Cover

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Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-vi

CONTENTS

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pp. vii-viii

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Preface: On Practicing Classical Architecture in Houston at the Turn of the Twenty-First Century

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pp. ix-xvi

When we started Curtis & Windham Architects more than two decades ago, architecture schools were dominated by the legacy of modern masters. The postmodern critique of modernism had opened the doors for architects to examine nineteenth- and twentieth-century buildings whose designs were based on historical models. But even so, it was unusual for a student to admit to keen interest in classical architecture. We began our careers swimming against the stream on separate, parallel courses through established practices on the East Coast and abroad. We launched our own two-desk practice in 1992, after meeting in Houston and discovering that we shared an interest in, and a commitment to, the beauty of classical architecture. Though it might seem strange that we should set up practice in a city where buildings designed in traditional architectural idioms were either being replaced by taller, shinier forms or left to crumble, Houston, we quickly discovered, had its advantages....

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Acknowledgments

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pp. xvii-xx

We would first like to express our gratitude to our clients with whom it has been a privilege to share a passion for architecture and whose visions lie at the heart of each of our projects.
We are indebted to the architects, designers, and administrative professionals who work at Curtis & Windham and whose names can be found on the following page. They have given inspiration and innumerable hours of painstaking effort to the work presented in this volume....

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Introduction

Stephen Fox

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pp. 1-10

William Curtis and Russell Windham don’t jump out at you as revolutionaries. They are well dressed, well mannered, well spoken, thoughtful, conservative (but with a mischievous sense of humor), and sufficiently self-assured that they don’t go out of the way to call attention to themselves. Yet in just over twenty years they’ve changed the trajectory of architecture in Houston. As exponents of classical architecture, Bill Curtis and Russell Windham rejuvenated a manner of architectural practice that had fallen into such desuetude after the 1950s that it seemed unlikely ever to be revived. Not only have they reinvigorated classical practices, but they also have made their architecture studio a training ground for younger architects who want to learn the discipline of architecture. They encourage and support the work of skilled crafts-people, and they have banded together with like-minded design professionals across Texas and the United States through the Institute of Classical Architecture and Art to formulate a discourse on the relevance of contemporary classicism....

A Vision of Place

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p. 11

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Swift Boulevard Studio: Houston, 1992

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pp. 12-15

We have always held that scale and proportion can yield inspired, resonant design. This applies to a modest project like the Swift Boulevard Studio as well as buildings of a more imposing scale.
Our client, an art historian with an interest in decorative arts and architectural history, asked us to design a garage and upstairs studio. She wanted something economical but in keeping with the surroundings, a neighborhood of houses dating from the 1930s adjacent to Rice University. Our brief was to design an outbuilding that reflected the texture and scale of the neighborhood, with its established pattern of detached garage outbuildings....

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Park Circle House: Houston, 1995

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pp. 16-23

The Park Circle House was one of our first commissions for a new house in Houston. Our client’s site was a trapezoidal lot in a cul-de-sac that was already densely developed. The lot’s narrow street frontage allowed for a maximum width of thirty-six feet at the front of the building, a constraint that prompted us to consider a town house profile. Our client leaned toward a restrained, classical idiom, which led us to look to the town houses designed in the 1920s by William Lawrence Bottomley along Monument Avenue in Richmond, Virginia.
The decorum of Bottomley’s houses disguises their elastic inventiveness in the disposition of interior space. We followed Bottomley’s lead in devising structural solutions to problems arising from spatial limitation. One of our principal concerns was to ensure that the interior spaces produced an impression of light-filled amplitude...

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Wine Cellar: Houston, 1998

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pp. 24-27

In 1998, we were commissioned to make something special out of a small utility basement in a River Oaks house designed by Eugene Werlin. Our client wanted to convert this dark, low-ceilinged chamber into a wine cellar. It was difficult at first to imagine how this could be done: the space available for the transformation was severely limited, yet we concluded that, correctly handled, these constraints could form the basis of a compact design that would satisfy our client’s expectations.
Our approach was inspired by Andrea Palladio. Palladio devoted considerable effort to designing the ground floor and subterranean spaces of his villas, the service areas, to make them structurally sound and exceptionally graceful as they conveyed light and air to a villa’s inner recesses. Functional elements that we take...

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Immaculate Conception Church: Jefferson, Texas, 1996

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pp. 28-37

Jefferson, an exceptionally well-preserved town in north-eastern Texas, was a prosperous city with an active river port in the 1860s and 1870s. After railroads supplanted steamboats in shipping cotton and timber, the growth of the town virtually ceased. Today much of Jefferson’s nineteenth-century fabric still remains, and its picturesque character—with its numerous Greek Revival and Victorian houses, brick commercial buildings, and a town square with a gazebo—is a tourist attraction.
In 1992, the Roman Catholic Church that was built adjacent to the square in 1867 was tragically destroyed by fire. The Immaculate Conception Church was a handsome, white-clapboard structure in an eclectic Greek Revival mode and had been a defining element of the town’s center for one hundred twenty-five years. The parish hoped to rebuild their church, albeit in a slightly expanded form, yet diocesan authorities stipulated that the new church conform to liturgical guidelines set forth by the Second Vatican Council....

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River Oaks House and Garden Pavilion: Houston, 1998

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pp. 38-43

The River Oaks project involved the renovation of an existing house and the addition of a new pool pavilion. The 1928 house, situated on one of the neighborhood’s prominent boulevards, was designed by Cameron Fairchild in a Southern colonial style. It is characterized by grand elegance: Front and rear porticos in a monumental twenty-four-foot order define the central block, while a pair of matching porches in a smaller scale punctuate opposing wings. Our work encompassed the rebuilding of the two side porches, modernizing the kitchen interior, and replacing the garage with the pavilion.
In redesigning the interiors of such houses, our aim is to find ways to make architectural grandeur livable. This usually means redefining spaces that once functioned as service areas and that typically become the focus of informal social gatherings in a contemporary family. The kitchen wing of Fairchild’s design, for example, comprised...

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Rocking K Ranch: Montana, 1999

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pp. 44-55

Our client acquired a long-established five-thousand-acre cattle ranch in western Montana with a singular goal in mind: to restore the natural habitats of elk and other wildlife among the ranch’s foothill corridors and enhance the fly-fishing opportunities along the creek. When we first visited the property, the site had accreted eighteen separate buildings, the oldest of which was a late-nineteenth-century barn. Most of these were utilitarian structures of a provisional character, built at little cost to meet some immediate need. But there were also romantic, indigenous log structures, including the picturesque barn.
Whereas many owners might have built a single new, large house with contemporary picture windows to survey the scenery from the comfort of a sofa, our client wished to preserve the hardy, turn-of-the-century character of the ranch with its smaller, discrete buildings and its expectation of outdoor living. He planned, moreover, to spend the...

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Inverness House: Houston, 2002

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pp. 56-67

Our clients admired classically proportioned rooms, naturally lit interiors, and the felicitous massing in French houses of the late eighteenth century. They required a house versatile enough to allow entertaining on an intimate or a large scale and with space sufficient to accommodate a contemporary art collection. With the advantages of a unique lot—three separate parcels combined as one, the long axis paralleling the street—our clients wanted the house to be aligned with its neighbors, close to the street. They wanted the architecture to be resplendent in appearance, while respecting the scale and spatial continuity of the neighborhood.
The Pavillon de la Lanterne, a delicate two-story manor house at Versailles and an influential paradigm of domestic elegance, was the primary inspiration for the project. A lanterne is a building one can see through by virtue of its single-room depth and aligned openings, and the interior spaces of such a structure are characterized by abundant...

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Willowick House: Houston, 2002

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pp. 68-79

The Willowick House is situated on a wooded three-acre lot in River Oaks, overlooking Buffalo Bayou near the edge of Memorial Park. Though located in the middle of Houston, the site’s proximity to the park lends it the character of a country estate, and its shape (narrow along the street frontage) determined that the house would be situated well back from the street. These circumstances freed us from the constraints of a streetscape and allowed us to focus instead on the house’s relationship to the bayou and surrounding woods.
Our clients had grown up on the East Coast and had vivid memories of rambling New England houses. They wanted their house to provide the same embracing expansiveness, with views of the building from numerous interior vantage points and an integration with the site’s natural features....

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Knollwood House and Gardens: Houston, 2003

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pp. 80-93

Our clients admired country houses designed by Charles A. Platt and John F. Staub and wanted a house with similar material permanence and authenticity. Our conversations suggested that what they especially valued was the precise considerations of symmetry: the wall-to-openings ratio, the alignment of openings in the elevation, and the proportional hierarchy of the elevations and interior spaces. Platt and Staub were known for their sensitivity in integrating their houses into gardened landscapes, an adroitness we fully appreciated, since care in siting had been a point of concern in our work since the beginning of our practice.
In the design of the Knollwood house, our aim was for an uninsistent authority. The exterior emphasizes simplicity. Walls are surfaced with acid-washed stucco composed of torpedo sand, which gives the house its distinctive tawny hue. A plain belt course complements cast stone window and door surrounds and sills, reinforcing the alignment of first- and second-story windows. A simply...

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Bonney Brier House and Gardens: Houston, 2005

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pp. 94-103

We designed this house for a family with young children, on a lot nestled against the fairway of a suburban golf course. The clients felt that a single-story ranch house would suit their needs for informal, open living spaces that took full advantage of the siting among mature trees at the edge of the fairway.
Our preparatory research led us in two different, if not necessarily conflicting, directions. On the one hand, we were drawn to the work of William W. Wurster (1895–1973), dean of the architecture school at the University of California, Berkeley, who was associated with the burgeoning modernist movement of the West Coast in the 1930s. We looked carefully at his prototype of the California ranch house, the Gregory Farmhouse in Santa Cruz, a study in modulated horizontality. Its long, lightly...

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Inwood Pool Pavilion: Houston, 2006

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pp. 104-115

Some projects are motivated as much by a spirit of conservation as by a specific need: The Inwood Pool Pavilion is an example. Our clients cherished their 1936 Regency-style house, designed by John F. Staub, but wanted additional space for entertaining and family life. Altering or expanding the house did not seem like a wise course of action; it is a remarkably cohesive structure, and we did not want to detract from its architectural unity. So, with our client’s concurrence, we designed a freestanding building that would leave the rear garden—designed by C. C. Fleming and Albert E. Sheppard with its stately allée of live oak trees—intact and yet would contribute in its own right to the enhancement of the site. Given the ample proportions of the property and the existence of a pool that was part of the garden design, we situated the new building adjacent to the pool, at some distance from the house, under the undulating reach of the oak trees....

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South Boulevard House and Gardens: Houston, 2006

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pp. 116-127

Our work on the South Boulevard House, designed in 1924 by the architects Briscoe and Dixon, spanned the better part of a decade. The initial phase of work involved enlarging the service wing to expand the kitchen, gain an extra upstairs bedroom, and a porte cochère. The addition was handled in the same material as the original house—brick with wood detailing—preserving the architectural character of the 1924 structure, a high priority for our clients.
It was only after the owners returned from living in London for several years that work began on the second phase of design. It is this effort that gave the property its present character, with the garden and grounds becoming a central focus rather than a peripheral element....

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Inverness House and Gardens: Houston, 2007

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pp. 128-137

The Inverness House occupies a wedge-shaped one-acre lot in River Oaks. We designed the house for a young couple who wanted the symmetry of Georgian architecture. The angle formed by the site’s shape presented difficulties for an expansive interior with formal rooms and space for the amenities of contemporary life. It also meant that particular care would have to be devoted to planning the gardens. Our design focuses on mitigating the lot’s constraints while satisfying our clients’ expectations for the house.
Westover, the William Byrd House on the James River, east of Richmond, Virginia, is an American archetype of Georgian domestic architecture. In designing the exterior features of the Inverness House, we looked to Westover for its frontal symmetry, pedimented entry, and steeply pitched hip roof, modifying its proportions to conform to the River Oaks context. In its coloration and materials, Westover proved a felicitous precedent. We adopted its exterior finishes of brick walls and slate roof, adding jack arches above the windows and a contrasting belt course of gauged brick....

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Las Campanas House: Las Campanas, New Mexico, 2008

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pp. 138-149

In the Four Corners region of New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, and Nevada, indigenous pre-European architecture has left an indelible mark. The construction of the adobe-built pueblo, where day-to-day life was carried out within a protected perimeter, was such that basic shapes could be expanded in modular fashion along the protective contours of canyon walls, or stacked atop one another, and so permit various kinds of domestic work to take place simultaneously on staggered rooftop terraces.
When we were commissioned to design a seasonal house in Las Campanas near Santa Fe, we were struck by the fact that the municipal building code of present-day Santa Fe echoes these adaptations: Building guidelines dictate that rooflines must rise and fall with the topography; dwellings must conform to their surroundings, not vice versa. We observed, too, how the ancient precedent of flat-roofed, adobe construction, re-interpreted in the 1920s and 1930s by Santa Fe architect John Gaw Meem and his colleagues, encourages a flexible articulation of interior space....

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Del Monte House and Gardens

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pp. 150-161

The Del Monte House is tucked under a canopy of magnificent live oak trees in a section of River Oaks containing smaller, eclectic houses dating from the 1940s. Our clients were attracted to a Mediterranean look but wanted to be sure their house would blend with the fabric of the neighborhood. We proposed adapting the suburban Spanish Colonial style, with its courtyards, stylized entryways, beamed ceilings, tiled roofs, and fountains, which is ideally suited to Houston’s subtropical climate. The flexibility of the Spanish Colonial idiom made it possible for us to create the impression of expansive privacy in a house that had to be seated rather tightly on a narrow lot, without removing trees....

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Sleepy Hollow House and Gardens: Houston, 2009

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pp. 162-167

When River Oaks was laid out in the 1920s, neighborhood parks were interspersed among the winding streets, creating a bucolic setting for small estate-like sites. For one such property, the New York architect Frank J. Forster designed a house based on the rural architecture of the French provinces, the style with which he was especially associated. Forster’s picturesque houses embodied an idiosyncratic vision: they were handcrafted, irregular, and highly detailed in their replication of old world building practices, often including romantic turrets and hand-hewn timber. Though his designs were built across the country, the River Oaks house, constructed in 1929 when the neighborhood was still full of open space, is his only surviving work in Houston. Impressively long and only one room deep, its siting—which takes advantage of the prevailing breeze—must have seemed felicitous in Forster’s day. But over the years, the contours of the neighborhood changed, and by the time we encountered the house, it seemed uncomfortably situated on the flat site, disconnected from its surroundings....

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Table Rock Ranch: Colorado, 2010

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pp. 168-179

Table Rock Ranch is located in a pristine Colorado valley that cradles a three-mile-long trout stream. The ranch was bought by two siblings who wanted to convert it for use as a fly-fishing camp. We redesigned the property as a compound where houses can be used individually or as a whole to accommodate large gatherings.
The compound consists of a lodge, which contains a large living area, kitchen, game room, and porch that frames an outside terrace; a cabin; an existing garage to which we added a fly room for fishing gear; and a service building for vehicles. There were several structures on the property, some of which were retained—such as a barn and a small cabin—while others were removed to make way for the new buildings....

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Del Monte Salon, House, and Gardens: Houston, 2011

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pp. 180-193

Domestic architecture presents certain unique challenges. One that we frequently encounter is that of incorporating rooms for entertaining into the design of a private home. Particularly where the scale of entertaining is substantial, the need for a salon or ballroom-like space presents an aesthetic balancing act: The architect needs to find ways to integrate such a volume into the whole.
In our work on the Del Monte House, we explored a new solution to this problem. We decided to build the salon as a separate structure, siting it at the front of the property, facing the street. We could then set the main house back toward the right side of the property, and the two structures could be joined by a connecting sunroom, which would open onto a salon terrace....

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La Estancia Del Río: New Mexico, 2011

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pp. 194-207

The landscape of northern New Mexico is starkly magnificent, particularly in the region of Río Chama and the Cerro Pedernal. This is the rugged high-desert country where Georgia O’Keeffe worked and lived from 1949 until her death in 1986. In 2013, when we were asked to build a house overlooking the Chama on a five-hundred-acre site, we were captivated by the prospect of working in this extraordinary setting.
The climate of the high desert is one of extremes. In considering how to mitigate such harshness, we were motivated to design a house that would be apprehended as part of the terrain. We thought it important that neither the process of construction nor the completed house should involve harming the surroundings. The house’s sheltering comforts, therefore, should stem as much as possible from the elemental nature of the materials used and from the articulation of space rather than from any attempt on our part to “combat” natural conditions....

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West Lane House and Gardens: Houston, 2011

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pp. 208-219

We were commissioned by a couple to rehabilitate their modernist house designed by Howard Barnstone and Preston M. Bolton in 1957. The original binuclear plan was one of exquisite simplicity: two single-story brick boxes, one containing the living areas and the other the family spaces, with a transparent vestibule connecting the two and linking the interior to the garden. Bolton and Barnstone were prominent architects in Houston and had been deeply influenced by the work of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Philip Johnson. Though their house was unique in the Tall Timbers section of River Oaks, its clean lines and tactful siting—well away from the road on ample grounds—lent its spare forms an understated, cosmopolitan appeal. But by the time we encountered the house, the landscape, designed by Thomas D. Church, had been altered to accommodate such new elements as a pool and had lost its former shape and focus. The couple wanted to recover the site’s earlier polished refinement....

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Longwood Farm: Chappell Hill, Texas, 2012

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pp. 220-233

At Longwood Farm, we designed a country house with formal gardens and grounds that would seem as rooted in the south central Texas landscape as it was in our clients’ affection for English country houses. Situated near Chappell Hill, the farm lies in an area of transition from rolling hills to coastal plain. This region marks the southernmost extent of the Cretaceous limestone shelves characteristic of central Texas, a geological condition that informed our choice of material.
The two-hundred-acre tract was to be transformed into a country seat, the locus of holiday gatherings, weekend house parties, and a retreat from city life. Yet it would sacrifice nothing of the sophistication and graciousness of its owners, whose social life encompassed New Orleans, New York, and London....

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Chevy Chase House: Houston, 2012

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pp. 234-247

The Chevy Chase House is our interpretation of an Italianate palazzo scaled to contemporary needs on a corner lot in River Oaks. A mature live oak tree that dominates the street corner and is the lot’s most striking natural feature was the crux of our site strategy. This, along with the fact that the lot is one-and-a-half times the standard size, led us to pursue a U-shaped plan that could take advantage of the lot’s extra length to the east. Siting the house as far west as restrictions and the corner tree allowed, we were able to preserve the pattern of the street while maximizing the open garden space around the pool.
Because the oak tree sets the scale along the converging street frontages, we devised a parapeted corner block to anchor the house to the lot in relation to the tree and act as an architectural counterpoint. This block is the tallest portion of the house and has the fewest openings with the sparest ornamentation. As one faces the main entry,...

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Seaside Drive House: Seaside, Florida, 2013

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pp. 248-261

Seaside, Florida, was the first town in the United States planned according to the principles of the “New Urbanism.” A Gulf of Mexico beachfront community on Florida’s northwest panhandle, Seaside’s master plan encourages residents to reach most in-town destinations on foot or bicycle, relegating cars to a tertiary mode of transportation. The town’s building code also stipulates that all houses be designed with front porches a specified distance from the street to allow for spontaneous conversation between passersby and porch-sitting residents. The ideal of a cohesive street fabric and a community whose whole is more than just the sum of its parts is a conscious goal articulated in a set of tightly controlled design guidelines. Known as “the code,” these rules set out urban ideals that emphasize a walkable community and regional traditions of scale and material. Since its establishment in the early 1980s, Seaside has served as an inspiration and model for many resort and year-round communities that conform to New Urbanist practices....

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Flores Hall and Campus Center, St. John’s School: Houston, 2015

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pp. 262-274

In our initial planning for the design of a new building for St. John’s Upper School, we realized that we had an opportunity to develop the full potential of the campus. The architectural portion of the job consisted of designing and building a new ten-thousand-square-foot dining hall, along with additional classroom and administrative space. The larger aim was to create a sense of place that fulfilled the school’s aspiration for an inspiring, cohesive campus that also enhanced pedestrian circulation. Architecture would naturally play a pivotal role in this plan, since it was hoped that the new building’s physical beauty and permanence would complement the school’s educational ideals; at the same time, school leaders stipulated that the reorganization of spatial relationships occasioned by the building project should be handled with as much care as the design of the architecture....

Index

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pp. 275-279

Back Cover

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