HOUS — December 2009
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A slick new photography book highlights the architectural hits of Houston—and deep in the heart of Texas | By Allison Bagley |

Slick new coffee table tome City by Design Texas, from Planobased luxury-lifestyle publisher Panache, documents more than 70 architectural designs, from urban corporate buildings slicing through skylines to expansive compounds in sprawling deserts. Te book, targeted to national and international readers, celebrates the diversity of design in the Lone Star State, like a striking sun-colored granite healthcare facility whose geometrical silhouette rises from the mountainous El Paso terrain, or Moody Gardens’ gleaming pyramid-shaped beacon in the Gulf Coast city of Galveston.

“From a national perspective, there’s a lot of interest in Texas,” says one of the book’s publishers, Karla Setser, a native Houstonian who lives in Dallas, adding that developers from as far as Asia are beginning to express interest in Texas architecture. “We wanted people to see it’s not all ranches and oil wells. We have modern buildings and landmark designs.”

Jeffrey Brown is the former president of the Houston chapter of the American Institute of Architecture and a principal of Powers Brown Architecture, and his “small, smart box” concept—that turns drab, nondescript office parks into low-cost high-design campuses, such as his Bayou Place II—is featured in the book. He says what intrigues readers is the range of design styles in Texas, informed by an array of varying cultural influences, and by the land itself. “In Texas, there’s less a [single] architectural style and more a focus on diversity,” he explains. “It’s a very diverse area both in terms of geography and demographics.”

Several examples of cool Houston designs are showcased throughout, too—Reliant Stadium for boasting the NFL’s first retractable roof, the Downtown Aquarium for being a vast indoor-outdoor tourist attraction raised from an abandoned fire station. Others are the Fayez S. Sarofim Research Building and more stately structures like St. Martin’s Episcopal Church, whose Gothic-cathedral-style edifice draws high-profile names like Bush and Baker to its pews each week.

More than 300 photographs fill the 336 glossy pages, along with descriptions gleaned from interviews with the players behind unique projects like Reef restaurant in Houston, where local firm Office for Design transformed a Midtown Vietnamese grocery store into the watery-toned and sleek bistro with big windows and modified-warehouse charm.

Brown points out that the diversity in Houston’s populous, along with the creativity allowed by its loose zoning laws and the relatively low cost of land, make it a place for pioneering design. “In terms of architectural output,” he says, “I think Houston is moving into its own.”