In 1976, New York Times architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable declared that Houston was “the American present and future. It is an exciting and disturbing place,” one that “scholars flock to for the purpose of seeing what modern civilization has wrought.”1 In her account the city's distinctive character lay in its decenteredness, its seemingly limitless capacity for shape-shifting, and its utter lack of history. Like many observers then and since, Huxtable was struck by the experience of juxtaposition—of form, scale, type, and space—that was a consequence, in part, of the city's infamous lack of zoning regulations and its unapologetic accommodation of private real estate interests, particularly those...

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