About the Building
Asia Society Texas Center is an architectural marriage of East and West. Designed by Japan-born, Harvard-educated Yoshio Taniguchi, it combines contemporary international design with an understated elegance and serenity one associates with Asia. Its 40,000 square feet is spread over two stories and basement, resulting in a low-slung profile that fits comfortably into its residential surroundings. Yet the building immediately draws the eye – first by the grace of its lines, then by the materials and workmanship that went into its making.
The project began in the mid-1990s, when it became obvious to the Asia Society Texas Board of Directors that if the 16-year-old organization was to thrive it needed a home of its own. The Texas Center acquired its own 501(c)(3) to ensure that funds raised for the Capital Campaign would remain in Texas and proceeded with plans to construct a building that would include exhibition space, conference rooms, classrooms, and a theater. The search began for property in Houston’s high-profile Museum District and for an internationally recognized architect who could realize the Board’s ambitious vision.
In 2003 the Texas Center purchased a 2.3-acre building site in the neighborhood that includes the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Contemporary Arts Museum Houston and other major cultural institutions. The following year the block-size property across the street was purchased for parking. In 2004, with the selection of Taniguchi, the project moved into high gear. Construction on the $48.4 million building began in January 2010 and by fall 2011 was complete.
For his first freestanding building in the United States – previously he was best known in this country for his expansion and renovation of the Museum of Modern Art in New York – Taniguchi combined graceful design with stunningly beautiful stone, wood and glass to give Asia Society Texas Center its distinctive character.
- Jura Limestone makes up the primary material used for exterior and interior walls and wall panels. First cut into 12-foot-by-12-foot-by-10-foot blocks, the stone is sliced into 3-centimeter slabs. A total of 470 blocks were cut and quarried in Bavaria in southern Germany, in order to find 50 blocks of acceptable material. Jura limestone began as a shallow seabed during the Jurassic geological period, which ended more more than 150 million years ago. The 27 layers of limestone in Kaldorf vary in color and hardness, with only the 14th and 15th layers meeting Taniguchi's standards. Even then, of the stone taken from those layers, 90 percent was rejected. Taniguchi has used this material in a number of his projects, most prominently in the Gallery of Horyuji Treasures at the Tokyo National Museum.
- American Cherry Wood provides the wall paneling in the Fayez Sarofim Grand Hall and the Brown Foundation Performing Arts Theater. The wood was chosen for its rich color, beauty and warmth. Paneling in the Grand Hall is from a single North American cherry tree over 100 years old. It was selected for its deep color and fine grain.
- Basaltina Italian Stone flooring on the ground level was quarried an hour north of Rome. Basaltina is a volcanic stone used for centuries; the ancient Romans used it to build roads and monuments. Basalts have the consistent coloration, markings and subtlety of limestone and the durability of granite. It is aged through a natural process so it can be honed and polished. Admiring its unique gray tone, Taniguchi has used it in many of his buildings.
- Glass Windows. The building's largest, located above the valet entrance on the west side, measures more than 7 feet wide by 15 feet tall. The Water Garden Terrace glass measures 8 feet by 14 feet and weighs 4,000 pounds. All large glass panes in the building are considered structural pieces, designed to withstand a 110 mph wind, as required by the City of Houston Building Codes.
- Appalachian White Oak Wood flooring appears throughout the building. Grown in cold climates, this oak matures slowly, its rings close together. The wood is sectioned with a rift cut so the grain is very fine and almost always perpendicular to the wood's surface.
- Geothermal System is a unique energy-efficient heating and cooling system. This is the first use of its kind in a commercial building in Houston. By cooling the water system and heat pump units, it allows for energy-efficient heat transfer to the earth for cooling and heatng loads within the building. The Texas Center's geothermal heating and cooling provides a 15 to 20 percent energy savings compared to a conventional system. The estimated utility cost for a 40,000-square-foot building with conventional chillers is $12,000 to $15,000 a month. The Texas Center's expected average bill is $5,000 a month. The system consists of 117 wells installed 250 feet underground beneath the Texas Center's parking lot across Southmore Boulevard from the facility. Water is transported to the building's basement through pipes under the street.
The building's functional spaces reflect the scope of Asia Society Texas Center's mission of promoting understanding among the people, leaders, and institutions of the United States and Asia and increasing knowledge across the fields of arts and culture, policy and business, and education. The Texas Center hosts a wide variety of public programs, from addresses by Asian thought leaders and policy experts to music concerts and dance performances to activities for children and families.
- The Brown Foundation Performing Arts Theater, distinguished by rich materials, superb acoustics and intimate feel, seats 273 and is a performance space for music, dance, theater, film, and lectures. Its 2,300-square-foot limited-sprung Appalachian white oak stage measures 70 feet wide by 32 feet deep, with a 40-foot-wide opening to the audience. The steel-gray fabric seats are Italian, designed by renowned designers Massimo and Lella Vignelli and manufactured by Poltrona Frau, exclusive maker of leather seats for Maserati and Ferrari. The acoustical, cherry wood wall panels create a sumptuous atmosphere. A drop-down 16-by-27 foot screen transforms the Theater into the city's most stylish movie venue. The control booth features state-of-the-art equipment to handle sound, lighting and digital projection.
- The two-story Fayez Sarofim Grand Hall, which visitors enter through the building's main entrance, provides a stirring introduction to the Center. At 3,100 square feet it is suitable for both formal and informal receptions. It also serves as the lobby area for the Brown Foundation Theater. The Information Desk is located at the west end of the Hall.
- The Louisa Stude Sarofim Gallery's soaring 20-foot ceilings and 4,000-square-foot rectangular floor plan provide a versatile space for both traditional and contemporary Asian and Asian American art. The space houses two to three touring and temporary exhibitions a year. Adjacent to the Sarofim Gallery is the Allen Sculpture Garden. Viewable from the Gallery foyer and from the Gallery itself, it features an installation by Korean artist Lee Ufan, Relatum - signal, a 2011 work commissioned especially for the space. Black bamboo trees - a rare sight in Houston - form the backdrop of the Allen Sculpture Garden.
- Edward Rudge Allen III Education Center is a 3,000-square-foot, Appalachian white oak-floored meeting room. It is home to breakfast, luncheon, and dinner events featuring speakers on topics ranging from Chinese politics to business opportunities in India. The room can seat 200 banquet-style. The Education Center's south wall consists of floor-to-ceiling glass, which floods the space with light (special screens drop from the ceiling to darken the room for Powerpoint and video presentations). Glass doors open onto the Chao Foundation Green Garden. Covered with Asian Jasmine, it is an inviting place to stroll on a pleasant evening. Movable walls divide the room into as many as three large classrooms. The Texas Center's newly launched Education Department will hold many of its workshops, courses and children's activities in these rooms.
- The Water Garden Terrace is the serene heart of the building. It looks out over the second-floor Elkins Foundation Water Garden. In the distance, framed by Texas Heritage oaks, the skyline of downtown Houston comes into view. The Water Garden is a marvel in itself. Some 12,000 gallons of constantly recirculating water fill the stainless steel tank. Three waterspouts spring to life on an adjustable schedule, as do spools of artificial fog along the outer edge of the pool. Comfortable chairs make this an inviting place to sit and relax. The Water Garden Terrace also serves as a magical venue for cocktail receptions and exclusive dinner parties. Acoustically sophisticated ceiling material dampens ambient noise and makes conversation easy when the room is packed.
- The North Gallery, at 450 square feet, provides an intimate space for small exhibitions of contemporary and traditional Asian art.
- The Jade Stone Café at Asia Society, seating 40, with space for additional tables outside, offers visitors an intimate place for soups, salads, sandwiches, and sweets, plus free Wi-Fi service. It is open Tuesday - Friday, 11:00 am - 2:00 pm, Saturday and Sunday, 10:00 am - 2:00 pm, and closed Mondays and major holidays.
When it opened its doors to the public on April 14, 2012, the Center took its place as an iconic addition to Houston’s architecturally rich cityscape.
Design architect: Taniguchi and Associates
Project architect: Kendall/Heaton Associates
Landscape architect: Office of James Burnett
Graphic design: Minor Design
Consulting architect: Geoffrey Brune
Project management: Gary W. Hall, Project Control
General contractor: W.S. Bellows Construction