LOCAL Houston | The City Guide October 2016 - Page 38

COMMUNITY PHILIP JOHNSON’S BABY TURNS 20 Explore the Montrose campus of the University of St. Thomas, and you’ll immediately notice its main academic quadrangle is serene yet structured, both symmetrical and united…and dominated on the north end by the Chapel of St. Basil, designed by one of America’s most famous architects, PHILIP JOHNSON. This year, the chapel, which forgoes the main quad’s brick and black steel in favor of blinding white stucco, black granite and a gleaming gold dome, turns 20. As Johnson explained it, the building consists of three basic geometric shapes: a cube for the body of the church, a sphere for the dome and a granite plane connecting these shapes, by intersecting both the dome and the cube. The gold dome proclaims the university’s Christian character, and can be seen from miles away from large buildings throughout Downtown, Uptown and the Medical Center. Johnson was the architect of the original St. Thomas campus in the 1950s, and is responsible for its master plan. With the help of the deMENILS and the investments and donations of some of Houston’s most prominent and philanthropic families (STRAKE, JONES, CAMERON, MENDENHALL, KICKERILLO, etc.), the school has grown and become the academic heart of Montrose, a vibrant university adjacent to the Menil Collection and Rothko Chapel. The chapel and Doherty Library are located at opposite ends of the Academic Mall to represent the dialogue between faith and reason, respectively. The chapel, despite being adjacent to West Alabama Street, faces inwards toward the Academic Mall as an important part of this symbolism. Johnson made his mark in Houston (and nearly single-handedly created our skyline) with imposing corporate buildings, including Pennzoil Place, Williams Tower and Bank of America Center. With the Chapel of St. Basil, he created another aesthetic marvel, whose business is building spiritual relationships within the St. Thomas community. By Tim Moloney Photography courtesy of University of St. Thomas 38 L O C A L | october 16