From a top-floor perch in their tiny, handcrafted, award-winning live-work compound at 5910 Grace Ln. (featured a while back in Dwell magazine), architect Mark Schatz and designer Anne Eamon had front-row seats to the ongoing smelly, toxic, and deadly shitshow that marked the over-the-back-fence tenure of CES Environmental Services, in its facility at 4904 Griggs Rd., just a mile and a half south of the UH campus. Among the joys they were able to plug their noses and record was this tableau from July 2009: “In the first photograph [Schatz] took of the scene unfolding below him, shot like all the rest with the eye of an architect, perfectly framing the site, the tank farm is to the left, and a worker races from the right to the warehouse, which has a smoking hole blown through the roof. In a subsequent photo, oxygen tanks are wheeled in. Then the oxygen tanks fall over. Then a forklift shows up, and a crew starts setting the oxygen tanks upright. All this time, while they go through this Three Stooges routine, their co-worker is lying inside the warehouse covered in burns. You can see the back of a metal cylindrical tanker truck in the photos. [Schatz and Eamon] learn later that the fatally burned worker had opened the hatch on the tanker and switched on his flashlight to peer in. A spark from the flashlight set off a flash fire.”
Other highlights from Raj Mankad’s quaintly detailed account of m+a architects’ epic neighborhood toxic tussle include a friendly visit from CES Environmental’s community-minded owner, Matthew Bowman, wherein he accused the couple of “orchestrating a vast conspiracy” against him and his waste-processing firm, “involving the Black Panthers, the Mayor’s Office, City Council, TCEQ, the EPA, the Texas Attorney General, METRO, and various civic club organizations, in addition to other City departments like Health and Human Services, Water, and Wastewater.” This was after CES singlehandedly forced the city of Houston into a violation of state and federal clean water standards but before Bowman pled guilty to federal charges of operating a conspiracy to transport hazardous materials illegally (resulting in 2 employee deaths), and received a 1-year prison term and a $5,000 fine.
- Saving Grace: A Small Experiment by Two Architecture Students Led to a Big Struggle for Their Neighborhood [OffCite]
- Previously on Swamplot: Houston’s Unhappy Hipsters; More Excitement at that Chemical Waste Disposal Plant in the Back Yard; Waste Processing: Smells and Explosions in MacGregor Terrace
Photos: m+a architecture studio (studio building); CES Environmental Services (trucks)