Houston Welcomes New Asia Society Center

Latest research says Houston is the most ethnically diverse city in the country. This much is apparent in the growing population of Asian-Americans — a number which has risen in Houston by 70% from 2000 to 2010. And now those Asian-Americans have a physical place to go in the form of the new Asia Society’s building in the Museum District.

Driving up to the new Asia Society’s building on Southmore Boulevard the one thing that stands out is that the building doesn’t. It was designed by Japanese architect Yoshio Taniguchi in an area surrounded by town homes and two-storey residences. And while it is long, on a 2.3 acre site it’s also lower than the buildings around it. Fritz Lanham is with the Asia Society and he says that was the intention.  

"Its 40,000 square feet, which is big, but it’s not an overwhelming or intimidating building, and that was very deliberate a decision on the part of the architect."

Texas’s Asia Society was created in 1979 by former First Lady Barbara Bush and former Ambassador Roy M. Huffington. Originally they worked out of an office space in the Galleria. But in 1995, the Board of Directors decided in order for the organization to thrive, it was time to build themselves a home.

"The people who were on the board, they could see way back in the 90s that Asia was going to grow in importance on the world stage and it was important for Houston to be aware of that and to foster those ties with the fastest growing region economically."

This new building is only the second physical Asian-American Center in the entire country. New York has the original one which was built by John D. Rockefeller, III. In fact, pieces of Rockefeller’s Asian art will be on display at the new building. While it’s not primarily a place for exhibitions, Lanham says they’re happy to now have the option.

"Our mission covers five basic areas. We do programming in business and policy, arts and culture and education. We’ve always in the past done something with the visual arts by, for example, bringing speakers to town, but we haven’t had a space of our own to exhibit art, now for the first time we do."

One of the most striking parts of the new Asia Society Center can be found on the second floor. Just at the top of the stairs is a walkway with a big glass window that is broken up by vertical slats. Assuming that this window just looks out onto the front lawn of the building would be wrong. 

"You probably thought this was just an overhang. It’s actually an infinity pool. When you’re standing in this walkway, you’ll notice this wall right here is actually a continuation of the exterior wall. So when you’re in this space, you’re one foot in the building and one foot out of the building. So it’s a very striking, but also kind of soothing introduction to the second floor."

You can judge for yourself because the new Asia Society Center is now open to the public.

Bio photo of Edel Howlin

Edel Howlin

Producer, Houston Matters

Edel is a producer on Houston Matters and reporter for PBS’s Newshour Weekend...