Austin, watch out: Houston may be the live music capital of the world one day. Pegstar Productions, one of the largest concert promoters and organizers in the Southwest, sought out Houston– and New York–based firm Schaum/Shieh to design White Oak Music Hall, a three-stage showcase for independent music. The performance complex sits on a roughly five-acre site, adjacent to the Little White Oak Bayou, just one mile from downtown.
Architect Troy Schaum believes that the civic aspect of the design is one of its best features. “The client wanted a world-class venue, looking a little more broadly for inspiration. Houston is not just a local city, it’s a global city.” Indeed, if demographic trends continue, Houston will overtake Chicago as the country’s third largest city by 2030. “Nobody builds ground-up indie rock clubs…We are imagining what contemporary users want, [and creating] what that would be,” said Schaum. White Oak’s design reflects Houston’s increasing prominence on the global stage while remaining true to the local culture.
To create the three venues, 15,000 square feet of interior space is broken up into a 1,000-seat music hall and a more intimate 200-capacity stage. Outdoors, over 2,000 music fans can congregate on the lawn, where gently sloping turf affords excellent views of the bayou and downtown Houston. Large exterior balconies and a roof terrace create a loose amphitheater around the lawn’s main stage.
The outdoor program synthesizes the bayou and the city, reinforcing Houston’s connection to the water. Hills are rare in this part of Texas, so Schaum/Sheih capitalized on the site’s slope to catch Little White Oak Bayou’s breezes. This, in addition to plantings and shade from the balcony, will cool concertgoers on the lawn.
The materials, facade, and interior design are all in dialogue with Houston’s vernacular architecture and the historic homes of the Near Northside. The team used overscaled cement-fiber board on the front facade; on the lawn side, it transitions to more industrial materials such as polycarbonate balconies. Schaum/Shieh worked with Norwalk, Connecticut–based acoustics consultant Jaffe Holden to devise interior performance space for amplified and non-amplified sound. The team, Schaum explained, “lined the interior with a second skin of wood slats, differently spaced, so notes are not dropped.”
Also part of the complex is the Raven Tower, a local landmark visible from the adjacent I-45. The six-story tower is topped by a former bachelor pad and weathervane with an oversized metal rooster. The tower will be turned into a bar that references a Houston ice house—a roadside bar that sells bottled beer. The project is expected to be completed by May 2016.