Architects Reflect on Marfa

by West Texas Weekly on November 12, 2012

By Richard Mark Glover

MARFA – Rice University Professor of Architecture Carlos Jimenez spoke at the Marfa Architecture + Design Symposium this week-end, suggesting the Far West Texas town is a place “you come to discover something.”

“The presence of Donald Judd, the landscape and art of this town magnifies itself in this environment,” said Jimenez at the Crowley Theatre, Friday morning. “Sometimes it is about vastness, beauty, stillness, time, sharpness, distance, light or woven together as in vastness of light or stillness of time. Marfa becomes a marvelous chess game for these attributes.”

The Costa Rican born, award winning architect suggested the inhabitants of the region were in touch with a certain “instruction for visual clarity” and these “Horizonte Tejanos” were, like the famous sculptor Judd, quite aware of the distinct magic of the region.

Architect John Gutzler also presented at the symposium and discussed the restoration of six barracks at the Chinati Foundation, a former WWII army base known as Fort D.A. Russell that was purchased by Judd in the early 1970’s. The six buildings were transformed in 1996 to exhibit the large scale fluorescent light art of Dan Flavin.

“Flavin’s art was very complicated,” said Gutzler. “The tilted corridors, the dispersal of natural light, mathematics – we needed the structures to be subliminal, without ego. So often we superimpose. Artwork should play up to artwork, not the architecture.”

Judd too was a master of pulling things away, rather than adding. “By subtraction you often get more reinforcement to what you’re trying to do.”

A third architect, Rand Elliott, discussed the design of Marfa Contemporary, the Oklahoma City, City Arts Center regional extension that opened last month at the former Webb Brothers Gulf Station at the 4-way stop in Marfa.

“I think it re-energizes the intersection,” said Elliott, wearing black and his signature pony-tail. “It is a canopy important in history and a historic building with a relationship to the future.”

While feats of transformative architecture kept the nearly full house crowd attentive, Jimenez honed in on the relationship between place, structure, time and design.

“Where does the architect begin when encountering the sheer vulnerability of the desert?” Jimenez asked.

Jimenez has completed several projects in Marfa since his first excursion to the town twenty years ago, including Jeff Beauchamp’s “Old Pharmacy Building” at 115 North Highland and what is now Ranch 2810, the former Crowley – Goode homestead located on Nature Conservancy land in the triangle between Highway 2810 and US90 West.

“Marfa has a singularity of topography,” said Jimenez as he projected an aerial photograph of the Crowley-Goode house under construction.

“You can see the daunting task of building in this setting just as you can sense its solitude and beauty the closer you get to the ground. Our intent from day one was to plant as many trees as we could so that they would grow with the house, create a protective ring around the house, provide cooler temperatures or respite from the strong winds, and to accomplish this we needed a battalion of trees. The architecture of the house follows a modular width from space to space, at times dissolving the interface with its surroundings as if it were a porous container,” Jimenez said.

He pointed a red laser on the surrounding mountains in the photograph.

“How do we begin,” he repeated in his Spanish accented English. “The beginning of any project always brings a degree of fear as well as an intoxicating fascination. Architecture tells a story, you can read it just as you can tell it. It is a story where there are many interfacing protagonists, the wind, a freeze, an ephemeral texture.”

Jimenez paused as a freight train rumbled by.

“The immediate view of the world today is globality,” said Jimenez wearing a silvery jacket and white shirt. “We speak of it with ease and naiveté. We can get an instant glimpse of the earth’s immensity but seldom do we get to see the profundity of place, that uniqueness that locates us in this global mainstream. It is the architect’s duty to connect the many components that make up a site: the water, the mountains, the grasses, the stars.”

He looked out at the audience and then back toward the stage screen.

“An image can be a celebration of place as it captures the simple beauty of a sunlit room,” he said, projecting photographs of the finished Ranch 2810 house in prompt succession. “The starkness of snow, the power of the wind or the perpetual trains in the distance, those moving objects across the horizon that locate us in the immediacy of time and come close to allowing us to understand what we intended to do.”

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This Week in Alpine:

• March 22nd – The Railroad Blues will host folk rock artist Michael Fracasso this Thursday night. The show starts at 10 p.m. and there is no cover!

• March 23rd -24th – The Sul Ross Theater Department is proud to present their first production of the theater season, “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.” The first show will be Friday night in the Studio Theater in the Francois Fine Arts Building at 8:15 p.m. An encore performance will be held on Saturday night at the same time.

• March 24th – This Saturday, Kokernot Park is the place to be for great chili, a charity softball tournament and lots of fun. This wonderful event is being held in support of the West Texas Food Bank. Registration begins at 7:30 a.m.

• March 24th – Head out to the Big Bend Thrift Store on the corner of 5th Street and Avenue A for Alpine’s weekly Farmer’s Market. This quaint event features fresh veggies from local growers, baked goods and homemade crafts.

This Week in Big Bend:

• March 23rd – Big Bend National Park offers daily ranger-led events. Join Volunteer Jim Allen at 9 a.m. for a walk on the Lost Mine Trail this Friday. Participants should meet at the Lost Mine Trailhead and bring water, a hat and good walking shoes. This breathtaking walk will take approximately two hours. For a list of other programs visit http://www.nps.gov/bibe/planyourvisit/interp-programs.htm

This Week Fort Davis:

• March 20th and 23rd -24th – The McDonald Observatory hosts Star Parties for visitors every Tuesday, Friday and Saturday. These educational programs start at 6 p.m. and are considered a “can’t miss” attraction in West Texas!

This Week in Marfa:

• March 20th – Padre’s Marfa will host Emperor X and Body Parts on Tuesday night. The show starts 9 p.m. and there is a $5 cover.

• March 17th – Located along the railroad tracks on South Highland, Farm Stand Marfa features locally grown produce, food to-go and arts and crafts every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m.

This Week in Terlingua:

• March 24th – The Starlight Theater and Restaurant will host a Funky Junk Art Show this Saturday night. Rocky Top Alien Breeding Experiment will provide the music and Diego and company will offer up some “white trash” treats. Sounds like a deliciously weird time! The party starts at 7 p.m.

• March 24th – The Terlingua Farmer’s Market is held every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in Ghost Town. Local produce, artisan cheeses and breads, handmade crafts and local art are all available for purchase.

A Look at Next Week’s Events:

• March 30th – Brewster County 125th Anniversary Celebration

• March 30th – 31st – Cat on a Hot Tin Roof at Sul Ross State University

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This Week in Alpine:

• March 16th – The Railroad Blues will host The Reel Blues Band on Friday night. Straight from Chicago, this band will hit the stage at 10 p.m.

• March 17th – Head out to the Big Bend Thrift Store on the corner of 5th Street and Avenue A for Alpine’s weekly Farmer’s Market. This quaint event features fresh veggies from local growers, baked goods and homemade crafts.

This Week in Big Bend:

• Who needs formal events when you are surrounded by the picturesque scenery of Big Bend National Park? Big Bend does host a multitude of events during the year, but this week you will have to just take a load off and enjoy the fresh mountain air!

This Week Fort Davis:

• March 14th-17th – The Fort Davis Historical Site will be open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Volunteers and staff will be in living history attire and activities are planned each day.

• March 14th-17th – The McDonald Observatory will offer special viewing opportunities this week. Check out the schedule here.

• March 14th- 17th – The Chihuahuan Desert Nature Center will host Cactus Frenzy all week. Guided hikes into Modesta Canyon, demonstrations and numerous other activities are planned this week.

• March 16th-18th – The Nature Conservancy’s Davis Mountain Preserve will host an open weekend. Contact Christopher Pipes at 432-426-2390 for more information.

This Week in Marfa:

• March 14th- 18th – The Chinati Foundation is offering free classes to area youth all week during spring break. Head over to www.chinati.org for class times and activity information.

• March 14th – 16th – The Big Bend Coffee Roasters will offer tours of their shop to visitors this week. See the equipment in action and walk away with a free pound of coffee. Tours run from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m.

• March 14th -17th – Ever wanted to take a tour of one of Marfa’s most historically significant buildings? You are in luck! Building 98 will be open for tours this week at 4:30 p.m. every day. For more information contact the Marfa Chamber of Commerce.

• March 14th – The local Goat Creamery at Antelope Hills Gardens will offer a cheese making class on Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Admission is $25 for adults and $15 for kids.

• March 14th – The Marfa Book Company will present Private Tableaux by Berlin based artist, Rosa Barba. The exhibition will run from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

• March 15th-16th – The Marfa Chamber of Commerce will lead a walking tour from the courtyard of the Paisano Hotel to numerous points of interest around Marfa on Thursday and Friday afternoon. The tour will last approximately 90 minutes and tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for children.

• March 17th – A St. Patrick’s Day Fun Run will be held on Saturday morning. Registration opens at 8 a.m. in the Marfa Chamber of Commerce office in the bottom of the Hotel Paisano. The race will begin at 10 a.m. and participants are encouraged to dress in costumes.

• March 17th – The Marfa Book Company will host a book signing for “The O’Briens” by Marfa resident, Peter Behrens this Saturday at 6 p.m.

• March 17th – Located along the railroad tracks on South Highland, Farm Stand Marfa features locally grown produce, food to-go and arts and crafts every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m.

This Week in Terlingua:

• March 14th – The Starlight Theater and Restaurant is the perfect place to break up the monotony of the work week. The Whitmores will get you re-energized with a performance starting at 6 p.m.

• March 17th – Jobuk Johnson will entertain the patrons at the Starlight Theater and Restaurant with his smooth jazz sounds. Johnson refers to his unique mix of country and jazz guitar riffs as “Jackalope Jazz.” The show starts at around 7 p.m.

• March 17th – The Terlingua Farmer’s Market is held every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in Ghost Town. Local produce, artisan cheeses and breads, handmade crafts and local art are all available for purchase.

A Look at Next Week’s Events:

• March 23rd – 24th – Cat on a Hot Tin Roof at Sul Ross State University

• March 24th – Chili Cook-off and Softball Tournament at Kokernot Park in Alpine

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This Week in Alpine:

• March 7th-9th – The 2012 Geological Society of America South Central Annual Meeting will be held at Sul Ross State University this weekend. The meeting is being sponsored by The Earth & Physical Sciences Department & the Rio Grande Research Center.

• March 10th – The Railroad Blues will host the Jeff Strahan Band on Saturday night at 10 p.m. Strahan is a killer guitarist and his unique sound is worth heading to Alpine to check out!

• March 10th – Head out to the Big Bend Thrift Store on the corner of 5th Street and Avenue A for Alpine’s weekly Farmer’s Market. This quaint event features fresh veggies from local growers, baked goods and homemade crafts.

This Week in Big Bend:

• March 10th – Bird watching enthusiasts shouldn’t miss “Big Bend’s Birds” on Friday morning at 8:30 a.m. Visitors will be led on a two hour bird watching adventure while a trained ranger offers tips on identifying some of the resident and migrant species found in the Big Bend. Meet at the Rio Grande Village Amphitheater parking lot for this relaxing and informative event.

This Week Fort Davis:

• March 6th and 9th -10th – The McDonald Observatory hosts Star Parties for visitors every Tuesday, Friday and Saturday. These educational programs start at 6 p.m. and are considered a “can’t miss” attraction in West Texas!

This Week in Marfa:

• March 9th – Marfa artist and photographer Daniel Chamberlin will present his new works in his “Ecstatic Camouflage” series in coordination with Tonalism, an all-night music and film festival sponsored by El Cosmico and dublab. The exhibition will run from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

• March 10th – The Marfa Book Company will welcome Edwin Frank, a poet and editor of the New York Review of Books Classics Series, on Saturday. He will be reading from his works from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m.

• March 10th -11th – Dublab has created some of the most electrifying music events in the country. El Cosmico will host TONALISM: an all-night ambient music party from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. Camping. live music, DJs, video projections and tea will all be part of the agenda. Sun Araw and JD Emmanuel are among the performers for the night.

• March 10th – Located along the railroad tracks on South Highland, Farm Stand Marfa features locally grown produce, food to-go and arts and crafts every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m.

This Week in Terlingua:

• March 7th – The Starlight Theater and Restaurant is the perfect place to break up the monotony of the work week. The Whitmores will get you re-energized with a performance starting at 6 p.m.

• March 10th – Hank Woji & Mark Lewis will open up at the Starlight Theater for the King George Goss CD Release Party. Drive down to the desert and follow the music for a good time!

A Look at Next Week’s Events:

• March 12th -16th – Free Spring Break Art Classes for Area Students at the Chinati Foundation

• March 10th -17th – The Fort Davis National Historical Society Spring Break Week

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