We Built this city

We Built this city:  The 24-column tempietto that crowns the Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture

at the University of Houston seems a bit out of place. On a campus

where art deco and '6os mod are the two most repeated aesthetics, its neoclassical

stateliness stands alone. Visible from Interstate 45, its timelessness

transports passers-by to another age. In a city that too often prefers "new

and shiny" to "old and historic," it beckons to an antiquarian set of ideals.

Of course, to be both traditional and atypical conjures a certain sense of

paradox. But paradox and dualities are exactly what architects design in,

about, and around . Form and function. Natural and artificial. Exposed and

partitioned. Singularly-purposed and mixed-use.

To understand the challenges and direction of architecture in the modern

world, we sat down with UH -educated architects Bill Kendall ('67),

Rame Hruska (MArch'oo) and Rusell Hruska ('93), and brothers Chuong ('84) and

Chung Nguyen ('85). Collectively, they tell a story of Houston as a city of

architectural opportunity. Collectively, their distinctive work is making the

most of those opportunities.

So we're rolling out the blueprints for Houston's architectural future. No

need for protractors or graph paper (and honestly, that stuff is done on

computers now, anyway). Just bring an open mind and open eyes. These

architects certainly do. There's so much opportunity for transformation here unlike other

cities where it's hard for architects to do their own thing.

When Russell Hruska and Rame Hruska first met at

the College of Architecture's Blueprint Ball

in 1997, little did they know then that

they'd be married one year later. That their

wedding reception would be in the Architecture Building.

That they'd be partners in life and in business.

Today, the couple leads lntexure Architects, a small

firm doing big things in Houston's Museum District. The

name, meaning to weave and interweave, represents the

Hruskas' commitment to seeing through all facets of the

architectural process: design, documentation, construction,

interior design, and landscaping. For them, a window

isn't just a window. They think of the window, they think of

the furniture someone sits on to look out the window, and

they think of the view someone sees from the window.

That approach, they say, has roots in their UH education.

"The architecture program at UH really challenges students

to think critically about our city," Rame Hruska said. "And

having the university in such a major urban setting makes

your laboratory limitless. Studio projects often play off the

city's needs, dealing with real issues, real sites, and real

problems. There's so much opportunity for transformation

here, unlike other cities where it's hard for architects to

break in and do their own thing. Houston feels so much

more open."

"And that's why we decided to stay here and practice,"

Russell Hruska agreed. "The UH education is a balance between

high, theoretical design and a practical understanding of

building. At many universities you just get one or the other.

And the camaraderie among UH architects extends

from the classroom into the professional world. Though

we often are, it doesn't feel like we're in competition; it

feels like we're collaborating to make the city better. When

you lose a commission to a fellow alumni, there's still the

satisfaction of knowing the project is in good hands."

lntexure bases its design on principles rather than

style. They're honest to the nature of the materials, they're

honest to time and place-and all this leads them in the

direction of contemporary design.

Take the Ramchandani residence as an example. Mahesh

and Devika Ramchandani first met the Hruskas on a

home tour, back when lntexure didn't have an established

record of designing 6,000 square-foot homes (what the

final project ended up being). But the home builders and

the architects had a meeting of values.that seemed promising.

The Ramchandanis came with a one-page, handwritten

ethos of how they wanted to live. Not magazine

clippings, not a long list of needed rooms and desired

specs. Just that one-page ethos.

"The Ramchandani house was such a satisfying project

for us," Russell Hruska said. "Here's when I knew it was a success.

The house once hosted about 200 folks as part of an

AIA home tour. Then, just two days later, Mahesh. Devika,

Rame and I-just the four of us-were sitting enjoying

wine one evening when we realized, this still feels great.

Two-hundred people or four, the space works for both."

But the Hruskas need only look out their home/studio

window to find the project they're perhaps the most proud

  1. Southmore Terrace is a five-home community on

enough land that, if designed by anyone other than lntexure,

would have been crammed with ten homes.

"It's such a pleasure to live and work in what we see to

be our ideal community," Rame Hruska said. "So many architects

focus on the building and ignore their responsibility to

build community. This is not typical spec development.

We develop a concept of community, people buy into it,

and then we work together to meet site-specific needs. No

one else is doing this." And the green features include

Geothermal AC systems

Rainwater harvesting

Locally sourced or recycled exterior materials

Reclaimed flooring

Access to public transportation

Tankless water heaters

Interior daylighting strategies

What the Hruskas are learning-really, what their instincts

have told them all along-is that people are willing to

pay for access to green space, light, and views. That people

want to live in ecologically responsible ways. All sorts of

people: families, singles, and empty nesters if Southmore

Terrace is any indication. The cost per square foot isn't as

competitive as those jam-packed townhome "communities,"

but then again, not everyone wants to buy an accumulation

of square feet. Some people are more interested

in buying a "home," in the truest sense of the word.

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