Presence, The Transco Tower

Published in Photo District News (New York), January 1986
Now here's a book that justifies the description, "coffee table book"! All it needs is four legs. The front, back and two inside flaps are all faced with the identical skyscraper, the Transco Tower in Houston, photographed at different times of the day. When the cover is spread out, it is indeed impressive.

Like the cathedral of Chartres, the Transco Tower dominates an otherwise empty landscape, and was conceived as a modern monument projecting its presence in all directions. The 900-foot-tall skyscraper, surrounded by a grassy landscape, is the world's tallest building outside a central business district. The architects were Philip Johnson and John Burgee, who have designed some very controversial skyscrapers.

Presence is one of the first books published by Herring Press, a new Houston outfit dedicated to producing high-quality illustrated books. Printed in Japan, this book's color pages sparkle with images that point up the tower's unique position out in the middle of nowhere. In the foreground are a golf course, a rural stream, an auto junkyard, a roadside fruit stand, an oil field — and always, in the background, looms the ubiquitous tower. This is a clever idea executed by an exceptionally talented photographer and book designer.


Presence, The Transco Tower

By Peter Jay Zweig, published in Texas Architecture Magazine, 1986
Presence, The Transco Tower is a tribute to Philip Johnson and John Burgee's Transco Tower, the 64-story modern-day corporate cathedral that stands in splendid isolation near the Galleria in southwestern Houston.

The crisply written text by Houston's long-time preeminent critic, Ann Holmes, does what one would expect, relating the vision of the architects and the story of the building's development by Gerald Hines and W.D. "Jack" Bowen, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Transco Energy Company, the building's principal tenant. Extraordinary position, as well as design, Holmes says, gives Transco Tower the monumental presence lacking throughout the rest of Houston.She writes: "Size alone, of course, doesn't make true monumentality — as evidenced by the [75-story downtown] Texas Commerce Building by I.M. Pei."

But Presence, The Transco Tower delivers much more than expected.

The photographs by Steve Brady, reproduced beautifully in a massive format, are chosen from some 11,000 35-millimeter shots taken over an eight month period. They open with a study of the play of light over the tower's glass skin. But then the photographer steps back, and back, and back. We see Transco through the mist of a River Oaks golf course, from porches and sidewalks, from freeways, from a Montrose baseball field, from oil fields, from a horse lot far to the southeast. Gradually the true aim of the book — a celebration of the vibrant life of Houston — emerges. After taking something of a beating in the 1980s, Houston deserves this book.

Peter Jay Zweig is an award-winning architect practicing in Houston and an associate professor of architecture at the University of Houston-University Park, where he directs the Texas Studio.


Tower of Power

By Meg Tynan, published in Continental magazine, 1986
Houston's Transco Tower is an impressive, solitary spire that rises 64 stories above the glitzy Southwest side of Houston. From nearly any outdoor location around the city, the mammoth town can be seen imposing itself on the skyline, standing as beacon ad benchmark.  Presence, The Transco Tower has captured in book form the pervasive power of the building from every point of Houston's vast horizon.

Presence features the outstanding photography of Steve Brady, along with an introduction by the architects behind the Transco Tower, Philip Johnson and his partner John Burgee. The book, a culmination of more than eight months of photographing, was edited from over 11,000 exposures. On each page readers are treated to the visual surprises the tower presents; the Transco Tower has become the newest symbol of the City of Houston. Presence, The Transco Tower, published by Herring Press, Inc., Houston.