PaperCity Magazine

February 2017 - Houston

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Page 58 of 159

A n architect is like an artist: After they die, their work remains, so an intrinsic something of them lives on. In the case of late Houston architect John Zemanek, perhaps his most visible legacy — besides the hundreds of students he inspired during his half-century as a professor at University of Houston — are the three homes he designed as personal dwellings. Each is in Houston, conceived as part of an ongoing series, a case-study house so to speak, on how to live in America in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. The homes are named Gaea I, II, and III after the primal Greek goddess of Mother Earth. Each of the houses, all still standing in Montrose, espouses Zemanek's unique philosophy, which interweaves influences that would mold his life and avocation as an architect. These begin with his child- hood in rural Fort Bend County; he was the youngest of 12 children of Moravian im- migrants who arrived in 1897 at the Port of Galveston seeking political asylum. He earned degrees from Texas A&M, the Uni- versity of Texas, and Harvard — the latter, an improbable place for a Texas farm boy but where he matriculated thanks to the GI Bill and his service in World War II as a bombardier who survived 39 missions, capped by being shot down in enemy lines on the final day of combat. At Harvard, he found inspiration and earned a Master of City Planning in the Graduate School of Design while studying with professors such as Bauhaus master Walter Gropius. Finally, there was a transformative stint designing American airbases in post-World War II Japan, where his encounter with Japanese architecture, from the domestic to Shinto shrines, would become a foundation of his future practice. And that just gets you into the 1950s. Zemanek was a revered professor, popular with the students at U of H, where he began teaching in 1962, brought on full-time in 1964. In 1968, at the height of the protest movement, his pending firing by the UH College of Architecture dean — for teaching the ideals rather than mere mechanics of architecture — prompted a student-body walkout and led to the dean stepping down. In 1978, he earned the national AIA Honor Award for his sen- sitive design for the Three "H" Services Center, which served the Harris County community of Bordersville, an impover- ished neighborhood on the outskirts of Houston established by former slaves. Books could be written about Ze- manek — and one recently has: his autobi- ography, Being••Becoming: An Acorn Is to Become an Oak, completed three months before he passed away last April at the age of 94, still active and designing. His last project, the interior of Heights coffee shop Morningstar, bears his signature moon gate and use of unadorned building materials, a balance of functionality, affordability, and appropriateness with an organic dose of global architecture, emblematic of his entire practice. For those who will now never have a chance to meet him, much of Zemanek is here on these pages, in Gaea II, a home he designed in the late 1990s/2000 and moved into in February 2001, as he ap- proached 80. His third home, Gaea III, catty-corner and down the street, was his residence during his 90s, completed in 2011, and where he lived out his final, nonetheless significant chapter. After moving into Gaea III, rather than selling Gaea II, the architect leased it. 57 Opposite page: The living room's iconic seating, a Vladimir Kagan lounge chair and Pedro Friedeberg hand/foot chair. Here: The living room is anchored by a Swedish folk revival carpet by master mid-century weaver Berit Koenig. Nakashima olive-root table, Harry Bertoia sculptures, and Paul Evans pair of Argente cubes also contrib- ute importance to the interior. A Chinese-inspired moon gate announces the home's entrance.

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