The Wonders of Houston Architecture

Architectural landmarks located in the diverse city of Houston, Texas.



May '15 - May '15

  • The University of St. Thomas

    By SSanchez129
    May 8, '15 11:04 PM EST

    I believe in a sanctuary, a place where all wrong can forgotten and be replaced by an enlightening aura and a feeling of serenity. As humans we need alone time every now and then, and to me I feel most at peace when I surround myself in a place that contributes to the aesthetic feel of the world. To me, this place is at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas. Architecturally speaking, the University of St. Thomas has advanced greatly throughout the years.

    The University of St. Thomas has multiple buildings that were designed by Architect Phillip Johnson and are now a part of his noteworthy work located in Houston. These buildings include the Academic Hall and the Chapel of St. Basil. One of the initial components that the Academic Hall consisted of was Jones Hall which is now used for its three hundred seat auditorium specifically for lectures and speeches. Welder Hall was also part of this group and is now the University of St. Thomas’ Cameron School of Business. Lastly there is the Strake Hall which is now a classroom building. Years after the Academic Hall was built, Philip Johnson contributed to the University one more time and designed the Chapel of St. Basil which provides a quiet place for prayer and reflection on campus.

    When put together onto the location, everything seems very symmetrical and united. The way that the layout is set helps to emphasize the free area in the center which students love to sit and take a break as well as admire the outdoors.

    The history first begins with the help of a very well-known family in the Houston area, the de Menils. After moving to Houston, Dominque and John de Menil quickly became key figures in the city's developing cultural life as advocates of modern art and architecture. With their new impact and their promotion of modern art all throughout museums in Houston, the de Menils would soon begin to profit out of this and eventually create their own non-profit organization whose main purpose was to promote understanding and culture, through the arts in Houston. The same year The Menil Foundation was founded, 1954, was the same year the de Menils began to partner up with the University of St. Thomas and their plans to enlarge the campus. They hired Phillip Johnson to design the layout of the new and improved campus.  Not only did they hire Johnson as head architect, but they offered to pay for the making of the first two buildings, the Strake Hall and the Jones Hall. Johnson’s master plans involved inspiration from Thomas Jefferson’s Design of The University of Virginia. The Strake and Jones Hall was complete by 1958 and the Welder Hall was complete by 1959. The new buildings were a success thanks to its miesian feel. In an effort to provide a strong art history curriculum in Houston for students and adults, they founded the Art Department at the University of St. Thomas in 1959.

      By 1997 the Chapel of St. Basil was complete. The spatial qualities of the Chapel are very different when compared to the rest of the university because of its white- stucco and black granite material. It consists of a cube that represents the body of the church, a sphere that signifies the dome and the Christian character of the university, and a granite plane that connects these two shapes by crossing into the dome and the cube. The entrance was designed with the idea of an entry way with no door to invite all religions into the chapel. Different from the inspirations from the three other buildings, Johnson wanted the St. Basil Chapel to have a postmodern feel to it.

    Philip Johnson is known for his input in the modern architectural style. The University of St. Thomas is a prime example of his modern architectural works, but within this category, two design concepts stand out, International Style and minimalistic aesthetic mixed with purism. In Houston, Johnson was one of the first known people to introduce modern architecture. Houston is a prime example for an American city that is considered modern.

    For the University of St. Thomas, Philip Johnson kept these principles of Modern-International Style in mind and decided that it was best to keep a private enclosed space that contained an open and free area in the middle. The layout he designed was intended to promote the uniting of pavilions, public spaces, halls, the chapel, and the library. The idea behind this was proposed to build relationships within the people of the campus and help increase the learning experience for students attending the University of St. Thomas.

    From the underlying design ideas and based on the university’s design concepts, it is a straight fact that the Academic Mall located at the University of St. Thomas is a prime example of Johnson’s modern architecture. One way in which the University of St. Thomas was able to achieve its Modern-International Style was by enforcing the idea of keeping the design intent to a minimal and pure aesthetic. The only focus for the design was a clean, clear open center.




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About this Blog

Sarah Sanchez is an Architecture student in Houston, Texas and has come across many eye catching historical architectural landmarks. On this Blog she will be discussing the wonders of the Houston Architecture culture in regards to their design intent, spacial qualities, and the history behind each building. There's so much more than what meets the eye...

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