The historic Niels Esperson Building has lit up the Houston skyline since 1927, but far below the tower’s neo-Classical cupola, a basement space connecting to a series of tunnels meandering underneath the city has remained out of the spotlight. Now, the building’s basement gets to play catch up in the fame game with a $2.5 million renovation spearheaded by architectural firm Page.
Never mind! After all that fuss to preserve the iconic Texas tin structure, Rice University’s Art Barn met the Grim Reaper on Wednesday, April 16. While a group was able to salvage the building’s corrugated metal siding, wrecking crews tore away at the Martel Center’s structure, marking a definitive end to efforts of preservationists to move the building to another site in Houston. Andy Warhol’s famous oak tree planted in front of the former structure will remain intact, but once the dust clears only a grass lawn will serve as tombstone. A rogue power line temporarily stalled the demolition, thereby buying a commemorative moment for the Art Barn’s historical and cultural import. The building’s spirit will live on through the Menil Collection it once housed, as well as its legacy with other tin houses.
Leaving campus the way it came in—amid a swirl of shifting plans and controversy—seems to be the modus operandi for Rice University’s Martel Center, more colloquially known as “the Art Barn.” After reports last month that the building would be demolished, Rice University changed its mind and announced that it would, instead, relocate the historic structure to the Fourth Ward area of Houston, just west of downtown.
The Art Barn has graced Rice University’s campus since 1969. Originally conceived by John and Dominique de Menil as what was meant to be a quick-fix housing solution for their prestigious private art collection, the squatter became father to a generation of its kind, and established itself as a cultural mainstay not just within the university, but the community as a whole.
Big spaces, big cities, big freeways. This equation has held ground since the boom of major road developments in the 1970s. But a Dallas group lead by urban designer Patrick Kennedy is fighting that conception. He and his initiative, A New Dallas, are pushing a proposal that has been steadily gaining support since it began two years ago. Interstate 345 is an eight lane, 1.4 mile stretch of elevated highway that serves roughly 200,000 commuters weekly. Kennedy wishes to demolish the structure completely, replacing it with a major surface street, four new parks, $4 billion in new private investment, and homes for 25,000 Dallas residents.