MA2

Any city would by lucky to have designers like MA2’s Michael Arellanes, willing to throw big ideas at the wall to see what sticks.

Here’s a library that Houston didn’t know it needed.

Michael Arellanes II, the architect and principal at the firm MA2, is exploring a series of grand design concepts for downtown Houston. No one in Houston has asked him to do this work, mind you. This is architectural spitballing.

In a post on the firm’s site, Arellanes II imagines a high-concept library and exhibition center for a parcel just north of downtown. The building is a star cluster of interlocking leaves, each of which provides programming space for what appears to be a truly massive library.

“By having a series of harmonic manifolds of book collection space and the mixing of programmatic function for exhibition”—[deep breath]—“it generates a dynamical system of flowing conditions which manifests with moments of extrapolation within the tectonic massing and circulation,” Arellanes II writes.

(MA2)
MA2, a firm with offices in Houston and Hong Kong, is “more about concepts rather than built projects for the moment,” according to Phaidon. Daydreaming is consistent with a perfectly respectable tradition of theoretical architecture.

After all, it’s hard not to look at the site, which falls between Houston’s Downtown and its Northside neighborhood, and not picture something better. Here’s what the parcel looks like today.

Bound by train tracks to the south and a series of University of Houston parking lots to the west, and framed by highways I-10 and I-45, it’s not exactly the most desirable land in the city. But it’s prime for some kind of development: The lot is adjacent to the Burnett Transit Center/Casa de Amigos light rail station, and the White Oak Bayou Greenway Trail runs nearby. The nearby industrial sector is home to the Saint Arnold Brewing Company, a celebrated Texas brewery. To the north is residential Northside.

Houston has one of the best cultural districts in the U.S. in Montrose, but that neighborhood is a fair distance away from the spot on MA2’s radar. There’s no reason that a major cultural center couldn’t be located somewhere else, of course. Something that responded to its neighbors’ needs (programmatically, if not architecturally) would be an asset to the Northside.

Now, the planning set might argue that this design creates a few problems. The walks from just about anywhere to the library appears to be long. Discounting the nearby University of Houston parking lots, there’s no evident parking area for library patrons. A good thing, potentially, though this neighborhood isn’t one of Houston’s most walkable. That plaza, which looks to be about the size of the National Mall, could wind up empty and foreboding.

(MA2)

Of course, it’s only a sketch—and again, an unsolicited one—so there’s only so much sense in judging its viability as a civic scheme. And it’s part of a larger series, the point of which is to reimagine Houston spaces that aren’t being given a lot of thought. Arellanes II even offers up a post rethinking downtown Houston altogether.

The chances of any of these concepts being realized may be slim, but that misses the point. Any city should be so lucky as to have a designer willing to throw big ideas at the wall to see what sticks.

An iconic visualization for Houston’s downtown. (MA2)

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. a map comparing the sizes of several cities
    Maps

    The Commuting Principle That Shaped Urban History

    From ancient Rome to modern Atlanta, the shape of cities has been defined by the technologies that allow commuters to get to work in about 30 minutes.

  2. A woman looks straight at camera with others people and trees in background.
    Equity

    Why Pittsburgh Is the Worst City for Black Women, in 6 Charts

    Pittsburgh is the worst place for black women to live in for just about every indicator of livability, says the city’s Gender Equity Commission.

  3. a photo of a full parking lot with a double rainbow over it
    Transportation

    Parking Reform Will Save the City

    Cities that require builders to provide off-street parking trigger more traffic, sprawl, and housing unaffordability. But we can break the vicious cycle.   

  4. a photo rendering of "Siemensstadt 2.0" in Berlin
    Life

    Berlin’s Take on a High-Tech ‘Smart City’ Could Be Different

    The German company Siemens is launching an ambitious adaptive reuse project to revitalize its historic corporate campus, with a modern data-collecting twist.

  5. a photo of a woman on a SkyTrain car its way to the airport in Vancouver, British Columbia.
    Transportation

    In the City That Ride-Hailing Forgot, Change Is Coming

    Fears of congestion and a powerful taxi lobby have long kept ride-hailing apps out of transit-friendly Vancouver, British Columbia. That’s about to change.  

×