GUNNAR BIRKERTS, 1925-2017 Latvian-born architect Gunnar Birkerts, designer of the stainless-steel-clad Contemporary Arts Museum that’s stood at the northwest corner of Montrose Blvd. and Bissonnet St. since 1972, passed away yesterday at the age of 92. Birkerts moved to Michigan in 1949 after graduating from architecture school in Germany; he later worked in the office of Eero Saarinen and set up his own architectural practice in Birmingham, a Detroit suburb. The exterior of the CAMH was altered to its current appearance in 1997 after a design by Houston architect Bill Stern. [Chicago Tribune; more here] Photo: CAMH
BART TRUXILLO, 1942-2017 In 2006, the former brewery structure now hosting the Magnolia Ballroom was the first building in Houston to get protected landmark status — and was not the last, probably thanks in part to the life work of its restorer. Bart Truxillo bought the then-vacant building on the edge of Market Square in the late sixties, not too long before buying and restoring the crumbling Queen Anne Mansfield house in the Heights; both structures are now on the National Register of Historic Places. Truxillo later helped found what’s today known as Preservation Houston, and start the organization’s Good Brick Awards during the demolition-rich years of Houston’s first oil boom, as Lisa Gray notes today in the Chronicle; after years of work restoring historic buildings around town and serving a bunch of other history-minded groups, he died yesterday at age 74. [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Photo of Magnolia Ballroom building on Franklin St.: Brewery Tap HTX
WHAT MICHAEL GRAVES BROUGHT TO HOUSTON Is Michael Graves personally to blame for the infestations of flattened pediments that began appearing on commercial building façades in the early nineties, and later morphed into the default “look” for the standard midsprawl shopping center?
Not really. But the early acclaim his variety of postmodern design received did play some role in the license now apparently felt by thousands of lesser architects (and developers) to festoon dull commercial designs with all sorts of cartooned classical elements — and declare the result to be “traditional.” By the time the New Jersey-based architect designed his 2 Houston building projects in the early naughts, he had moved on to super-scaling other building elements: His Martel College and Master’s house at Rice and the Federal Reserve Bank (of Dallas!) on Allen Pkwy. (pictured above) are both dressed in a sort of Lego-like big-brick wallpaper, but one “drawn” using actual-size bricks. After an infection he contracted in 2003 left him paralyzed from the waist down, Graves became an outspoken champion of universal design.Graves passed away last week at the age of 80; Writer Michael Hardy has a remembrance of the man he calls “the architect Houston loved to hate.” [Houstonia] Photo: John D. Cramer
Don Luis Cruz, also known as the octogenarian violinist often found trilling and harmonizing with Gulfgate traffic, passed away yesterday at Pasadena’s Bayshore Medical Center, having reached the age of 90. He was a daily fixture at the intersection of Woodridge Dr. and the Gulf Fwy. feeder road until the summer of 2012, when he was beaten by a man in a wheelchair over the money in Cruz’s violin case. “Over the years,” writes the Chronicle‘s Craig Hlavaty, “crooks targeted The Violin Man for his tip money, bike, moped and even his amp. After each incident, however, Cruz would ignore his family’s pleas and head back out to his corner.” This video feature on Cruz’s string habit aired on Telemundo in 2011:
Architect Kenneth Bentsen designed quite a few institutional buildings in Houston, including Phillip Guthrie Hoffman Hall and Agnes Arnold Hall, shown here, at the University of Houston campus. Other buildings to Bentsen’s name include the Texas Children’s Hospital Complex and the Houston Summit (which is now, of course, Lakewood Church). As an architecture student at UH, Bentsen worked with Donald Barthelme and Howard Barnstone and began his career in the ’50s at MacKie and Kamrath. He ran his own practice here from 1958 until 1991. Bentsen passed away this week on Tuesday, September 24.
You’ve probably seen one of these Salvador Dali-meets-Dr. Seuss installations poking out somewhere around town: Most made out of sticks, tree trunks, bamboo shoots, and gobs of paint, they’re the work of Lee Littlefield, who died of complications from lung cancer at his Houston home yesterday. This “pop-up,” as the sculptures came to be known, can be seen on the north side of westbound I-10. It’s just across all those lanes from a periscope-like pink one that seems to be straining to get a peak of the polo grounds at Memorial Park:
Houston’s growing reputation as an architectural hotspot attracted Bill Stern to the city in 1976. He began by working for the grandaddy of the city’s Tin Houses, Eugene Aubry; later he helped popularize the very “Houston” look favored by many other architects who had gathered around the Menils — beginning in 1992 with his own 3-story louvered home at the corner of Milford and Mt. Vernon in the Museum District (above) and continuing with many subsequent buildings designed by his firm, renamed Stern and Bucek Architects in 1999. In addition to their own designs, Stern and Bucek helped preserve, renovate, and reuse Modern structures, including the Menils’ own 1950 home on San Felipe by Philip Johnson, the Frame-Harper House, the CAMH, and the Miller Outdoor Theater. Stern was an art collector and a founding editor of the Rice Design Alliance’s Cite magazine; he taught at UH for almost 30 years. Pancreatic cancer cut his life short; Stern died Friday in his Milford St. home.
Houston artist Bert Long passed away of pancreatic cancer earlier today. He was 72. This photo shows one of Long’s most recognizable pieces: “Field of Vision” is located across the street from Emancipation Park on the corner of Elgin and Bastrop, next door to the Eldorado Ballroom. Born in the Fifth Ward, Long worked as a Hyatt Regency executive chef before pursuing an arts career. “Bert would walk in anywhere. He’d do anything,” Long’s friend James Surls tells the Houston Chronicle. “He was unabashed and unafraid.”
KICK A BUILDING IN MEMORIAM Former New York Times architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable liked Houston. In 1976, she called it “the city of the second half of the twentieth century.” It’s the first half of the twenty-first century now. Houston’s status is no more cemented than it was then, but Huxtable’s is. She passed away yesterday at her home in Manhattan, at the age of 91. [New York Times]