Elements of Style

Art or Architecture? This Houston Design Firm Is Blurring the Lines

Meet rootlab, the business that’s taking Houston’s design scene by storm.

By Alexia Partouche October 6, 2022 Published in the Fall 2022 issue of Houstonia Magazine

Take a stroll through the renovated Hall of Ancient Egypt in the Houston Museum of Natural Science, where you’ll find an assortment of their designs—down to the golden hieroglyphic panels.

In simple terms, rootlab is a design and fabrication firm. But to understand the scope of the firm’s work, take a stroll through the renovated Hall of Ancient Egypt in the Houston Museum of Natural Science, where you’ll find an assortment of their designs—from the scale model of Abu Simbel to the golden hieroglyphic panels. Then, peek your head into Travis Scott’s Space Village to spot an original half-pipe housed inside, which the rootlab team designed, built, and installed in less than 30 hours. Finally, enjoy your daily dose of caffeine at Giant Leap Coffee in Uptown Park, where rootlab’s work will be all around you, literally—they built the place from the ground up. 

The Hall of Ancient Egypt in the Houston Museum of Natural Science includes a scale model of Abu Simbel fabricated by rootlab.

Since the firm’s inception in 2014, rootlab has taken on whatever Houston has thrown at them. The idea for the original company—founded by Houstonians Logan Sebastian Beck, Eric Hester, and Troy Stanley—started two years earlier, shortly after the three graduated with visual art degrees, when Stanley was seeking help creating his Burning Man honorarium sculpture. The team’s successful collaboration eventually grew into a company whose early projects pale in comparison to their recent achievements. 

“I’d say the project I’m most proud of is the improbable company we’ve built,” Beck says. “We started just the three—Troy, Eric, and I—collaborating on small projects, working out of ridiculously small spaces with limited tools. Now we’ve got this huge, amazingly talented team and a sweet 50,000-square-foot facility.”

And that team hasn’t stopped working. Between 2015 and press time, rootlab had completed 38 projects, with more already in the works. Now, rootlab has refocused on larger exhibition projects, such as the Houston Museum of Natural Science’s upcoming Matter and Motion Chemistry Hall, which will feature 56 individual exhibits crafted by the rootlab team. 

The design for Giant Leap, a coffee shop in Uptown Park, is inspired by space exploration.

For the company founders, success is inseparable from the dynamism of the city where they got their start. “We think Houston is such fertile ground to create something special, and it deserves the credit as such,” Stanley says. Between working with local shops to create anything they can’t do in-house and relying on word-of-mouth recommendations, they’ve found the city and its connections essential to their success.

That’s not to detract from the process that has allowed rootlab to thrive. The firm's start-to-finish process is its greatest selling point, constantly evolving based on clients’ needs. Design, engineering, and finish teams work together from the first meeting with the client to the very end of the installation. Above all, the focus is on bringing the client’s vision to reality.

“I got into art because it made thoughts and ideas tangible to the world: I think it’s those ideas you have as an artist that drive you to the solutions,” Stanley says. “I think rootlab, in a way, was a solution to essentially one big art idea.” 

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