Arthouse: A design worth the wait

After nine years, Arthouse is ready to complete the renovation of its two-story headquarters at 700 Congress

Arthouse: A design worth the wait

For nine years, we've been waiting for the other shoe to drop, and this week Arthouse finally let that footwear hit the floor, sharing the designs for a renovation and expansion of the Jones Center for Contemporary Art, its two-story headquarters on Congress at Seventh.

Ever since the statewide visual-arts organization renovated the building's downstairs but postponed fixing up its vacant second floor (that same old story: funding constraints), followers of the visual-arts scene have been on the lookout for Arthouse to finish the job. A tantalizing bit of progress took place in 2005 when the organization engaged the New York firm Lewis.Tsurumaki.Lewis to design the upstairs expansion, but Executive Director Sue Graze and the Arthouse staff have kept mum about what work, if any, was being done on the project. A lot of that had to do with the quiet phase of the capital campaign that will pay for the $6.6 million makeover. But now that Arthouse has $3.4 million in hand, it's ready to show off the next phase in the Jones Center's evolution.

And that phase is quite stunning, with an inventive design that is playful and elegant, that acknowledges the building's past as Hegman's Queen Theater and Lerner Shops department store while completely embracing its present and future identity as a home for contemporary art. The entry into the building shifts to the north, closer to the Congress Avenue sidewalk, and what had been exhibition space facing the street becomes a new glassed-in lobby dominated by a suspended staircase that leads to a spacious new gallery on the second floor. (The first floor will retain exhibition space in the form of two galleries behind the lobby, and Arthouse staff will also keep their first-floor offices.) An integral part of the second-story Main Gallery is a panel 13 feet high and 70 feet long suspended on steel tracks so that it can be moved across the gallery, subdividing the space in various ways and exposing the bare brick wall, where vestiges of the building's earlier incarnations may be seen: the Queen Theater balcony and plaster work, the Lerner Shops paint. Sharing this floor to the Congress Avenue side will be a multipurpose room with an expanded version of the window created for the Lerner Shops, onto which video can be projected for screenings inside Arthouse – the room can seat up to 90 – or images to be seen outside from the street. To the west of the Main Gallery will be two artists' studios (allowing Arthouse to host artists in residence for the first time ever) with an Art Loft overlooking the gallery. Above the second floor will be a new 5,500-square-foot rooftop space that can accommodate 290 people for special events, live performances, or film showings on a 17-foot-by-33-foot movie screen. Further distinguishing the building, inside and out, will be some 160 laminated glass blocks along the south and east walls that will not only jut out from the building's exterior but also penetrate the walls to provide natural light to the building's interior. Their arrangement may look random, but architects Paul Lewis, Marc Tsurumaki, and David Lewis have set them in a considered, deliberate, and sophisticated pattern. In fact, their design as a whole may be characterized the same way: considered, deliberate, and sophisticated. Seeing it leads one to feel this was worth the wait.

Construction is expected to begin in 2009 and to be completed the following year. For more information and images, visit www.arthousetexas.org.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Arthouse, Sue Graze, Lewis.Tsurumaki.Lewis, Queen Theater, Lerner Shop

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