Public Axes

This project for a civic complex in Houston’s East End combined a library, a courthouse, classrooms, administrative offices, a gallery, and a café. The library and courthouse-related programs reside within a monolithic “slab” mid-rise tower. The other programs are individuated within smaller, one-story buildings to accommodate their different operating requirements and schedules.

A series of cuts across the site fragment the ground-level, while creating circulation paths and visual trajectories between programs and public spaces. The tower’s facades and interior organization are extrapolated from this geometry in order to produce visual relationships between the monumental stairs (pressed up against the facade) and the public arcades and plazas below.

Modern democracy depends upon a productive intersection between the “noun public” (referring to The People) and the “adjective public”(denoting the things which belong to them, but whose critical characteristic is being bureaucratically administered.) The former are addressed by a rich architectural canon. The latter are usually put into generic midrises. Inevitably, the community center’s program reflects this duality. Rather than forcing the program of one component to submit to the formal-symbolic cladding of the other in pursuit of a reductive coherence, this project uses collage to acknowledge and leverage their interdependence. This strategy allows the components to retain their typological legibility at an urban scale while allowing for synthesis at the architectural scale.

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