Olivewood Cemetery lies near a bend in White Oak Bayou where the First and Sixth Wards meet, just northwest of Downtown Houston. The 6 acre property is an historic resting place for freed slaves, as well as for some of the city’s earliest influential residents of African descent. By the late 1960’s, as many African-American families moved away from the area, the property sadly fell into disrepair. In 2003, a group of concerned descendants of the interred formed a coalition to clean up and rehabilitate the weed-choked lots. I was chosen to design a visitor center and archive for the redevelopment. The formal solution involved the adaptive reuse of an existing turn of the century house attached to a contemporary interpretation of a vernacular building type that could once be commonly found near the cemetery: a series of modern ‘rowhouses’, as well as an outdoor pavilion for the staging of public events, and a community garden. The materials palette was kept simple and evocative of the type, while the forms were allowed to playfully veer from their historical precedent. The design was instrumental in the descendant’s legal effort to wrest control of the property from a rival group intent on a less sympathetic restoration.
Location: Houston, TX, US