The Houston Modern Architecture Tour with Jason Smith

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Modern architecture enthusiast Jason Smith gave van tours this past weekend of some of Houston's best modern architecture as part of the Houston Modern Market, proving Houston to be a haven for many genuine mod architecture treasures. Here are some of the best finds from the tour.

With a swinging jazz piano soundtrack, the first building visited was the Heights State Bank Building. It was built in 1962 by Wilson, Morris, Crain & Anderson, who were some of Houston's most acclaimed modern architects after having built the Astrodome.

Here, pre-cast concrete branch-like formations are stacked above a grid of cast-in-place columns. This style was originally done in Frank Lloyd Wright's Johnson Wax Building, where the columns were called "lily pads."

The Ballantyne House was built in 1961. It is located on Tiel Way, which Smith claimed to be "one of the best modernism streets in Houston." Owner Mrs. Ballantyne still lives in the house. Architect Karl Kamrath designed this house after the Gonzalez and Kamrath Houses were finished, which are also located on Tiel Way. A close friend of Frank Lloyd Wright, Kamrath's works were indeed greatly inspired by him.

The house has two wings. The bedroom wing faces an interior courtyard, and the kitchen, family rooms and dining room point toward a grass courtyard. Connecting the two wings is a sunken living room that juts out over Buffalo Bayou. This house synthesizes nature and architecture.

The Gonzalez House was built in 1957. This house is located on Tiel Way as well. The architects are MacKie and Kamrath.

In an attempt to synthesize nature and architecture as well, this house is nestled securely in the ground and is, unfortunately for the sake of the tour, hidden from the street. It was built on a terraced knoll that borders the bayou, so in order to conform to the existing contours of the land, it was planned on three different levels.

Next was the Stude House by H.V. Neuhaus, which was built in 1952. This house was included on the first Contemporary Arts Association Home Tour, which featured many modern houses in the '50s and '60s.

Owner John Steele recently restored it, but it remains hidden from the street.

67 Tiel Way followed. The Kelly family recently expanded this originally small ranch house designed by Architect Karl Kamrath in 1949 with the help of Regan Miller.

With a minute's worth of driving we arrived at 2252 Troon. This house is believed to have been designed by Harwood Taylor.

Glass panels adorn the front façade interrupted by solid double dutch wooden doors in the center.

Here is the Maher House by Howard Barnstone.

This majestic modern mansion, built in 1964, is also tough to see from the street. It has since been stuccoed, though the steel pavilion located in the back of the house still looks the same as it did when it was originally built, keeping the house recognizable, at least.

A few minutes down the road was The Menil House by Philip Johnson, which was built in 1950.

The De Menils brought modernism to Houston with this house.

On 3723 Knollwood Street is a property that was designed by Architect Wylie W. Vale in 1955.

Vale built this house for the Townsend family in 1955 on nearly an acre of River Oaks property. This house has a giant stone chimney and uses stone, wood and large glass panels to contribute to the organic architectural style that Vale calls "Contemporary Country." Many of Vale's works follow this style.

The Farfel House was built in 1957 on a one-and-a-half acre plot in River Oaks. The Farfel family had several requests for their house, including that the bedrooms all be located near each other as well as a library area and children's playroom. They also wanted a modern house with a sense of elegance and dignity.

The house was one of nine winners in the annual Texas Society of Architects statewide competition in 1957. Unfortunately, there isn't much to see from the street.

To satisfy their clients, Bolton and Barnstone came up with a "binuclear" or two-wing house plan with an entry connecting the two wings. Upon entering, one may turn left to go to the living/dining and kitchen area, or right to go to the bedroom area.

Architects Curtis & Windham were commissioned in 2010 with renovating the house. Interiors are by designer Ann Wolf. It was featured on the 2011 Azalea Trail.

The Willowick Condominiums were built in 1963 by Harwood Taylor and Neuhaus. This building designed for Gerald Hines was Harwood Taylor's first essay in high-rise living.

The exteriors are staid but the plans are well organized. There are expansive two-story studio apartments on the top levels with outdoor terraces, and a requisite fallout shelter is tucked away in the basement.

The Executive House at 5050 Woodway was built in 1965. It has 42 units ranging in size from 1,330 to 5,323 square feet.

Interesting features of the condominiums include the octagonal shape and the beautiful and original common area outside which consists of a swimming pool, a Japanese garden and mid-century modern guest houses.

Jason Smith gave us a tour with seemingly as much knowledge as someone who had formally studied architecture. He in fact studied music, and compared himself to some of his non-musically inclined friends saying, "My love of modern architecture is like my non-musically inclined friends loving music. It doesn't mean that we can't simply appreciate these things."

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