Space City

For years, the eyesore of Allen Parkway Village -- the now-famous public housing project built during the 1940s -- has lingered indiscreetly between Houston's glittering downtown skyline and the sagging and silent destitution of the Fourth Ward. Many of the site's buildings have been bulldozed over the last few years by the Houston Housing Authority, and the dozen or so that remain have been gutted of all infrastructure. What's left of APV is a smattering of modernistic ruins that serve, in this era of rampant downtown revitalization, as vivid reminders of inner city poverty. Most people look the other way; Houston-based architect Craig McCormick looked closer.

McCormick first encountered Allen Parkway Village when he moved to Houston in August 1996 to attend the master's program at Rice University's School of Architecture. "Here was this vast site filled with long, horizontal buildings resting at the feet of towers," he remembers. "A closed site, an empty site ... Texas-sized latent potential."

In August of 1997 McCormick decided to lug his heavy camera equipment into the vacant buildings and explore -- necessitating a degree of daytime Mission Impossible-style trespassing. On one of his more memorable excursions, McCormick almost bumped into a daydreaming HPD officer assigned to guard the projects. "He was standing, listening to music from his cruiser, and stretching. I froze, reversed quietly, and scurried when I was out of his visual." Between August of '97 and January of this year, McCormick took his tripod to the site seven times.

The images he came home with -- on display at Brasil November 20 through January 3 -- are difficult to classify. "Allen Parkway Village: Suspended Interiors" is a document of spaces that, like most of the objects found at partially articulated construction sites, were never meant to be noticed, much less contemplated. In the essay that accompanies his photos, McCormick writes, "a new and unintended presence has been given to the buildings .... For a brief time, another architecture exists here, unenvisioned by architects and protected by a tall fence and security guards so as to remain unseen by others."

McCormick's photographs depict a stark, concrete and steel no man's land of deep corridors and rigidly rhythmic volumes. Large, empty rooms are scarred where construction crews ripped away fixtures and nonessential partitions. Among the few legacies of APV's former occupants are the incongruously buoyant swatches of pastel paint still visible on concrete walls. The overall effect is reminiscent of the minimal spaces created by Donald Judd at the Chinati Foundation in Marfa. But though McCormick admires Judd's work, he insists that Chinati "is becoming another stop for the jet set." "I don't like to compare these images to Chinati, because there's so much reality going on here," he adds.

Accompanying McCormick's "Suspended Interiors" is "The Image of Space/Space of the Image," a collection of his photomontages inspired in part by the non-linear writings of French novelist Alain Robbe-Grillet. "The Image of Space" is lush and painterly -- a sharp contrast in both method and content to the APV photographs. Here McCormick aggressively seeks to "place photography in a crisis," as photographic technologies did to painting in the middle of the last century. The results are stunning: Houston building facades overlap infinitely, blurring together to create an ornate and frantic haze. Through McCormick's layering of multiple perspectives, a bourgeois bathroom becomes a Braque.

Both exhibitions indicate that, for McCormick, the line between architecture and photography is thin and vague. Asked about his impetus for making pictures, he smiles broadly, leans back in his chair and says: "I like space."

-- Brett Davidson

The opening reception for McCormick's photographs will be 7 to 10 p.m., Friday, November 20, at Brasil, 2604 Dunlavy at Westheimer. The show runs through Jan. 3. For more information, call 528-1993.

 
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