Dallas Morning News

"Awards Laud Selective Few"

Subtlety of projects wins praise of Texas Society of Architects

Many responded, but few were chosen. Texas architects submitted 175 projects for the 1998 Texas Society of Architects Design Awards, close to a record, of which only six were honored, a new low. The dearth of winners produced considerable grumbling in the ranks. What happened to the office buildings and the shopping centers? What about corporate interiors or historic preservation projects?

This year's jury was looking for clarity, simplicity and restraint. Projects that solved difficult problems in precise and unmannered ways won out over those that tried to make a statement. Plinths and pediments were apparently the kiss of death.

The awards, being presented Saturday in Austin as part of the group's 59th annual convention, ranged from a highway rest area to a public library and a renovated contemporary arts museum.

The most surprising, and in many ways most reassuring, winner was the Brooks County Rest Area, near Falfurrias, by Richter Associates Architects of Corpus Christi. Instead of just another pullout with toilets and trash cans, the architects made a genuine place by tucking four simple brick-and-stone buildings among spreading oak trees, then connecting them with gravel paths and a bird watching trail. At the center sits a rectangular courtyard that adds a civic dimension to an otherwise utilitarian commission. Public design of this quality used to be commonplace; now it's so rare that it wins prizes. "A quality project that would stand up with any piece of architecture in any awards program," said the jury.

Two Dallas architects received awards for skillfully adapting traditional residential forms to contemporary needs. Dan Shipley's Little Big House, near Glen Rose, is a barn on the outside and an open, transparent modern house inside, with a dramatic two-story porch that embraces the rural landscape.

The Kovach residence in Highland Park, by Morrison Seifert Murphy, is a contemporary version of the courtyard house. The limestone facade is mute and mysterious, concealing a serene interior garden with a swimming pool and spectacular shadows on its spare white walls.

San Antonio architects David Lake and Ted Flato won for their renovation of an 1850s ranch house in San Saba. They carefully peeled away decades of clumsy additions to expose a simple stone structure with its own acequia, or canal. They added guest quarters and an outdoor cooking porch that links the renovated house to its pioneer past.

The Oak Lawn Library, by Good, Fulton & Farrell of Dallas, occupies one corner of a strip shopping center, next to a supermarket and a vast parking lot. Their challenge was to give the library a civic identity in anonymous surroundings, which they did by designing a formal public entrance, complete with columns and portico, then making the long street facade a store window advertising books and ideas.

Houston architect William F. Stern renovated Gunnar Birkerts' 1972 Contemporary Arts Museum without assassinating its taut industrial character. The new version has a recognizable entrance, more gallery and meeting space and a genuine connection to its site and to the other museums around it. ''I would love for somebody with this sensitivity to remodel a building that I had worked on," said one juror. "You would know that they weren't inserting themselves."

In addition to the six design awards, the society present a number of special awards. Frank Welch & Associates of Dallas was named Architecture Firm of the Year, while The Dallas Morning News received the John G. Flowers Award for Excellence in the Promotion of Architecture through the Media. The City of Dallas' Intown Housing Program received a citation of honor, and Stanley Marcus was made an honorary member of the group.