A building for people

Yoshio Taniguchi uses concept of "borrowed scenery" to create new Asia Society Texas Center

Yoshio Taniguchi uses concept of "borrowed scenery" to create new Asia Society Texas Center

Yoshio Taniguchi interview Asia Society
In Houston for the opening of the his new Asia Society Texas Center, architect Yoshio Taniguchi sat down with reports to share his thoughts on the building. Photo by Tyler Rudick
Yoshio Taniguchi interview Asia Society
Texas Foundation for the Arts interviewed the architect for a television series on Houston culture. The episode will air in the fall. Photo by Tyler Rudick
Yoshio Taniguchi interview Asia Society
Yoshio Taniguchi interview Asia Society

In Houston for this weekend's official public opening, Tokyo-based architect Yoshio Taniguchi said he enjoys watching so many people interacting inside the new Asia Society Texas Center (ASTC), particularly during Thursday's 1,000-guest gala event.

"Architecture is basically a container for people and objects — this is how I intend my buildings to be used," he told a group of reporters Friday in the center's wood-paneled theater. "I was so happy when I walked in and saw so many people."

"Architecture is basically a container for people and objects," Taniguchi told a grou p of reporters ASTC's wood-paneled theater. "I was so happy when I walked in and saw so many people."

Joining the architect during the interview was Eddie Allen, co-vice chair of the ASTC broad of directors and a vital figure on the building committee that oversaw the design process.

"So far, everybody is focused on the beautiful materials and the beautiful detail, but we really chose Mr. Taniguchi for his incredible ability to put together all these different elements. There's a theater, a gallery and a huge amount public space all worked into a small building in a low-rise neighborhood."

To keep the building as compact and horizontal as possible, Allen explained, the Asia Society's 273-seat theater was situated a full story below ground. To deal with the narrow spaces between floors, air-conditioning ductwork was minimized by used a geothermal cooling system under the parking lot across the street.

Borrowed scenery

Taniguchi said the site itself — located at Southmore Boulevard and Caroline in the Museum District — has posed some of the biggest challenges. "It was difficult because the site condition is not quite urban and not quite rural. It doesn't have a strong spatial character I could exploit."

The site is neither open to its surroundings, like his Sea Life Park on Tokyo Bay, nor is it closed off from its surroundings, like the architect's Museum of Modern Art building in midtown Manhattan.

"I tend to show the outside environment from inside the building," he explained. "We call it 'borrowed scenery' in Japan. You have to exploit and use the scenery around you in your architecture. It was a little difficult in that respect here."

Looking to the north, Taniguchi eventually found something to exploit — the downtown skyline. The floor-to-ceiling windows along the upstairs lounge perfectly frame a cluster of skyscrapers, visible across the mists of an infinity fountain on the second floor of the building.

Allen also noted the mature live oaks planted on the north lawn to connect the relatively barren site with the leafy neighborhood. Taniguchi even flew to Houston to oversee the exact placement of the large trees in relation to his building.

 "Oaks are so symbolic to Houston," the architect said, noting that they add another essential element that fuses the building and site to the city's fabric.