Saving Houston’s Unzoned Artistic Spirit

SAVING HOUSTON’S UNZONED ARTISTIC SPIRIT Open House at Inversion by Havel Ruck Projects, Montrose Blvd., Montrose, HoustonGlasstire’s Bill Davenport has a suggestion: “Its famous lack of zoning is one of the few things Houston offers artists that other cities can’t. It’s been a defining feature of the city, and one of its main attractions for artists for decades. But this isn’t happening anymore. Prosperity has put teeth into Houston code enforcement, whose numerous inspectors now patrol the streets, ready to red-tag any unconventional building activity. It’s vital that we preserve a loophole for artistic expression on an architectural scale. What once was an opportunity created naturally by low property prices and underfunded city government must now be maintained purposefully if Houston’s unique character as a city of artistic entrepreneurship is to continue. As part of the new cultural plan, Houston city council should create an ordinance making an exception to the building codes for artistic projects. Of course, there will need to be safeguards against abuse. No one wants to see sleazy builders putting up unsafe, substandard structures. I propose that the city create an alternative path to compliance for creative projects in art and architecture, in which building officials will approve structures on a case-by-case basis, by assessing them on their merits, rather than on whether they conform to the rigid conventions of the International Building Code. Imagine the effect! If you are an artist or architect in San Antonio or Sri Lanka with a great, crazy idea, and you heard that, in Houston, projects like yours were welcomed as part of the city’s freewheeling culture, where would you go?” [Glasstire] Photo of Inversion by Havel Ruck Projects: The Decay of Lying

15 Comment

  • “I’m not a slumlord, I’m an artist!” :)

  • Great! Now all we have to do is sit down and decide what is art and what isn’t. Piece of cake.

  • With all due disrespect to the artist community, art is in the eye of the beholder and you don’t get to assault our eyes with your rearranged garbage just because you think it’s art.

  • My first impression was that I loved the idea. Although…my second thought was that I would want some kind of outside funding to support it or perhaps an outside entity to administer it.

    City building inspectors are not structural engineers. They aren’t even remotely qualified to weigh in on whether a structure is safe or not or whether it should be considered safe under particular conditions and parameters. They are only qualified to judge whether a project is being built to plan and satisfies codes, covenants, and ordinances. Furthermore, structural engineers are not lawyers and would assuredly need to consult with lawyers in order to draw up terms and conditions of plan approval.

    Its not difficult to imagine that a proposal like this getting codified as an ordinance might have the opposite of the intended effect, subjecting artistic works to greater scrutiny by engineers and lawyers, serving to piss off artists like never before.

  • This should be interesting. One person’s trash is another person’s art. If the city cannot uniformly and consistently enforce the Historic district ordinances how one earth can we expect these muppet’s to recognize and “approve” art. Honestly WTF! Either we have zoning or not. None of this false pregnancy crap!

  • I love this idea. Love it. And I do to say that easily about these things.
    To avoid abuse, I would set up art and architecture councils – made up of artists, art professors, and architecture professors. Part of the requirement for the art-path to permitting could be that projects have to go through an art/architecture-school style crit. This requirement would weed out the slum lords who want to take advantage of the system, since the art and architecture councils would be able to see through the subterfuge. It would also take part of it out of the hands of the permitting office – which is another bonus.

  • Because artists are excellent at engineering and structural design. What a pompous ass. Still like his work.

  • Actually, more like, “I’m not a slumlord, I’m renting artist studios.” While Davenport was talking about Houston’s old, weird artist-made structures (like the Orange show or Zocalo/Templo, the Rice Military compound made by Nestor Topchy, Rick Lowe, Jim Pirtle and Dean Ruck), it makes more sense if you think in terms of old, light-industrial/warehouse buildings that were converted at some point to artists’ studios (often secretly artists dwellings, even though that’s usually not officially permitted). The classic example is Commerce Street Artists Warehouse, which was in operation from 1985-2010. For much of its existence, it had artists illegally living there. If city inspectors had been as hardcore then as they seem to be now, it would have been red-tagged instantly. As it was, it provided a nice little artistic hub where many of today’s most successful Houston artists, including Rock Lowe and Mark Flood, got their starts.

    I think it’s just harder to do things like that anymore.

  • I should buy boarded up/falling apart row houses in the 5th ward and have double decker bus tours of the area for tourist like they do in LA for Compton. “And this row house exhibit on the right metaphorically shows the ineptitude of the distribution of IKE funding, while this home on the left…. never mind that’s just a crack house.”

  • art (noun): the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.

    Art is not in the eye of the beholder. As listed above, there is an actual definition for art. Beauty on the other hand, IS in the eye of the beholder.

    And Boyd…I miss the old days of the Commerce St shows and parties.

  • This could be managed by the Houston Arts Alliance.

  • When did Houston start enforcing building codes? When did Houston start adequately funding city services? These are shocking bits of news that should be published in the Chronicle or televised immediately!

  • Fun fact: I provided live music at a Commerce Street art show.

  • Houston Amendments to the 2006 International Building Code

    105.2 Work exempt from permit. Exemptions from permit requirements of this code shall not be deemed to grant authorization for any work to be done in any manner in violation of the provisions of this code or any other laws or ordinances of this jurisdiction. Permits shall not be required for the following:

    16. A “work of art” as defined in Section 202.

    SECTION 202

    WORK OF ART. Paintings, mural decorations, stained glass, statues, bas-reliefs or other sculptures, monuments, fountains, arches or other structures of a permanent or temporary character intended for ornament or commemoration.

  • When Havel Ruck Projects was commissioned to create “Fifth Ward Jam”, it was under the premise that it was temporary (although 5th CRC decided to keep and maintain it). We needed to obtain a permit to move the shack we used for the piece to the empty lot where it stands today. With the help of Fifth Ward CRC, we met with city permit people and discussed that we were not creating a dwelling, but a work of art. They said we needed a building permit to move the house. We said it was our desire that we did not need a building permit after moving the house because it was going to be made into a work of art. So, saying they never have done this before, they wrote us up a creative permit that deemed the house a dwelling while it was being picked up and moved, but it would be officially deemed an “art structure” after it was on the site, thus allowing us not to need
    building permits to construct piece. With a little education and persuasion, the permit people can be pretty accommodating….seems back in the day, us artists did stuff and then apologized later….