UTSA architecture lecture series opens with founders of rising L.A. firm

Mark Lee and Sharon Johnston

Architects Mark Lee and Sharon Johnston

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(March 19, 2013) -- The UTSA College of Architecture Spring Lecture Series begins with "Art in the City" at 5:30 p.m., Wednesday, March 20 in the Frio Street Building Riklin Auditorium (1.406) on the UTSA Downtown Campus. The COA series is free and open to the public.

Architects Sharon Johnston, AIA, and Mark Lee, founders of the Los Angeles firm Johnston Marklee, will kick off the COA lecture series with a discussion of their work. The husband-and-wife duo had a breakout year in 2012, having won the international commission for the new Menil Drawing Institute on the legendary Menil Collection campus in Houston.

Johnston Marklee topped an impressive shortlist of competitors to design the Menil Collection's first major expansion since the campus' public debut 25 years ago. Also vying for the commission were Tokyo-based Pritzker Prize-winners SANAA, the Mexico City firm of Tatiana Bilbao, and Menil master plan designers David Chipperfield Architects. The selection committee made a surprising, yet unanimous, choice in tapping up-and-comer Johnston Marklee for the design. The decision boosted the young L.A. firm to breakout status and many have noted the parallel in Dominique de Menil's inspired selection of Renzo Piano to design the museum's flagship building as his first American commission early in his career.

As reported by the Houston Chronicle, the Menil's director, Josef Helfenstein, said he and the selection committee were "impressed by [their] concept's adept control of light -- a major challenge with drawings." In addition to protecting delicate materials from harsh Texas sunlight, the proposal had to consider the fact that conservators need sunlight to produce optimal restoration work.

A recent profile of Johnston Marklee in Architect Magazinemakes clear that the duo feels very plugged into the global community of young architects. As in most other disciplines, globalization and the Internet have broken down geographic barriers and made new content such as architectural images readily available, radically altering the profession.

"I think for architects of our generation, this sense of 'community' is more global," said Johnston in Architect magazine. "There is more opportunity for that kind of engagement across continents because of publications, because of technology -- all the things that make the marketplace bigger."

Lee added, "We find more of a community outside the U.S. In Europe or Latin America, it's more possible for very open dialogue."

In addition to their speaking engagement in the COA lecture series, Johnston and Lee are participating in a design charrette with UTSA College of Architecture graduate students and young professionals from San Antonio March 20-22. The charrette is the next event in the "Public Space, Public Transit, Public Art" series, a project funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). In summer 2012, the UTSA College of Architecture, in partnership with the City of San Antonio Department of Culture and Creative Development and VIA Metropolitan Transit, was selected to receive an Our Town grant from NEA. The project began in January and the event series runs through May.

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UTSA College of Architecture Spring 2013 Lecture Series

March 20: Johnston Marklee: Art and the City
March 26: Gunny Harboe: Restoring Chicago's Architectural Legacy
March 27: Javier Sánchez: Building the City: Architectural Insertions in Mexico City
April 4: Jean-Paul Viguier: Modernity and Heritage: Contextual or Pastiche

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The COA Lecture Series is free and open to the public. For more information, contact Nicole Chavez at 210-458-3121.