Paper Cut-Out on a Wooden Frame: Transart Foundation in Houston
Architects: Schaum/Shieh, Houston/New York
Location: 1412 W Alabama St, Houston, TX 77006 (US)
Art attracts art. It is presumably no coincidence that the headquarters of the Transart Foundation for Art and Anthropology is located near Renzo Piano’s Menil Foundation in the southwest of Houston. With a newly completed building, the foundation has created space for exhibitions, performances, lectures and discussions. The two-storey, smoothly plastered white cube faces the street with its narrow, south-facing end. To the north, the building stands beside an old photo studio that the client has had clad in grey fibre-cement plates; it now serves as an artists’ studio and guest house.
The new structure is accessed via a small yard on the east-facing, longitudinal side. To the right and left of the entrance, two gallery spaces open up over the entire height of the gallery – the southern space is for traditional art exhibitions, while the northern one, which gets less direct sunlight, is devoted to new media and performances requiring controlled lighting conditions. Above the entryway on the first upper storey the foundation’s central meeting room, also known as the salon, extends to both sides and juts into the gallery spaces with its open balconies. From there, visitors can either take the stairs or travel in the grey, Plexiglas tube with integrated elevator to the south-facing gallery. The elevator is driven pneumatically, with no hydraulic cylinder or pulley.
Schaum/Shieh have treated the smooth, white-plastered façade like an abstract work of art. Some of the large-format façade panels have been ornamented with cut-outs resembling the segments of a circle; these allow light inside. The abstract shell does not cover a massive construction, but rather a stable wooden framework with glulam-timber supports and joists measuring 20 x 25 cm. Even the bracing has generous dimensions: the beams have a cross-section of 6.5 x 25 cm, which will allow the building to withstand the hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico. The ceilings are likewise made of wood; only the dramatically protruding balconies on the upper storey had to be reinforced with steel supports.