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Making Houston Modern

Making Houston Modern
The Life and Architecture of Howard Barnstone

This collection of essays examines the life and legacy of Houston architect Howard Barnstone, whose modernist designs and pioneering writings reshaped perceptions of the architecture of Texas.

Series: Roger Fullington Endowment in Architecture

August 2020
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400 pages | 8 x 9.75 | 50 color and 99 b&w photos, 12 color and 23 b&w illus., 2 color and 2 b&w maps |

Complex, controversial, and prolific, Howard Barnstone was a central figure in the world of twentieth-century modern architecture. Recognized as Houston’s foremost modern architect in the 1950s, Barnstone came to prominence for his designs with partner Preston M. Bolton, which transposed the rigorous and austere architectural practices of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe to the hot, steamy coastal plain of Texas. Barnstone was a man of contradictions—charming and witty but also self-centered, caustic, and abusive—who shaped new settings that were imbued, at once, with spatial calm and emotional intensity.

Making Houston Modern explores the provocative architect’s life and work, not only through the lens of his architectural practice but also by delving into his personal life, class identity, and connections to the artists, critics, collectors, and museum directors who forged Houston’s distinctive culture in the postwar era. Edited by three renowned voices in the architecture world, this volume situates Barnstone within the contexts of American architecture, modernism, and Jewish culture to unravel the legacy of a charismatic personality whose imaginative work as an architect, author, teacher, and civic commentator helped redefine architecture in Texas.

  • Foreword. Call Me Howard, Please! (Carlos Jiménez )
  • Preface
  • Introduction. Why Howard Barnstone Why? (Stephen Fox and Michelangelo Sabatino )
  • 1. Howard Barnstone’s Architecture
    • Chapter 1. Barnstone’s Practice (Stephen Fox )
    • Chapter 2. Translating Mies: Barnstone and Houston Modernism (Michelangelo Sabatino )
    • Chapter 3. To Be Modern in Texas: Lone Star Avant-Garde (Kathryn E. Holliday )
  • 2. Howard Barnstone’s Clients
    • Chapter 4. A Constructive Connection: Barnstone and the Menils (Barrie Scardino Bradley )
    • Chapter 5. An Architectural Family Portrait (Robert Barnstone and Deborah Ascher Barnstone )
    • Chapter 6. Barnstone’s Jewish Houston (Joshua J. Furman )
  • 3. Howard Barnstone’s Life
    • Chapter 7. A Short Biography (Barrie Scardino Bradley and Stephen Fox )
    • Chapter 8. Barnstone and the University of Houston (Bruce C. Webb )
    • Chapter 9. The Worst Thing That Can Happen: Gertrude and Howard (Olive Hershey )
  • Conclusion. Magical Modernism (Barrie Scardino Bradley, Stephen Fox, and Michelangelo Sabatino )
  • Afterword. Looking toward the Future (Theodore H. M. Prudon )
  • Appendices
    • 1. Interview with Eugene Aubry
    • 2. Interview with Anne Schlumberger Brown
    • 3. Architectural Awards
  • Catalogue Raisonné
  • Selected Bibliography
  • Contributors
  • Index

Barrie Scardino Bradley
Beaumont, Texas

Stephen Fox
Houston, Texas

Michelangelo Sabatino
Riverside, Illinois

Barrie Scardino Bradley is an independent scholar who has written on Texas architecture for the past forty years. She is the author of several books, including Improbable Metropolis: Houston’s Architectural and Urban History.

Stephen Fox is an architectural historian and a Fellow of the Anchorage Foundation of Texas.

Michelangelo Sabatino is an architectural historian and preservationist. He is the former interim dean and inaugural John Vinci Distinguished Research Fellow, College of Architecture, Illinois Institute of Technology.


“The story of this man, and his work, little known outside of Texas, fills this Texas-sized tome with a rich history of 20th-century architecture and its patronage, the complex personal struggles of an “outsider” architect and individual, and stunning archival photography of the inventive buildings and interiors he designed. Those designs, so rooted in their time and place but with universal appeal, deserve, at long last, a larger audience.”
Architectural Record

“[Making Houston Modern] contains an extremely valuable catalogue raisonné of [Howard Barnstone's] works as well as a frank portrayal of his bipolar condition.”
Austin American Statesman

“This volume devotes attention to all sides of a person in a way that few architectural monographs achieve...Making Houston Modern makes the case that [Barnstone's] legacy also resides in the culture he proliferated, both social and architectural.”
Cite Magazine

“Barnstone was, like the southern state, a ‘lone star’: the reserved kind, popular in his day but whose works were inexplicably left out of the canon of Houston’s modernity. This book seeks to remedy the oversight...Elitist, sophisticated, and irreverent, Barnstone was free verse, with no particular style but a discreet charm over a bourgeoisie, who contributed decisively to the modernity of a city.”
Arquitectura Viva

“In Houston, Barnstone’s otherness—his New England roots, Jewish heritage, bipolarity, bisexuality—placed him at odds with the prevailing culture, despite his best efforts. This tension fueled his intensity and formed a man who was “complex, complicated, and prolific." Making Houston Modern makes this clear in its thorough appreciation of Barnstone’s life...Today, Barnstone’s architecture, depleted through demolitions, alterations, or neglect, seems compromised at best. [The authors] make the case that his legacy also resides in the culture he proliferated, both social and architectural. ”
Rice Design Alliance

“[Making Houston Modern's] focus on the social and urban changes that facilitated modernist development is one of the book’s overall strengths...The book succeeds in illuminating Barnstone’s milieu, and offers important insights into his architecture.”
Texas Architect

Making Houston Modern is the revelatory biography of a talented architect and the unique but often misunderstood city he helped transform. Readers everywhere will be transfixed by Howard Barnstone’s wide-ranging successes as a meticulous modernist auteur but also the difficulties he faced in seeking to resolve the multiple tensions within and around him--insider and outsider; Jewish and Christian; liberal and elitist; bisexual and devoted family man; sophisticated intellectual and irreverent madcap. Barnstone suffered from manic depression yet designed some of Houston’s most peaceful and contemplative settings. With great insight and subtlety, this book deftly weaves together the saga of an exceptional person with that of a profession, a metropolis, and an era.”
Gwendolyn Wright, Columbia University, author of USA: Modern Architectures in History

“How wonderful to have a book on Howard Barnstone. The authors of the essays in this volume vividly bring to life the work and world of this important architect, who did so much to shape the culture of architecture in mid-twentieth-century Houston. Whether in discussions of Barnstone’s distinctive responses to the main currents of modernism; analysis of his complicated place in Texas architecture; or accounts of his relationships with patrons, colleagues, and institutions, the texts collected here demonstrate Barnstone’s important place in an expanding history of modern architecture. Documentation of the architect’s close connections with John and Dominique de Menil, John Staub, and Gertrude Levy Barnstone, among others, illuminate the personal, professional, and institutional networks in which Barnstone moved and that formed a significant part of the cultural infrastructure of the city where he worked. This is a marvelous addition to the growing scholarship on Houston and on modern architecture in Texas. ”
Kathryn O'Rourke, Trinity University, editor of O'Neil Ford on Architecture