Carlos Jiménez began building his Houston studio in 1983. “I opened my own studio very precociously,” he says. “I wanted my first project to be my own house.” Jiménez has been working on it ever since, he says, adding or subtracting buildings and elements every three years or so. “It never gets completed,” he says. “I’ve really never left it.”
In the nearly 35 years he has lived in Houston, Jiménez, 52, has witnessed the city’s growth and transformation. The Montrose neighborhood where both his studio and home are located, he says, has grown from a “rather suspect area” to one of the most walkable urban areas in the city. The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, where Jiménez completed an expansion in 1994, is located in Montrose.
His studio is “how I make sense of a city like Houston,” Jiménez says. “It’s not that I dislike the way Houston has developed, but I’m not as interested in being in this kind of maelstrom. I avoid driving as much as I can.”
To say that the studio space is personal for Jiménez is to understate his feelings for it. “I have lived here and worked here,” he says. “It’s a place where I’ve developed my life. It’s not a place where I go to work.” He presently works with two other designers, and the studio does not typically employ more than five. “It’s an atmosphere I need to be able to work in,” Jiménez says. “So I’ve really made this place to fit a very personal view of what architecture is and can do. Right across the street I have built my house.”
Jiménez says that he searches for clients, not projects, and establishes relationships with them. He is working today on a photography studio for his first client, for whom he first worked in 1982.
“I really believe in the radical power of basic forms. I think today we can practically make any shape at whim. But I really believe in the power of very simple shapes,” Jiménez says. “When I say radical, it’s because they still remain the most amazing to me. Because they are so easy to alter, or to modify, or to include. The more complex the formal expression, the more difficult it is to transform it—it becomes highly singular, too individualistic. I prefer the anonymity of form.”
Jiménez says that he takes his time and has never been overburdened by projects. “I’ve always been able to control and maintain the right amount of work.”
His elemental designs reflect his work process and design philosophy. “I don’t like to produce works where the architecture is on 24 hours a day,” he says. “I don’t feel comfortable doing that work. I don’t know how to.”
“Most of my studio buildings exist like a tree or like a cloud. They’re there, and they’re hardly noticed,” Jiménez says. “That’s what I’m interested in in my architecture. You know that they’re there, but they’re not always claiming authority or their presence. They get slightly softened or expanded by landscape.”
Jiménez acknowledges Alvar Aalto’s Villa Mairea as an influence, but he says that he is keen on film, fiction, and poetry, in particular Spanish, Latin American, and North American artists. “I like the way artists use form to transcend form,” he says. “They’re interested in the spaces between words, how the images become narrative.”
“I would like the architecture to be like an invitation,” Jiménez says. He believes that his architecture only works over time. “You’re invited to enter a world that is not yet totally there. It has to be discovered.”