SCHAUM/SHIEH is a 10-year-old practice that has received outsized press in the last two to three years for its work in Houston. The office is split between Rice Village and Midtown Manhattan and uses technology and travel to pull this dual presence off. Troy Schaum is based in Houston. In addition to his work at the practice, he teaches at Rice. Rosalyne Shieh lives in New York and is currently teaching at MIT.
The majority of SCHAUM/SHIEH’s recent built work has been done in Texas, including the White Oak Music Hall, a 2016 Texas Architects Design Award-winning project. When Schaum and Shieh started out, most of their output was either academic research or competition schemes. Some of this work has been exhibited at the Venice Biennale, Storefront for Art and Architecture, and other prominent venues. Since moving to Texas, SCHAUM/SHIEH’s practice has been building. Currently, the office is working with both the Judd Foundation and the Chinati Foundation to preserve facilities in Marfa. They’ve also completed high-end residential renovations in New York City and have done work in Detroit and Virginia.
In Houston, the Transart House was designed over five years as an intense collaboration with the owner, Surpik Angelini. Educated as an architect and trained in art, she was a formidable partner in the development of the project, challenging the design as well as the details. Her vision for the gallery as both a salon and an art space drove the development. The gallery will house Angelini’s extensive art and anthropology book collection as well as host rotating exhibits and events that she curates.
The gallery is a block east of the Menil, in a changing West Alabama neighborhood. The scale is residential, though the building looks much larger as a volume compared to its neighboring structures: a bungalow-turned-neon shop and a pseudo-Bavarian apartment building. Schaum says, “The building feels welcoming and domestic, working against its monumentality.”
The gallery was built as a big house, using local tradespeople accustomed to working in Houston’s typical sticks-and-stucco construction. The white volume is carved to reduce its mass. Curved, steel-framed windows slice through the facade, softening its appearance and creating a sense of movement that contrasts with its weight. In order to achieve this effect, the columns were shaved down to accommodate the custom window frames, which were projected onto the walls for the fabricators to draw. The result is successful, though it does not read as unstable, which was the intent. The details are not perfect, inside or out. The construction “evolved on-site with the contractors and fabricators” and was, for all, a “labor of love over 18 months,” according to Schaum.
The scale of the interior is intimate, yet generous. Support spaces are tucked out of sight, and the art is allowed to dominate. The gallery spaces feel like a collector’s living room and lend themselves to discussion and lingering. The stairs to the second floor dining space, or salon, are meant to become the library in the heart of the building. The books have not been brought in, yet, so ascending feels more like a climb between layers of framing. There is a restroom with a shower on this level, suggesting that it is a house. Balconies extend out over the first floor galleries, providing a perch for viewing taller installations — or simply the party below. The upper floor office looks into the galleries and opens to a roof deck that frames views to the east.
The property retained an existing shed, an “art barn,” that served as SCHAUM/SHIEH’s studio and is now set up for visiting artists. The building was re-clad in oversized HardiePlank siding painted a dark gray, which causes it to retreat and become a solid background for the sculptural gallery up front.
Are we meant to view art at home? It depends on the artist, the scale, the intention. The Transart House is a comfortable space that fosters the conversation that the owner has been having with art throughout her entire career.
Elizabeth Price, AIA, is vice president at Upchurch Architects.