Cynthia Brants Painting Studio
The studio is the first 'glass-box' Modern structure built in north central Texas.
The two-story steel frame stucture sits atop a slight hillock and is surrounded by small trees and other growth rendering it almost invisible to unknowing passersby. It is entered by a steel bridge from the west/uphill side and a cantilevered balcony projects from the east elevation continuing the spatial thrust of the entry bridge. The bridge spans to the studio from a poured-in-place reinforced concrete plinth to the west which contained the original mechanical system. Both bridge and balcony are centered in the middle north-south bay defining a strong symmetrical axis which is offset elegantly by the assymmetrical volume of the interior painting space.
The original structure had plain canvas sunshades mounted to the exterior facade for protection from the harsh Texas daylight.
In 1968 Ms. Brants commissioned architectural designer Glen Alan Galaway to design a residence for her immediately to the west which was extensively remodeled in 1989 as part of a new and larger residence by architect Emery O. Young, AIA for the new owners Shirley Blair and John Griffith.
Designed utilizing a 7' by 7' conceptual module, the studio is 4 bays wide (east-west) and 5 bays wide (north-south) giving the flat-roofed building a plan footprint of 28' by 35'. The northernmost interior bays form the two-story high painting area itself and a small kitchen is located at the lower level in the west side. A second entry is provided from the north wall at the lower level directly to the outside.
Various exterior bays not glazed were infilled with natural tan cement stucco infill. The steel framework was painted flat black, resulting in an interesting hybrid of Miesian frame and Wrightian color / material palette.
Conceived as a design/build collaboration and prefabricated offsite, the structure consists of painted steel angles bolted back-to-back and then glazed with clear single-glazing on site. The frame itself was assembled first offsite to verify tolerances and fit, then taken apart, transported to the site and reassembled on the poured-in-place reinforced concrete foundation slab. The roof deck, which is exposed to form the interior ceiling and the upper level, and the second floor framing/first floor ceiling are of painted 1x6 wood planks. Interior walls are simple gypsum board, painted, on wood framing. Flush, solid core exterior wood doors were painted and hung with continuous piano-hinges. Simple steel frame screen doors are mounted outside each pair of bridge/balcony doors. Roofing consisted of asphalt-impregnated membranes with gravel ballast and copper edge flashing. The second roof, now on top, used galvanized metal edge flashing rather than copper. Various mechanical conduit and other lines are presently exposed on the exterior of the stucco infill panels.
The Brants family property sits on the south side of the golf course belonging to Ridglea Country Club, which was under development at the time of this construction. Originally a dairy farm, Ms. Brants and family spent considerable time riding horses there and lived in a home completed in 1935 and designed by Hubert Hammond Crane. The house is still extant as is the later Brants family home designed by renowned Houston architect John Staub.
The hillock site of the studio is now surrounded by adjacent homes and Sealands Lane was cut almost immediately below the building. It is difficult to imagine its original purity on the hill.
The design/build nature of the project, unusual for 1950, along with its early use of prefabricated components as described in 'Construction' give this modest project a larger presence in the history of such concerns in the region. The builders were considered the best available at the time for such residential construction in Fort Worth.
The use of steel angles without thermal breaks in conjunction with the clear single glazing resulted in considerable heat transfer into the studio; though interestingly, no owner mentioned being bothered by this issue.
Its unpretentious material palette and means of assembly belie the consideration given to the architectural clarity of the finished product.
Cynthia Brants was a highly-regarded painter in the region whose work is in the permanent collection of the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth as well as significant personal collections and her college friendship with Ruth Carter Stevenson, a Fort Worth native and daughter of Amon Carter ( owner of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram ) remained a lifelong tie. Ms. Stevenson was the first female chair of the National Gallery of Art and has served on numerous boards including the Board of Regents
of the University of Texas. She has been a patron of world-class architecture for most of her life including works by Philip Johnson, Harwell Hamilton Harris, Roche - Dinkeloo, et al.
As the first 'glass-box' Modern structure to be constructed in the north central Texas region its significance is considerable.
Hood Chatham went on to practice in San Francisco and had a noted architectural career until his death a few years ago and David George still practices in the region in the modest architectural vocabulary which this early work typifies.
The studio is little-known, even among architects in the region, but its importance in the overall architectural history of Texas is quite notable. Its concern for world-class architectural conceptions expressed in such unassuming material palette and techniques is extraordinary. The mere fact that it still exists, in a cultural climate where such structures are considered expedient and not highly regarded is remarkable.
Personal conversations on site and by phone with Cynthia Brants,
Shirley Blair, David W. George, Hood Chatham and Don W. Kirk over
the past four years.