This is the last day of Architecture Week, as proclaimed by the Central Oklahoma chapter of the American Institute of Architects, and for the fifth consecutive year they’ve held a Tour of Notable Buildings or something like that. So I set out on this cold
February April day to see what they had to offer. In the order visited:
1) 614 West Sheridan Avenue
This newly-remodeled building along Film Row west of downtown is the home of Raffiné Interiors and Tietsort Design. The building itself goes back to 1950; this is the first major redevelopment in the area, and it serves as showroom for both Gus Tietsort and Raffiné’s Phillip Matthews, who provided enough input into the design to get credit alongside the architects themselves in the program, and, I think, deservedly so.
2) 719 North Francis Avenue
The Okasian House, as it is officially known, was designed by Brian Fitzsimmons last year to serve as home, office and workshop. It’s a fascinating admixture of classic minimalism and urban industrial grit: the north entrance takes you up a few steps and onto what looks like a length of rail surrounded by old railroad ties, a couple of feet above the courtyard, which is defined by a brick wall to the west and a stand of bamboo to the north. There’s also bamboo inside the house: it’s used for flooring, and it looks fabulous. Fitzsimmons built much of the furniture himself, and I have no doubt he could make a living at it if this architecture thing ever dries up. The kitchen is perhaps the least-cluttered I’ve ever seen, despite its wealth of equipment. A shot from the southeast corner reveals a tower of brick, metal and glass:
I talked with TiTi Nguyen, who shares the home with Fitzsimmons, about energy consumption, and she pointed out a number of features, none of them really huge, but in aggregate making a serious dent in the utility bills. (Sample: The larger windows are on the north and east sides, where they catch more daylight; on the south and west, where heat builds up in the summer, there is a smaller glass area plus louvers to ward off the sun.) What the home seems to lack in conventionality, it makes up for in sheer function; there’s even a secluded rooftop deck for watching the stars, as recommended by the Drifters.
3) 33 Northeast 7th Street
I’ve talked about this place before, even posted a photograph, so 33:7, as it’s apparently going to be known hereafter, should be familiar to regular readers. It’s a different take altogether on the industrial look: the living areas are darker-colored and seemingly warmer, while the studio in the north wing is light and airy. There’s also a marked lack of clutter, though owner Jason Blankenship hinted that out in the garage — well, think Fibber McGee’s closet. No one’s yet built in the next block, perhaps because no one knows quite how to top this. Here’s an unused shot from a previous visit:
4) 301 Northeast 4th Street
This is the development known as Block 42, and it’s still under construction: visitors were duly issued hard hats. The ground was covered in wood splinters, which, it turns out, were ground down from waste building materials; given the recent heavy rains, I was grateful not to have to trudge through the mud. Developer Grant Humphreys told me that they’d already presold half the units, though they won’t be finished until October, and that he thinks that the green approach — Block 42 is seeking LEED certification for the entire project — is a major selling point. It may well be. One of the contractors told me that waste brick and such will be turned into subfill for the landscaping, which is an improvement on having it dumped somewhere else. Oh, and why “42″? I made some Douglas Adams reference, but no: on an early plat of Oklahoma City, this area is indeed described as Block 42, and the complex contains (of course) 42 units.
4) 1209 North Harvey Avenue
This 1935 building in Midtown, once a dormitory for Wesley Hospital staff, spent much of its later years boarded up: in 2006 it was subdivided and renamed Harvey Lofts. Seventeen units, 650 to 1300 square feet, were created; already twelve have been sold. One aesthetic issue with refurbishments like this is the question of how much of the original structure should be allowed to remain on display. Architect Brad Black decided to leave the original columns and the top few inches of the walls intact, a sensible and stylish approach. I suggested that I could see my daughter living in something like this; I was told that with one exception, all the buyers so far had in fact been under-30 professionals. One question asked by other folks on the tour: wouldn’t it be nice to have a freight elevator to assist in the moving process? (There’s a passenger elevator, but its capacity is less than half a ton.) On the other hand, most under-30 professionals I know (admittedly not a lot) tend to have relatively light furniture. Here’s a drawing of an overhead view (swiped from their Web site) which, at least from ground level, looked pretty accurate:
5) 3100 Northwest 149th Street
This 2004 office was built for Howard-Fairbairn Site Design, which specializes in landscape design, and the first thing that struck me about it was the abundance of natural light, even on an overcast afternoon. (Of course, I work in a place where windows are even rarer than brainstorms.) Even the cubicles appear pleasant — low walls, presumably low levels of claustrophobia — and there’s the Best Break Room Ever, off to one side and opening to the outdoors.
6) 14900 Wilson Road
Tucked away behind a gate near 150th and Western, this 1965 beauty knocked me out before I ever got to the entrance: there’s a walled garden at the front, just about the entire width of the house. And width there is in abundance; once you open that entrance, you come upon a 95-foot gallery (with a travertine floor, yet) which connects all the major rooms. Only modest concessions, mostly in lighting and such, have been made to contemporary modernity: this is pure Sixties luxe, simpler than the occasionally-overwrought Fifties but far more livable than the abominations passed off as taste in the Seventies. I swear, I dreamed about this place once, and I’d never seen it before. It’s too big and too pricey for the likes of me — per Christie’s Great Estates, the house and its 2.3 acres can be had for a modest $698,766 — but there’s always Powerball.
7) 2532 Pembroke Terrace
George Seminoff, just out of OSU’s School of Architecture, designed this house in 1957, and it’s just undergone a golden-anniversary facelift. A classic ranch, roughly 2700 square feet, this house shows that Seminoff was a major Frank Lloyd Wright fan but open to a wide range of influences. The rooms aren’t the least bit square: 30- and 60-degree angles are everywhere. There’s what was described as the True In-Law plan: a wing with a bedroom, a bath, and an actual kitchenette (since removed). One place we dared not venture was into the library, which has cork wallpaper (!) and a leather floor (!!). Look up in the living room, and there are redwood beams; the cabinetry is ash. The walls are Venetian plaster and utterly gorgeous. And for fans of sunshine, as I am, there are new floor-to-ceiling Arcadia glass windows along the back of the house (a great view of the pool), the work of Gus Tietsort, whom you’ll remember from the first stop, and now we’ve completed the circle.
The tour itself was self-paced; I completed it in a Gilligan-standard three hours. (Five were allowed.) The $12 fee included a $2.40 donation to Calm Waters. A good way to spend a day, I think.