The UH Digital Library recently announced its newest addition—the Donald Barthelme Sr. Architectural Papers and Photographs. The Digital Library makes accessible online important holdings of the University of Houston libraries and archives. These new items illustrate the work of noted architect Donald Barthelme through pencil sketches, photographs, and the detailed working drawings used to construct his buildings. They are only a small part of the total found in the Donald Barthelme Sr. Architectural Papers, but they illustrate his most important projects.
The earliest is Barthelme’s own residence (1939), a small flat-roof modernist house on Wynden Drive. The open plan created the illusion of a larger space within. A grid of Japanese tatami mats covering the floor met a similar grid of windows facing the patio. He filled the living room with iconic modernist furniture by Alvar Aalto, Charles Eames, and Eero Saarinen. In an unusual feature, the parents’ bedroom was open to the living room; a folding screen provided privacy from the children.
St. Rose of Lima Church and School won an award of merit from the American Institute of Architects in 1948 for its simple and austere brick forms. But Barthelme’s most important building was the award-winning West Columbia Elementary School,
completed in 1951. Its innovative design departed from the traditional practice of placing classrooms along both sides of a long corridor. Instead, he arranged the building around two large courtyards; classrooms opened to the courts through floor-to-ceiling glass walls. The picture of a teacher and her students captures the cheerful atmosphere of Barthelme’s light-filled classrooms.
In the mid-1950s, the Adams Petroleum Company hired Barthelme to design its new office building on Fannin Street. The company hoped to develop the large site as an office park, with the APC building to be followed by other office buildings. Barthelme spent hundreds of hours planning the large complex before Adams abandoned the scheme. The Digital Library contains a selection of rarely seen studies for this ambitious unbuilt project.
Through the UH Digital Library the public now has easy access to these images, some of which have never been published. As usual, the Donald Barthelme Sr. Architectural Papers are available to researchers at the UH Libraries’ Special Collections department.