5000 Montrose Apartment Building

Originally called “5000 Montrose at the Museum”, this high rise modern apartment building is located about a block north of the grouping of the Glassell School of Art, the Contemporary Arts Museum and the three Museum of Fine Arts Houston buildings proceeding east from the Bissonnet intersection. Its entrance is set considerably back on the first floor, with its garage levels and higher general structure above and has a tall shiny metallic front door motif that suggests the rather loud aspects of early 1980’s design (of which this building is a product). This reflective suggested arch could counteract the darkening effect of the entrance being sheltered by so much of the second floor, forming a loggia that protects pedestrians from rain and summer sun. But other aspects of the apartment building are sedate and functional, as with the uncomplicated horizontal window bands with no mullions (just glass seams) and the flexible and open floor plans of the units, typically 8 to a floor. Also, the visually jarring heating/ventilating/air conditioning constructs on the roof are hidden from view by a curved cowling, set back from the edge about 20% of the width of the floors. It’s a kind of inside-out version of how Mies Van der Rohe inset the same systems on top of the Seagram Building in Manhattan, dressy but not exactly unprecedented.

There is however an impressive and very public feature to this building that renders its effect anything but sedate. The point where chances are taken would be the corners, where the unit balconies are all located. These balconies are not formed by the usual ninety degree edges but are circular spaces without a corner girder. Where the corner would usually be, there is no corner at all. The round balcony is suspended by cantilevering, which supports a surface from the side, not beneath, leaving one edge or end suspended. But rather than oblong floors being suspended from one end (as in Frank Lloyd Wright’s ‘Fallingwater’), the architecture firm here uses one edge of a theoretical circle to “grasp” the other 240 degrees or so of the balcony, as you do when you hold a dinner plate in your hand. And these plate-like balconies extend in 17-story stacks all the way to the top on all four corners. I cannot recall any precedent for this arrangement in any architectural period. These unit features give 270-degree views of the city and in getting them allow the viewer to step out beyond the “usual” edge of the structure.

A newer apartment building across Montrose to the northeast blocks some of the more spectacular views of the downtown skyline formerly possible to some units of 5000 Montrose but the extended circular balconies mitigate that circumstance by allowing so many other views. The site is, after all, in the middle of town and Galleria, Museum, Rice University/Medical Center, River Oaks and eastern sunrise views are still possible and even unobstructed depending on the unit. This building is one of my favorites, since the dramatic corner arrangement makes it very difficult to take a bad picture of the place. Unfortunately there are no public spaces to visit since its only function is to house private residences. But other construction aside, it commands the views from Montrose both to its north and south, from the US59 bridge almost all the way to Mecom Fountain.

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