PaperCity Magazine

December 2015 - Houston

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DECEMBER | PAGE 76 | 2015 The New TRADITIONALISTS P H OTO G R A P H Y H E S T E R + H A R DAWAY. P O R T R A I T M A X B U R K H A LT E R . H ouston is renowned for its modernist architecture and influences going back to the early days of Dominique and John de Menil. But the Bayou City is also steeped in a long and cherished tradition of classical design that is still going strong. From the 1920s to the 1960s, Houston architect John Staub populated River Oaks with glorious traditionally styled homes and mansions — notably the 1927 white-columned estate for oil heiress Ima Hogg, now the Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens museum. Staub's esteemed mantle has been reclaimed by architects William Curtis and Russell Windham, whose 23-year-old firm Curtis & Windham Architects, has designed and built dozens of stately homes, churches, offices and pavilions in the classical and vernacular traditions throughout River Oaks and beyond. No one could be better suited to the task of maintaining Houston's historic character, while ushering it into the present. Bill Curtis helped found the Texas chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture + Art and is on its board of directors. The firm's projects, which also include interiors and gardens, have been published in books and numerous national magazines including Architectural Digest, and a monograph of their work will be published by Texas A&M Press in 2016. Among their many accolades are a national Arthur Ross Award and two consecutive Palladio Awards bestowed by the ICAA, which has also honored them with multiple John Staub Awards, most recently at a ceremony in October for their work on the St. John's School Campus Center and Flores Hall, which opened in August. Located in River Oaks and built in 1946 by architect Hiram A. Salisbury, St. John's has become one of the region's largest and most prestigious college prep schools. Curtis & Windham was challenged with reorganizing the rapidly growing school's offices, meeting spaces, classrooms, parking, and a large dining hall that would become not only a gathering place, but act as the physical and spiritual heart of the school. The gauntlet had been thrown. Bill Curtis and Russell Windham share details about the renovation of St. John's and their passion for classical architecture and design. Rebecca Sherman reports. WHEN DID YOU FIRST REALIZE YOU WANTED TO BE AN ARCHITECT? Bill Curtis: I grew up in the panhandle in a tiny farming community. My family had a shop, and I was always building things. I had a fourth grade teacher — I hated math — who told me if I would do my homework, she would let me draw during math class. So I think I got ahead so that I could draw all the presidents. I liked to build things, and I liked to draw. When I got older, I really thought I wanted to be a city planner. I think that's why I love traditional and classical architecture, because city architecture is the highest form of civic art. Architects and clients have a responsibility not only for that actual building but to everyone who walks or drives past it. Russell Windham: I was six years old when I knew that I wanted to be an architect. I never deviated. My dad built the building for his business and I recall in 1963 — I was probably 5 or 6 years old — I went to see it being constructed, and I can remember going to the architect's offices and being very taken with them. There were drawings and models everywhere. I also liked to draw. My parents fostered that, and it gave me confidence. I grew up in a small town west of Dallas, and I can remember having a sense of excitement about going to town, because it was flashy with big glass buildings. We traveled to Greece when I was about 12, and I saw the Parthenon. That was the start of my formation as an architect. YOUR FIRM BEGAN BUILDING HOUSES IN RIVER OAKS IN 1992, AND IT'S HARD TO TELL YOUR NEW CONSTRUCTION FROM HOUSES THAT HAVE BEEN THERE FOR ALMOST A CENTURY. BC: The neighborhood was originally developed by the Hogg family, and they hired about five different architects — very good traditional architects — to develop the original housing stock for the neighborhood in an eclectic way with different styles of architecture. So we looked at that and said, 'There's a lot to draw upon, and there's a lot of value to that.' So, who are we to come here and build a house 50 feet tall if every house in the neighborhood is 26 1/2 feet tall. We just never approached it with any lack of respect. We approached it with a certain vigilance to make sure we fit in. DID THE SPECTER OF JOHN STAUB INFLUENCE YOUR WORK? BC: We're not channeling anyone other than our love of architecture. We have 3,000 books here. We love books, we love looking at architecture, and we love talking about it. I think our mutual desires to go live and work in significant urban places — I worked in Washington, D.C., and Australia, and Russell worked in London and on the West Coast — allowed us to learn as much as possible in a short amount of time. RW: That's why we call ourselves traditionalists. Not that we're frozen in the past, but there's all this knowledge and all this expertise that's been out there for a few thousand Dining hall interior of Flores Hall, St. John's School Russell Windham and Bill Curtis

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