PaperCity Magazine

PaperCity Dallas September 2022

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in magazines from Architectural Record to Fortune. Kamrath, who had befriended Wright and hosted him at his house in Houston on a couple of occasions, continued to design in the Usonian vein long after Wright died in 1959. By the 1970s, Kamrath's architecture peers considered his work woefully out of vogue — they had already moved on, designing glass skyscrapers and brutalist structures. Accolades and awards had dried up, and magazines no longer published his work. The headquarters for Big Three Industries was one of Kamrath's last important commissions. This time, he reached into Wright's earliest repertoire for inspiration. If the Unity Temple in Oak Park had been one of Wright's first and most celebrated projects, its Houston counterpart would become Kamrath's last hurrah. "The Big Three building was an homage to Wright, but Kamrath was also definitely sticking his thumb in the eye of the architecture establishment who would have looked down on it," says Ben Koush, architect and founding member of the modernist preservation organization Houston Mod. For the past 50 years, Kamrath's remarkable swan song has remained under-appreciated and largely overlooked — until now. F rom their penthouse in the Big Three Building, Diane and Ray Krueger can almost see the headquarters for NuSmile, the pediatric crown-manufacturing company Diane founded in 1991. The Kruegers won a Good Brick Award from Preservation Houston in 2014 for the restoration of Nu-Smile's mid-century building, located less than two blocks away, carried out by AMB Architects. They like old buildings, having previously lived in an antiques-filled 1926 bungalow in Montrose for 37 years, inherited from Ray's grandfather. Ray manages the couple's portfolio of about a dozen properties, and one day he noticed a for-sale sign in front of the Big Three Building, which he'd admired for years. Ideas began to percolate. "I'd always liked that building, even if it did look like a bank. Or a prison," Diane says, laughing. The Kruegers soon embarked on a four-year odyssey that included converting the nearly 8,000-square- foot top floor into their full-time Houston residence — they also own a tree farm in East Texas where they spend weekends. Murphy Mears Architects led the way, navigating the byzantine requirements for bringing a 50-year-old commercial building up to residential code that included new fire sprinkler systems, running new electrical lines from the street, and installing a private elevator for the penthouse. "This turned out to be so much more complicated than anything we've ever done," Ray says. Lambrakos was having a little trouble picturing how the fourth (Continued) The mammoth 41,000-square-foot building rose out of the industrial plain with unexpected majesty. In the entryway, site-specific wall sculpture by Eduardo Portillo and floor sculpture by Gavin Perry, both from Barbara Davis Gallery, Houston. To incorporate colors from all of the rooms, Mary Lambrakos designed the custom circular CC-Tapis rug from Shop, Houston. 163

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