Texas Architect Sept/Oct 2006: Design Awards
Texas Architect is the official publication of the Texas Society of Architects, each edition features recently completed projects and other editorial content largely written by AIA members in Texas. That collective participation was the basis of Texas Architect’s recognition by the national AIA with a 2010 Institute Honor for Collaborative Achievement.
9 / 10 2 0 0 6 texas architect 17 NEWS S.I. Morris (1914-2006) The dean of Houston’s architecture commu- nity, Seth Irwin Morris Jr., died Aug. 1 at the age of 91. From 1938, when Morris and F. Talbott Wilson Jr., formed the architectural practice that became Wilson, Morris, Crain & An- derson, until his retirement in 1986 from what became Morris Architects, S.I. Morris ranked as one of Houston’s best-known architects, although he routinely insisted that he designed very few buildings. S.I. Morris, familiarly known as “Si” (as in rhymes with “sigh”) built an architecture practice attuned to the dynamics of Houston’s entrepreneurial economy. From the 1940s to the 1980s, the buildings Morris’ firms produced repeatedly were recognized by TSA and AIA Houston for design excellence. S.I. Morris was born in Madisonville in 1914 and grew up in Houston. He graduated in 1935 from the Rice Institute’s architecture program, then worked for two years for Burns Roensch before joining his ex-Rice classmate Talbott Wilson in starting their firm. After wartime service in the U.S. Navy, Morris resumed prac- tice with Wilson and a third partner, B.W. Crain Jr, in 1946. In 1953, Ralph Anderson Jr., who had been with the firm since 1948, became the fourth partner. S.I. Morris contended that the job to design a new Houston Country Club in 1954 enabled the firm to move from residential and small-scale institutional work to major commercial projects because of connections formed with club mem- bers, who included Houston’s most influential business and civic leaders. In his anecdotal history of the Morris firm, John Wiegman, FAIA, described Morris’s network as encompassing key partners in the Vinson & Elkins law firm and the First City National Bank, trustees of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (of which Morris served twice as president), mayors of Houston, county judges and commissioners of Harris County, and the general contractor Warren S. Bellows. Con- nected with the Republican Party of Texas when the state was still solidly Democratic, Morris got the job for Houston’s Central Post Office in 1962 during the Eisenhower administration. His connections to ex-Harris County judge Roy Hofheinz and to First City Bank Chairman Bill Kirkland resulted in Wilson, Morris, Crain & Anderson’s collaboration with Lloyd, Morgan & Jones on the design of the Astrodome (1965). Two of Houston’s major corporations – Houston Lighting & Power Company and the Houston Post – built headquarters designed by Wilson, Morris, Crain & Anderson in the late 1960s. In the early 1960s the firm began to produce office buildings for investment builder Gerald D. Hines. The loss of one important job – the First City National Bank Building in downtown Houston – to Skidmore, Owings & Merrill in 1958 dem- onstrated Morris’s genius for turning adversity into opportunity. After being passed over for the commission, he agreed to associate with SOM, an association repeated for both SOM’s Great Southern Life Insurance Building (1965) and, crucially, Hines’s first big downtown building, One Shell Plaza (1971). The local associate role (which included affiliations with Johnson/ Burgee on Pennzoil Place, Post Oak Central, and Transco Tower for Gerald D. Hines Inter- ests) enabled Morris’s firm to compete locally because, as Eugene Aubry once wryly noted, WMCA appropriated SOM’s detailing. In 1972, Morris dissolved Wilson, Morris, Crain & Anderson. With Aubry, whom Morris had recruited in 1970, the brilliant interior designer Sally Walsh, and another gifted design partner, John E. Bertini, Morris ensured that the work of the new firm, S.I. Morris Associates, exhibited a design profile that matched the bold scale of projects pouring into the firm’s office. KPRC Channel 2 Studio on the Southwest Freeway (1970), the Jesse H. Jones Central Library (1975), the Prudential Insurance Co. Building (1977), the Glassell School of the Museum of Fine Arts (1978), One Riverway (1978), the Brown & Root Southwest Houston Office Building (1980), and First City Tower (1981) are icons of this expansive era in Houston’s history. The firm (subsequently Morris*Aubry Architects) also designed major high-rise buildings in Austin, Midland, Beau- mont, Corpus Christi, and Victoria. Morris combined aggressive pursuit of work with service on the boards of the museum, the Houston Chamber of Commerce, Rice Univer- sity, the Cultural Arts Council of Houston, and the Contemporary Arts Museum among others. Morris was honored by Rice University with alumni awards (1981 and 1991), by TSA with the Llewellen Pitts Award (1992), by the Associated General Contractors (1994), and by the Rice Design Alliance (1998). In 2005, AIA Houston presented an original Marcel Breuer chair and ottoman to the design collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston in his honor. Morris is survived by his wife of 60 years, Su- zanne Kibler Morris, five children, 14 grandchil- dren, and one great-grandchild. Such Houston firms as Morris Architects, Jackson & Ryan Ar- chitects, Kendall/Heaton Associates, WHR Ar- chitects, and Jim McReynolds Architects count themselves as his professional descendants. StepHen F o x (left) One Shell Plaza, designed by Morris’ first firm and completed in 1971, was developer Gerald D. Hines’ first big downtown building. (right) an icon of houston’s glory days in the early 1980s, First city tower was designed by the firm headed by Morris and eugene aubry. court esy m orrIs A rcHIt ect s court esy HIn es