Michael Rotondi - Roto Architecture in Texas | The Plan
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Michael Rotondi - Roto Architecture in Texas

Michael Rotondi

What should a university school of architecture look like in the early 21st century? How might the incubation of future environmental designers effect the environment of these and other students today? The Architecture + Art Building at the Prairie View campus of Texas A&M University is, in its own relaxed way, a kind of manifesto. The building greets visitors to the campus an hour or so northwest of Houston as an extruded vessel of brick and perforated metal skin. Sliding into the view of motorists as they exit U.S. Highway 290, it is seen across a flat field scattered, depending on the season, with wildflowers and marked by an isolated oak grove. The building’s architect, Michael Rotondi, calls this leafy circular marker Treehenge (a humorous reference to Stonehenge, the ancient monument in England). It is also a signal of his project’s characteristic mixture of the informal and the primal. This primal quality is evoked by the design’s linearity and contiguous roofline, by the unorthodox scale of adjacent elements, and by the exposed surface of key materials. However the sense of extrusion-the notion of building as “landscraper” or virtual dam-is tampered, in reality, by the delicacy of the metal skin screening the architecture offices and studios, by the sensory curves of brick wrapping a windowless theatre in the prow to the west, and by glimpses through the rusty red carapace to the interior and campus beyond. In particular, a bridge-like connector between the metal skin and cylindrical theatre is raised above ground level to reveal the trunk of a mature oak to the north. The School of Architecture occupies the interior to the east, together with facilities for construction and community studies. The oak controls a circular plaza open to the elements. To the west of it, the bull-nosed prow houses the Cultural Center for African American History in Texas. Notice how an exposed, skeletal staircase drops from a brick protrusion on the south façade whilst...

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