Project Concho Center, Midland
Client COG Resources
Architect Rhotenberry Wellen Architects
Associate Architect Gensler Houston
Design Team Mark T. Wellen, FAIA; T.J. McClure, AIA; Layne Scott; Carl Ware; John Eberly, Grant Alford; Cale Lancaster; Suzann Haechten; Angela Lancaster
Photographer Paul Hester
The 1980s were especially tough on Texas — in particular, on hydrocarbon-dependent Midland. The economic dual shock of the oil glut and subsequent collapse of the savings-and-loan industry hollowed out this once-proud bastion of economic and cultural activity in the West, sparking a decline that lasted for decades. The city’s professional class was a casualty in the resulting chaos, characterized by the loss or flight of many of the banks and oil-related companies and with them the upwardly mobile employment opportunities they provided. Thirty years later, Midland is back, vibrant and growing. New development is visible throughout the city, which is becoming a place where young people can think of making a life again. Oil and gas is at the heart of this comeback: The Permian Basin, already the largest petroleum-producing region in the U.S., has in recent years gone hot again with advances in hydraulic fracturing, making what may be trillions of barrels of hydrocarbons suddenly economically accessible.
Central to this success and growth is Concho Resources and its most visible manifestation, the new corporate campus designed by hometown firm Rhotenberry Wellen Architects. Architecturally, Concho Center sets an exemplary standard for office complexes anywhere. It’s an unusual project, not only in Midland, but by the standards of any corporate facility in Texas. It is especially notable for its design quality and thoughtful place-making in a decentralized downtown still characterized by empty lots and vacant buildings. This kind of urban design gesture has real heft when applied in a city where similar new facilities are often built on suburban campuses, thereby exacerbating the decline of the urban core. Concho is not only setting a standard for community building and stewardship; it is working hard to promote it and to evoke civic pride in Concho’s employees. Tim Leach, CEO of Concho, feels it is important for the largest private company founded and based in Midland to have a presence downtown. He’s made supporting the comprehensive development of the center of Midland a priority for Concho, too.
The expanding and still-developing complex of structures that make up Concho Center began with the repurposing and remaking of abandoned commercial structures. It extended to new buildings and a complex program of exterior spaces, amenities, and landscaping. All of these are knit together by walkways, courtyards, bridges, and a variety of axial view corridors designed to allow light to enter the complex in surprising places. Being able to look out from the buildings into the heart of downtown Midland was important to Leach, and he proudly points this out to visitors. There may not be much to see now, but that is changing, and Concho Center is ready to exploit the views when they arrive.
The two low-rise towers (one six stories; the other, 10) are clad in a sophisticated gasket glazing system with emerald colored glass accented by vertical fins that were designed to recall the drill cores used by geophysicists to locate oil- and gas-bearing strata. This frank interpretation of the technological tools of the industry gives visual interest to the simple massing of the towers, which serve as backdrops for pedestrian-oriented parts of the complex at street level. The real design efforts were focused here, where Concho employees and visitors encounter the buildings and are introduced to the interior spaces.
Entry begins by passing under a steel trellis that is at once shady porch and primer on the design vocabulary of the buildings. Similar trellis structures connect the buildings to the parking garage and provide shade at seating areas in the outdoor spaces. Inside, the spaces shift from rugged and tough materials to a high level of refinement, fitting for a corporate complex. A series of linear, multilevel concourses act as the ties that interconnect a complex of discrete parts and organize the office towers and parking garages into a coherent whole. Spaces are uniformly white, filled with natural light and punctuated by seating areas, alcoves for quiet conversations, and an art program featuring art by Texans and illustrating Texas scenes. The details are clever and fresh, utilize interesting materials, and are all highly visible in the light. Windows are everywhere, and views are curated and framed as carefully as the art. At street level, passersby can see into the facility just as easily as Concho employees can see out. There is nothing hermetic or foreboding about this place, in line with Leach’s vision and sense of Concho’s responsibility as a good citizen of Midland.
The heart of the facility is the employees’ center. This sprawling structure houses the company cafeteria, an employee health club, a wellness center, and a variety of training and meeting spaces. Many of these are intended to be accessible to the community. Concho envisions helping Midland grow in a qualitative way, not only by providing an example, with their well-designed facilities, but also by bringing people in and letting them experience the facilities first-hand. A central two-story space contains the dining area of the cafeteria and, separated by a sliding glass wall, a full-sized basketball court. This space can be opened up to create a single volume assembly space for large company meetings and social events. Lacy steel pipe trusses span the space, which is illuminated by a continuous ring of clerestory windows. Recalling the great top-lit public spaces of early modernism (think Berlage, Wagner, and Asplund), the space and the surrounding galleries provide multiple viewing positions for visitors to inhabit and experience the volume. A fully articulated and handsome civic-scaled room of this nature is almost shocking and certainly unexpected in a corporate setting.
The clear West Texas light filters into the spaces everywhere and is a palpable element of the design at Concho Center. Mark Wellen, FAIA, has made a career of creating objects that when exposed to light reveal surprising shadows that become forms in themselves. At Concho, he has been able to shape and channel that light into myriad spaces of different orientation, use, and scale, making them bright and cheerful, not to mention exciting to occupy.
Rhotenberry Wellen has imbued the buildings and spaces with Midland’s DNA. The buildings feel right, there. The palette of materials is optimistic — Oz-like for the glazing of the office towers and utilitarian for the public spaces where people most interact. Exposed steel trellises, fences, and gates are left raw and galvanized. They have the feel of repurposed oil-field artifacts. The primary paving material is humble concrete, again appropriate to the setting and the landscape of Midland. The care with which these materials are detailed, the way they provide shade and shelter, and their inherent durability are all important parts of experiencing Concho. That this kind of exuberance can be found in a corporate setting far from the state’s big cities is encouraging and exciting.
Michael Malone, FAIA, founded Malone Maxwell Borson Architects in Dallas and chairs the TxA Honor Awards Committee for 2018.