.

The critical role of planting as an aesthetic erosion-control measure and element of habitat creation has nurtured a waterway that is now home to an established presence of ducks, herons, turtles, and fish. -The Infrastructure Research Initiative at SWA, from Landscape Infrastructure

SWA was faced with existing conditions that made the downtown section of the Buffalo Bayou unsafe for people. The main impacts were the seasonal storm flows and lack of proper plant growth on the banks of the river. In both cases erosion resulted, so SWA's plan targets the banks to maintain hydrolic flows and create safe areas for recreation. What resulted, seen at left, is a shallower slope at the bank planted with a riparian edge (of local plants suitable for the application); gabion walls at the edge stabilize the bank while allowing for drainage.

Set back from this technical yet aesthetic edge are the paths that wind their way along the river and below the highway overpasses that made this area ripe for improvement, but which also give the promenade its most striking aspect. Lighting designer L'Observatoire International worked with SWA to make the park safe at night, developing various types of lighting, one of which included an art-driven lighting component illuminating the concrete supports. The bluish glow celebrates the overhead infrastructure; to do otherwise would be unrealistic. The lighting combines with the landscape to create a strong place on Buffalo Bayou that also celebrates this important natural feature.

Nasher Sculpture Center Handbook

Nasher Sculpture Center Handbook edited by Steven A. Nash
Nasher Sculpture Center, 2003
Paperback, 189 pages

The Nasher Sculpture Center is an extraordinary combination of architecture, landscape design and art, an urban oasis in the Arts District of Dallas. Housing the collection of Raymond Nasher and his late wife Peggy, a visit to the building and garden clearly illustrates their love of sculptural art, from pre-Columbian to contemporary, but in particular Modern 20th-century sculpture. Half of this handbook is devoted to their collection, with an essay by the editor and plates of 55 artworks. The other half of the book describes the history of the project, with design sketches, a background on the design process by Mark Thistlethwaite, and construction photos by Timothy Hursley. The approximate 50/50 split of the book into art and architecture parallels the Center itself, which balances the environment and the objects within and about so each is better for the other.

Austin Theater

Austin Theater in Austin, Texas by Miró Rivera Architects, 2000.

When Miró Rivera Architects approached the renovation of the Old Austin Theater (1939) from an adult theater into office space for a software company, rather than obliterate any sign of the site's previous incarnation they chose to keep one unmistakable element, the marquee. Projecting like an alien appendage, the blank marquee, with lights, gives the design a touch of whimsy that would otherwise be missing.

According to the architect's web page, the other goal in the design, besides keeping a defining characteristic of the previous use, was to, "engage the building in its prominent urban condition through the creation of a strong, copper-clad corner." The copper panels are sized to the existing marquee, but any overt relationship to the existing building stops there, the exterior walls creating a wholly new character for the building. The two horizontal window openings, and eroded wall with steel frame above the entry, help to break up the monolithic exterior.

Surprisingly the interior appears much more light-filled than the minimal openings on the elevations would suggest. The ability to easily create multi-story spaces within the existing shell may help in this case.

Beyond the copper facade, the most appealing aspect of the project is the disparity of old and new uses, adult theater and office space, respectively. In terms of downtown developments, renovation of buildings as uses change helps to create continuity over time, allowing people to see change while also getting a glimpse of the past, something that razing and designing anew can't offer.

[Google Earth link]

The Chinati Foundation

The Chinati Foundation

The Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Texas by Donald Judd.

The following text and images are from The Chinati Foundation, located on the outskirts of Marfa, Texas.

The Chinati Foundation/La Fundación Chinati is a contemporary art museum based upon the ideas of its founder, Donald Judd. The specific intention of Chinati is the creation and preservation of permanent installations of large scale works, or large groups of work by a small number of artists. The emphasis is on installations in which art and the space around it are inextricably linked.

At the center of the Chinati Foundation's permanent collection are 100 untitled works in mill aluminum by Donald Judd installed in two former artillery sheds. The size and scale of the buildings determined the nature of the installation, and Judd adapted the buildings specifically for this purpose. He replaced derelict garage doors with long walls of continuous squared and quartered windows which flood the spaces with light. Judd also added a vaulted roof in galvanized iron on top of the original flat roof, thus doubling the buildings' height.

The fifteen concrete works by Donald Judd that run along the border of Chinati's property were the first works to be installed at the museum and were cast and assembled on the site over a four-year period, from 1980 through 1984. The individual units that comprise each work have the same measurements of 2.5 x 2.5 x 5 meters, and are made from concrete slabs that are each 25 centimeters thick.

The Arena was built in the 1930s as a gymnasium for the soldiers at Fort D.A. Russell. After the fort closed in 1946, the gym floor was torn up for the wood, and sand was laid to provide an indoor arena for horses. In the mid 1980s, Judd restored the building, which was in terrible condition. For aesthetic reasons he left the long strips of concrete that had originally supported the wooden floor, and filled them in with gravel. Some concrete was necessary for walking, so Judd poured a large area by the kitchen at the south end, and a smaller area at the north end of the building's interior.

Kimbell Art Museum

Kimbell Art Museum

Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas by Louis I. Kahn, 1972.

Space is not a space unless you can see the evidence of how it was made. -Louis I. Kahn

Louis Kahn's client, for what was to become his most famous commission, asked for a museum with a human scale and galleries with natural light. Kahn surpassed these conditions, creating his greatest built representation of the ideas he was constantly developing and reevaluating throughout his career, mainly shaping space through the unification of light and structure.

A simple composition of parallel concrete vaults, the Kimbell Art Museum (1966-72) reveals itself to the visitor before stepping inside the building, with the porticoes that seem to be a superfluous continuation of the building's vaulting. The unnecessary porches (as referred to by Kahn) define the structural vocabulary of the whole museum: basically a concrete beam (100' x 23') in the shape of a cycloidal vault, supported by four square columns. This simple structure is used, as was the case in most of Kahn's buildings, to create an abstract order, a genesis for creating more complex space. The gallery spaces are not confined by the individual vaults but flow from one to another; the low "servant" spaces between vaults helping to define smaller, human-scale rooms.

Structure is the maker of light, because structure releases the space between and that is light giving.  -Louis I. Kahn

This flow is achieved through the freeing of wall space that Kahn refers to at left, apparent in the exterior porticoes. The creation of space on the interior through light, though, is achieved through a freeing of roof space, not wall space. In what has become Kahn's most popular element, light diffusers spread natural light from a narrow slot to the sky along the undersides of the concrete vault. Casting an even glow throughout the museum the diffusers shield the Kimbell's work from the strong Texas sunlight but also to help indicate the time of day. Or so Kahn thought. The even glow does not help to relate to exterior circumstances so much as the three courtyards that Kahn created by slicing the vaults in particular places. These courtyards bring in a piece of the outside world, located at the most interior portions of the galleries.

The Kimbell Art Museum illustrates the changing ideas that shaped Kahn's buildings, from the "served and servant" focus of his earlier buildings to his enigmatic dictum of "silence and light" near the end of his career. The tension that existed between his strong practicality and his spiritual view of architecture reached a fulfilling synthesis at the Kimbell.

[Google Earth link]