State of the Arts 2011
Modernist Legacy

High-powered filmmakers advocate for Houston preservation in new documentary

High-powered filmmakers advocate for Houston preservation in new documentary

News_Glenbrook Valley_8210 Colgate St.
A mid-century modern home in Glenbrook Valley. Photo by David Bucek

On the heels of the recognition of new historic districts in Houston, the Architecture Center Houston Foundation has awarded a $25,000 grant to fund a feature-length film about the city's mid-century modern architectural heritage. The grant is going to Sam Wainwright Douglas of Austin-based Big Beard Films.

"Houston is such a sprawling place, I think a lot of folks just don't have any idea what gems are out there," Douglas writes in an e-mail to CultureMap.

He elaborates on the film's impetus,

I think a major inspiration for the project is that I grew up an 'architecture brat' in Houston — my father Frank Douglas is an architect and was very active with the AIA and Rice Design Alliance for years. So, as a result of being around all of the great architecture that's tucked all over our city, I wanted to make a film that advocates for its preservation, inspires civic pride in it and celebrates Houston's significant modernist legacy alongside other great American cities."

Serving as producer is Heather Purcell, executive director of Design Onscreen. Together, the creators will profile the work of several lionized Houston modernist architects with "gorgeous" high definition cinematography, tracing the evolution of modernism in Houston via Philip Johnson to local architects like Harwood Taylor and Howard Barnstone.

More than an animated textbook on the region's structures, the documentary is being directed to spark a conversation about zoning, preservation and thoughtful urban regulations. Interviews with homegrown celebrities (think ZZ Top) will be peppered amid the architectural panoramas and interviews with historians, scholars, critics and sidewalk pedestrians.

Douglas' films have been distributed via such venues as PBS, South by Southwest Film Festival and Netflix, and Design Onscreen is plugged into international film festivals everywhere from Montreal to Moscow, so the documentary is slated to open an unprecedentedly wider audiences to this post-World War II boom town's mid-century marvels.