Friday, December 1, 2000 Volume 66, Issue 72



Architect unveils renovated Teleport

Grand opening tonight of media room to serve as distance learning classroom and teleconferencing center for students and faculty

By Ken Fountain
Daily Cougar Staff

"Welcome to the future," exclaims maverick architect Doug Michels as he introduces visitors to the Allen Teleport 2000, a refashioned version of the media room prototype he designed in the late 1970s.

The Teleport, housed in the Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture, will receive its public unveiling tonight at a reception from 5 to 7 p.m.

Michels, whose varied works since the late 1960s includes designing the "Cadillac Ranch" outside Amarillo and working with esteemed architect Phillip Johnson on the Galleria-area Williams Tower, is currently an adjunct professor and director of the College of Architecture's FutureLab design studio.

The Teleport, with its curved H-shaped couch/work station facing a wall dominated by a circular video monitor, evokes the bridge of the "Starship Enterprise" of Star Trek fame.

Michels originally designed the room in 1978 as a commission from Houston investment banker E. Rudge Allen and his wife Nancy. Allen, who owned the first Apple personal computer in Houston, wanted a way to work from his Memorial-area home and still keep in contact with his downtown office, essentially pioneering the idea of "telecommuting."

The refurbished version of a late 1970s media room prototype designed by UH College of Architecture's FutureLab director Doug Michels will be unveiled today at a reception from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. in the Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture where it is housed.

Rich R. Risma/
The Daily Cougar

When the room was completed in 1979, reviews in publications such as Newsweek, Home Living Today and the Washington Times hailed its design.

Afterward, Michels went on to other things. In 1997, he was invited to give a lecture at the College of Architecture.

"After the lecture, one of the professors, Bruce Webb, said 'Doug, I want to show you something.' And he walked over and opened the door, and here it was," Michels said.

Unbeknownst to Michels, Nancy Allen had donated the room to the University after her husband's death a few years before. With funds provided by Mrs. Allen/Greentree Fund and the Brown Foundation, the College of Architecture relocated and reinstalled the Teleport to serve as a distance learning classroom and teleconferencing center for students and faculty.

"Then I was invited to join the faculty here in 1999. One of my first assignments with my studio, FutureLab, was to look at this room and bring it up to speed," Michels said.

For that, Michels teamed up with David Donnelly, an associate professor in the UH School of Communication and director of the International Telecommunications Research Institute.

"I'm real interested in what the next media are going to be," Donnelly said. "Clearly, our media rooms, television, and how we process information, all of these things are changing."

Donnelly said he hopes the Teleport also becomes a platform for the Internet 2 Initiative that UH is a charter member. The initiative is intended to increase the Internet's capabilities without its current bandwidth constraints.

"The challenge that we would like to meet with the Teleport is to bring the actual process of cybercasting and videoconferencing into a new, more spatial, dimension," Michels said.

That will involve the installation of a matrix of 50 video cameras along the room's ceiling that will simultaneously record everything about the room and form a "spatial mosaic."

"Right now it's just a framework that's becoming functional," Donnelly said. "It will become increasingly functional and interactive and more alive in the future."

UH Professor Gary Eades, the facility's project manager, said the teleport is "just an open room that nurtures connections between people."

Curtis Wilson of the UH Computer Center was in charge of installing the Teleport's upgraded technology. He began working on the project in August.

"I've been having a lot of fun with it, even though it's a bit out of my ordinary scheme," Wilson said.

To attend tonight's reception, call Kaye Patterson, the School of Architecture's development director at (713) 743-2353.

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