Kenneth Bentsen, 1926-2013

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.

Photo: University of Houston

16 Comment

  • Ah, old PGH. An interesting study in how a possibly good idea (open air hallways and escalators) can be derailed by a key underestimated factor (Houston humidity).

  • Loved The Summit as kid, it has a cool elegant design and functional layout, I was revolted at what Lakewood did to the building, but alas I guess at least it’s still standing.

  • I can’t judge all his work, but I do have an opinion about Agnes Arnold Hall. I worked on campus when I attended UH oh so many years ago. My job was located on the 6th floor of AA. The escalators were always broken. Apparently the bldg was some how out of alignment (foundation problems?) and the ball bearings in the escalator constantly wore out. The classroom and offices were in the “inside” of the building surrounded by open air balconies. The restrooms were located in vertical rows on the outside of the bldg. off the balconies. When it was cold or rainy going to the bathroom was like going to the outhouse. You had to put your coat on or carry an umbrella!

  • Yeah, that whole exterior corridor thing took over in a big way in the 60’s. There were several buildings at Rice like that (although some have been demolished or had their corridors enclosed) and the CRS main building at Brazosport College is like that.

  • I know right, AAH and PGH were terrible buildings by design and aesthetics, they were run of the mill office buildings at best, nothing notable.

  • I’ll second Colleen. Agnes Arnold was, architectually speaking, by far, the worst building on the campus while I attended UH.

  • I agree, the PGH are too dull-looking. On a positive note, there are many new buildings that look pretty amazing

  • “Intuitional” is perhaps the kindest words one can use to describe PGH and Agnes Arnold … simply awful buildings that should have been imploded the day after they were built.

  • The thing I always hated about the UH campus was the complete lack of a cohesive style and these buildings are perfect examples. The original buildings are stripped down Art Moderne, but at least it was a style, but of course they completely abandoned the style and created an odd hodgepodge of random styles. Granted some buildings are designed by famous Architects (Philip Johnson), but again in all different styles in no way co extend to the others, it always gave the school a lack of cohesion. I went to UT and SMU and both have a Master Plan and for the most part a cohesive style. I know the history of UH, but you still would think someone would have created a real Master Plan. UH has come along way and I always liked the entrance gates on Cullen I just wish they would stick with a cohesive style, pick one and stick with it.

  • The ‘outside corridor’ concept is alive and well at the recently erected Science and Engineering Classroom building, designed by Cesar Pelli, no less.

  • Shannon. Totally agree.

  • I briefly met Mr. Bentsen a few times and he was a real gentleman. Many of Mr. Bentsen’s best buildings are not well known, or have been lost, like the Southwest Tower downtown and the altered-beyond-recogniton Summit. His UH buildings were perhaps not his best, but they also suffered from decades of UH’s poor maintenance.

  • If you want to see a gorgeous, architecturally cohesive campus, check out my alma mater, WUSTL.

  • If that’s Washington university in St Louis, I’m familiar

  • Well said, Niche. You’d swear they weren’t aware that it gets cold in Texas in the winter.
    For what it’s worth, I enjoyed Agnes Arnold Hall. I spent a lot of time sitting in those breezeways waiting for class to start and thought it nice that someone took the time to design such a pleasant space. Houston is going to be hot or cold outside no matter where you sit.
    And yes, UH has not maintained any of its buildings to the standards they deserve, and we still can’t play football in a decent conference.