Architecture and design
A graduate of the University of Houston’s College of Architecture, Jimenez learned of the city’s Montrose area through frequent visits to Texas Art Supply, a shop popular with the architecture and design community. Booming now, Montrose in the early `80s was “a bit run-down,” yet not without allure, he recalls. “It’s a colorful, mixed neighborhood with variation in scale. It shows a less predictable side of Houston. This multicultural character within a city–I enjoy that.”
The project began in 1983 with a pair of buildings, one for a library, the other a studio/residence. In 1986, the compound saw the addition of a third building that became the main studio space as well as the locus of Jimenez’s personal office and library. Altered and expanded over the years, it is illustrated here in its current state, with a mezzanine representing the most recent addition. In 1903, Jimenez built his 1,600-sq.-ft. private residence across the street as the fourth component of the scheme.
“I always believe that architecture has a role in making a place rather than having it simply occupy a place.” This tenet helps explain the architect’s decisive turn away from Houston’s prevalent mode of residential construction. Instead of wood framing with brick or stucco veneers, he based his vocabulary on concrete block. The durable material, he explains, “is a counterpoint to the ephemeral character of construction in Houston.” The choice of material also connotes “a cultural response,” he says. “I’m not American; I’m not facile with moving. I’ve only lived in three cities.” Nevertheless, the buildings are at home in the Montrose landscape. Similar in scale and feeling to the community’s bungalow vernacular, they might easily be mistaken, at first glance, for renovated buildings rather than new construction. Says Jimenez, “When I first heard the word `bungalow,’ I mistook it for a dance.”
Jimenez espouses an elemental approach to architecture. “The simpler the building, the more flexibility it engenders. Neutral, generic spaces permit future uses,” he says. His compound is a prime illustration of this philosophy. “I wanted the buildings to be containers for light and space. I don’t aspire to have them be anything more.”
This desire for light and views dictated the placement of studio spaces. Instead of one large room, work areas are broken up into a series of partial enclosures for closer proximity and multiple views of the courtyards, which, in the architectural scheme, are every bit as important as built structures. The resulting plan has a meandering quality.
Color joins light and views in the Jimenez compound. Vibrant tones create bold planes in both interior and exterior landscapes. More than surface decoration, color, for Jimenez, is an articulating device. The crimson wall within the studio, for example, signals the transition between one large work room and the designer’s private studio. The brilliant blue of the facade is a response to the environment. First, the color is meant as a cheerful relief from the putty and gray faces of buildings nearby. But its exact tone was chosen to duplicate that of the Texas sky in winter. “Sometimes,” says Jimenez, “the building is camouflaged and its stucco walls almost disappear.”