• The interior of Adara takes its cues from high-end retail spaces. Photo by Stephen Gutierrez.

Juvederm, Kybella, Restylane, Volbella, Voluma, Sculptra.

Coolsculpting, Microdermabrasion, Chemical Peel, Facial.

Laser Hair Reduction, Non-ablative Skin Rejuvenation, Stretch-Mark Trauma-Scar Leg-Vein Treatment.

Ultherapy, Miradry, Microneedling, Skin Pin, Intense Pulse Light Photofacial, Stem Cell Hair Restoration.

Clear and Brilliant.


They all will tell you, those who make it there: “Don’t get old.” It’s somewhere between a joke and a lament. The alternative is to die young; otherwise, you’re going to grow old before you die. And, as time passes, your body will age. And, in ageing, your skin will dry out, wrinkle, and sag as the flesh beneath it atrophies. Spots and other discolorations will multiply. Spidery varicose veins will start to show through the parchment-thin surface of your ever-more-translucent epidermis. Fat will pool, unwanted, in odd places. Hair will sprout where hair has never grown before, and fall away in places where once it was lush. Scars — from car wrecks, fistfights, pratfalls, surgeries — will accumulate, as will stretch marks (rippling across skin that once was smooth as drifted snow), thanks to growth spurts, baby bumps, or to the rise/fall that comes with vertical banded gastroplasty (stomach-stapling): It’s gross.

This is nothing new, nor is it new for humans to attempt to counter the effects of aging on the body; that seems to be as old as civilization itself. The ancient Greeks coated themselves in olive oil and honey. Ancient Egyptian men rubbed crocodile fat on their balding heads to promote hair growth, while the women mixed natron and water to make a night cream. The peoples of ancient India were particularly elaborate in their development of anti-aging measures, creating a wide variety of creams for targeted purposes and practicing techniques still in vogue today, such as mud baths, herbal masks, and steam treatments.

Twenty-first-century life and longevity have made the quest to conserve youthful appearance all the more urgent, and medical science and the market have risen to the challenge. The series of words that opens this article is not an incantation, though it reads that way; it is a list of services provided by contemporary medical spas — “medical spa” being the preferred euphemism for a cosmetic dermatology clinic. They include “injectables” that paralyze muscles, make hair grow, and fill in for lost collagen; “body contouring” techniques that kill fat cells through freezing or chemicals; and “laser treatments” that use photons to remove hair, smooth out damaged skin, and eliminate sweat and odor glands.

The machinery involved in providing many of these services, not to mention the needles and the recovery times, can be intimidating. So it is in businesses’ best interest that a medical spa be framed by architecture that puts patients at their ease. The same could be said of any healthcare environment, but, in the case of the medical spa, while cleanliness is crucial, self-image is the driver: In short, what’s called for is a cross between a doctor’s office and a high-end retail establishment.

Adara, a medical spa in Houston’s Museum District (on Binz Street, catty-corner from the Children’s Museum), is just such a place. Designed by MC2 Architects, its interior is a light-filled, rejuvenating environment studded with subtle but profound references to art.

Adara occupies the second floor of a recently completed four-story mixed-use building, which was designed by Bailey Architects before Shepley Bulfinch bought the firm. The building is also home to related entities Dermatological Association of Texas and the Center for Clinical Studies. The first floor retail space is held by MF Sushi — also designed by MC2 — which specializes in an omakase dining experience, where the chef decides what guests will eat. The top floor, according to local real estate blog “Swamplot,” is a residence with a large garden terrace.

Adara is an experience that begins with the entry sequence. The gray tiles of the lobby floor transition piecemeal to the white glass tiles of the medical spa as one traverses the narrow corridor. On the wall to the right is a back-lit white Corian sign etched with stylized lotus flowers reminiscent of the work of Charley Harper.

Rounding a corner, visitors enter the main space: a long room with a waiting area; an 18-ft-long span product-testing table (custom-designed by MC2 and made of folded steel); recessed product display shelving; and the reception desk. Everything is white, with the exception of a walnut inlay in the tile floor upon which the table sits. Above the waiting area hangs a sculpture by local artist Bennie Flores Ansell. The windows are screened with white string curtains that diffuse incoming daylight, giving the interior an ethereal air. A reveal where the floor meets the window wall is filled with small white pebbles. Behind the reception desk are two consultation rooms, which have been given the same interior treatment.

Adara’s four procedure rooms are accessed off a hallway that runs parallel to the main room. The threshold between the two is acutely angled toward the entrance and screened with the same sort of string curtain that covers the windows. The hallway is lit by recessed light coves, inspired by James Turrell, that run across the ceiling and down one wall. More of the little white pebbles can be found in the recesses where the light coves meet the floor.

Inside, the treatment rooms themselves are fairly straightforward. There is a reclining chair, a closet for storing the machines, and a desk surface. Here, too, the interior is all white — with the exception of a black stripe running down one wall. According to MC2 co-founder Chung Nguyen, AIA, the stripe was inspired by the paintings of Richard Serra and is meant to serve as a backdrop for taking before-and-after photos of patients. But there seems to be more to those black portals in the all-white interior, situated as they are, directly beside the patient undergoing treatment. What is going on in those mysterious, inky wells? The black bands keep their counsel, as patrons come and go, attempting to postpone the inevitable.

Aaron Seward is the editor of Texas Architect.

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