On March 27, Galveston — the center for all things Victorian in Texas — moved out of its comfort zone when the Galveston Park Board of Trustees voted to approve a crisply modern conceptual design for the new Stewart Beach Pavilion. Meant to be the centerpiece of Stewart Beach Park, where Broadway meets the Seawall, the new pavilion is designed by the New York and Houston architectural firm Rogers Partners. It will replace the current 52,000-sf pavilion, designed by Galveston architects Rapp Partners, which was built in 1985 to replace a predecessor that was damaged by Hurricane Alicia.
The program of the new pavilion, as determined during the course of several public meetings with residents and stakeholders, includes an amphitheater, playground, concessions, restrooms and showers, a venue for events, space for beach patrol and park administration, a rooftop restaurant and terrace, shaded seating, and a covered market space — all connected by a series of multilevel ramps, stairs, and verandas. In the presentation renderings, the new 72,000-sf pavilion appears as hovering planes of exposed concrete with sections infilled with oversized wood louvers, channel glass, and stainless-steel mesh. Its visible structure, prominent ramps and stairs, and elegant composition evoke Le Corbusier’s “promenade architecturale” as channeled through a mid-century-modern, Latin-American vibe.
Rogers Partners won the commission because of its previous experience in the peculiarities of designing public space along the Gulf Coast. The firm is responsible for two award-winning projects of this type: the New St. Pete Pier in St. Petersburg, Florida, which is currently under construction; and the Houston-Galveston Area Protection System, which won a TxA Studio Award last year.
According to Tyler Swanson, AIA, associate partner and head of the Houston office, the Galveston Park Board asked the architects to rethink the experience of the space and increase revenue generation. Rogers Partners interpreted this through the lens of historical research into the mechanics of the original seaside pavilions built around the turn of the century. They analyzed the methods by which earlier architects provided thermally comfortable public spaces in an era before air conditioning. Rogers Partners raised the new building 22 ft in the air to keep it from flooding, to catch the breeze, and to provide better views. Multilevel covered decks add visual interest and provide access to all enclosed program areas.
The new building, which is located in the center of the park, closer to the water than the current pavilion, is broken into two unequal sections. The main block is parallel to the beach and contains the playground and amphitheater on the ground level; concessions on the second level; beach patrol, park administration, and an events venue on the third level; and a restaurant and rooftop terrace occupy the fourth level. The smaller block, which is canted a few degrees to align with the Broadway axis, contains the covered market space on the ground level, bathrooms on the second level, and a continuation of the administration suite on the third level. A free-standing entry gateway for park access connected to the main pavilion is located on the Seawall. A final component of the Stewart Beach Park reorganization is the rehabilitation of the dune system — not only to protect the new buildings, but, just as importantly, to block the view of the giant parking lot from the beach.
With this conceptual project, Rogers Partners has provided a compelling modern alternative to the saccharine neo-Victorianism currently in vogue in Galveston. However, it should be noted that this is only a conceptual project. A budget has not yet been established and, considering Galveston’s permanently precarious economic state, the city will in all likelihood not be able to afford it without a Fertitta, Moody, or Kinder to pitch in. Perhaps a more realistic approach would be to remodel the current Stewart Beach Pavilion. Although it is definitely unsexy, it appears to have survived Hurricane Ike relatively unscathed and could become more appealing with the smart and creative approach Rogers Partners has shown in its conceptual design for the new pavilion.
Ben Koush, AIA, is an architect in Houston.