PaperCity Magazine

July/August 2019- Houston

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was a ship's captain and very cultured. He came from an upper-class family who lost everything in [China's] Cultural Revolution. They settled in Houston with a large Asian community. A lot of weekends, we would drive around and look at the homes in River Oaks and at the great museums. My dad made sure we went on the Azalea Trail and garden tours. Back then in the '70s and '80s, we spent a lot of time in old Chinatown, which is pretty much gone. My grandfather was an architect in Taiwan, but I resisted being an architect at first. I went to the University of Texas Austin on an electrical engineer scholarship. I had a roommate in the architecture school, and seeing what he was working on and what I was working on, it was clear I'd made the wrong choice. I transferred to architecture. Trust. Daryl Kunik and Tyson Cole (co-creators of Uchi) were the first people who put a lot of trust in me. It was an incredible training ground to have worked for hospitality professionals early on, and it really shaped our firm's philosophy and culture — it's very much about relationships and service, putting people you are serving first. There's a humility. Rustic luxury. What we find beautiful about Texas' rural culture is simplicity and honesty, and that's always imbued the projects we've done. We borrow materials from the landscape and use them in new ways. In my offices, the floors are Texas hickory and pecan. As flooring, pecan is a throwaway material, but we think it's beautiful because it has a rustic grain. We use a lot of Lueders limestone and local varieties of cedar and juniper. We use metal roofing, exposed wood, big windows, simple structures. Welcome to the neighborhood. In Houston, we are always trying to make commercial and retail spaces feel public, so they're super welcoming. That's what the Heights Mercantile is about. We didn't just do one big new building; we embraced many buildings. A lot of them have been there for decades, like the historic houses and Pappas family warehouses, which have been converted into new retail, and now have Aesop and Warby Parker shops. That sort of ad hoc variety is unique to Houston. Some people find it unsettling — but we find it highly exciting. Giving back. We work for Habitat for Humanity and are also working on a homeless shelter — a tiny-house project in Austin called Tiny Victories. Then we did Canopy, a complex in Austin where we converted a warehouse into studio spaces for artists being displaced by gentrification. You guys have quite a few of those kinds of projects in Houston. We came to Houston to look at projects and learn. Total immersion. We don't have a style at the firm. Every site, every project, in every city, should have its own solution. That's how you connect with people — when you show respect and cultural empathy. We try to immerse ourselves in the place. Home again. We have an incredible number of clients in Houston, so it's time to have a permanent home here. Our offices will feel more like a retail space. It's on 19th Street — not where you'd expect an architecture office, but where you'd find an art gallery. We wanted to have windows to the street and for it to feel more a part of the neighborhood. Paradigm shift. You really have to pair a use with another use to create more energy and shared experiences. That's why you see office buildings with elaborate food halls at the base of buildings, as opposed to big empty lobbies. That's also why office spaces look more like hotel lobbies or restaurants or houses. And retail spaces that feel more like a travel destination. People are more ,interested in places and experiences that are memory-making. With M-K-T, which is set along the Heights bike trail, we're converting five industrial warehouses into experiential spaces for retail, wellness retail, and beverage. The buildings are not pretty, and there's something we quite like about that. We're tearing bits off, exposing other parts. That way, we get tension between the scruffy grittiness of the old and the refinement of the newer things inside. Personal space. I'm building a house now in Clarksville, Texas. It's going to be small — I want to use every square inch. Also, I travel a lot, so I just want to lock it and leave. Passions. Travel is a big love. Last year, I was in Paris and London, and this year, I traveled a lot to explore spaces for work, including Mexico City to see new restaurants. I went fly fishing in Patagonia. We never knew. I used to road-race motorcycles years ago, but I've transitioned to German cars and race them at the Formula 1 track in Austin and other places. I don't talk about it a lot. I have tolerance for risk that comes from being an immigrant — you see that a lot in Houston. There's a higher tolerance for making something for yourself there, and gathering experiences that are exciting and maybe not so safe. P. Terry's Burger Stand, Austin Local Foods, the Heights Mercantile, Houston

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