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Wright-Influenced NASA Landmark Redone as Offices for Houston Parks

impression of an in-filled ruin, overtones that recall Wright’s pre-Columbian interests. The renovation respects Kamrath’s original intentions in spatial organization and interior and exterior materials. Later renovations that obscured circulation around the central courtyard and divided interior spaces were removed. New lanterns cut into the roofs, bringing natural light to previously dim interior spaces and forming a vertical compliment to the pervasive horizontality of the building’s spaces. Original mahogany paneling used extensively throughout the interior was conserved and large mahogany return air grills were reused in conference rooms to create views to courts. The renovation was designed by Harrison Kornberg Architects, with preservation consultant Anna Mod of SWCA and landscaping by Asakura Robinson Company. The project, expected to receive a LEED Silver certification, also included the conversion of an existing metal warehouse structure into the Recreation and Wellness Division Building. G e r a l d

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(top) The Gragg Building underwent a $16 million renovation that reused existing materials to preserve its original architectural character. (left) In 1962 after its sale by Farnsworth & Chambers Company it was leased to NASA, six of the seven original Mercury astronauts flanked Dr. Robert L. Gilruth, the director of NASA’s Manned Spacecraft Center, as they posed behind the building’s new sign. From the left are Virgil I. Grissom, Alan B. Shepard, Walter M. Schirra, Dr. Gilruth, Scott Carpenter, L. Gordon Cooper, and Donald K. Slayton.


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Top image courtesy of Houston Parks and Recreation Department; Bottom Image Courtesy of NASA

One of Houston’s landmarks of modern architecture has been rededicated after a $16 million renovation. The historic Farnsworth & Chambers Co. building, designed by MacKie & Kamrath and completed in 1957, has been the home of Houston’s Parks and Recreation Department since 1977. Known as the Gragg Building after the donor of adjacent parkland, it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a Registered Texas Historic Landmark and a City of Houston Landmark. When the construction firm Farnsworth & Chambers Company built its new headquarters in southeast Houston in 1957, it was following a trend for suburban corporate campuses. MacKie & Kamrath had completed similar complexes for Schlumberger Oil further south on the new Gulf Freeway and one for Humble Oil Research on the west side of Houston, both in 1953. The long, low, one-story plan was composed of wings pinwheeling out from around a courtyard, extend-

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ing into the bayou-side site of moss-draped live oaks and landscaping designed by Garret Eckbo. The property was acquired by the Gragg family in 1961 as a real estate investment and briefly leased by the Manned Spacecraft Center of the newly-formed National Aeronautics and Space Administration in 1962-1964. The City of Houston purchased it in 1976 to consolidate the administration and maintenance operations of the Parks Department. Although Karl Kamrath never studied or worked under Frank Lloyd Wright, he was more adept and creative with Wright’s vocabulary of form, space, and ornament than most of Wright’s acolytes. With a successful practice for four decades, from the late 1930s to the late 1970s, Kamrath was able to apply Wright’s principles to more diverse types of projects than any in the master’s oeuvre. He achieved a singular character for Farnsworth & Chambers using battered walls and truncated towers of bluegreen ledgestone. Narrow horizontal bands of steel windows shaded by projecting roof slabs combine with the coarse stone to give an

Texas Architect March/April 2010: Performance Spaces  

This edition highlights architecture deigned for performance throughout Texas, including thoughtful essays about the use of public space and...

Texas Architect March/April 2010: Performance Spaces  

This edition highlights architecture deigned for performance throughout Texas, including thoughtful essays about the use of public space and...