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(top) A wall of glass at dockside offers breathtaking views of passing ships. (below) The building’s addition, seen in the background, contains a formal, mahogany-trimmed meeting room for port commissioners.

entrance. The design builds to a crescendo that ends with four brick monumental pillars. They create a terminus to Chaparral Street, downtown’s traditional “main street.” The exterior’s D’Hanis brick facade assumes a warm earth tone in the South Texas sun. The arches of the entryway and the pillars acknowledge the region’s Mexican heritage. Mosaics and broken Mexican tiles are set to suggest a coastline and the sea. A fountain system in front of the murals, once it’s connected, will add the element of real water to complete the imagery. Colorful one-inch-square tiles pave the outside entryway’s floor and continue inside. They’re a nod to history and bring a playful subtlety to the design. Tiles of this size were commonly used in the 1920s and ‘30s, the port’s earliest decades. Here they are set in a random pattern to resemble scattered confetti which conjures up images of ship christenings and bon-voyage parties. The canopy above the entryway is constructed with multicolored, storm-resistant fiberglass panels. So are the panes of the clerestory monitors. The original steel-frame, multi-light glazed monitors were designed to bring light and air into the building in the days before air conditioning. Their nautical colors of blue and green extend the festive reference inside and outside. Behind the building, the former cargo dock has been transformed into a public plaza along the edge of the harbor. Shade structures made with galvanized steel and wood are designed in a pattern that also recalls the Harbor Bridge and which extends the maritime quality of the setting. Climbing vines add a cool note of greenery. Richter said the original warehouse was clad in corrugated tin that did not capture the beauty of its site because the purpose of the building was functional. The craftsmanship of the structure, though, was another story. “It was built by hand with steel rivets,” Richter said. “The workmanship of all the pieces coming together creates a beautiful, bridge-like structure within the building.” The old riveted-steel structure was produced by Carnegie Steel. It’s one reference that lets the building’s past play a role in its present and future. Another is the massive, cast-concrete firewalls that protected the former warehouse in the decades when it was stacked high with cotton bales. Richter left the walls unpainted to reveal their original markings, like the stenciled “No Smoking” warning. And the original tongue-and-groove fir roof decking


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Texas Architect Nov/Dec 2001: Public Spaces