Posts tagged with "Houston":

Artist Analia Saban gets her first solo show at the Blaffer Museum

Analia Saban, the first solo museum survey of Analia Saban’s career, calls into question the very notions of painting, sculpture, drawing, and photography as valid art forms, challenging the limits and capacities of each medium by exposing the ideological repercussions for gender and labor that are embedded within. For example, The Painting Ball uses strips of fabric from unraveled paintings and rolls them into a sphere, while the Draped Marble series employs broken marble fastened to crafted wooden sawhorses, evoking towels left out to dry. As the artist insists on a speculative condition for her work within the context of media determinacy, sculptures such as these, together with the others on display, displace classic associations of material and application within narratives of art history and consumer culture.

Analia Saban The Blaffer Museum University of Houston 120 Fine Arts Building, Houston Through March 18, 2017

SWA’s plan to integrate a mile-long informal market with nearby Houston

Airline Drive in Houston is (unsurprisingly) located a 20-minute drive from George Bush Intercontinental Airport and just short of that from Houston’s city center. Since 2005, the area has been known as the Airline Improvement District (AID), part of a scheme from Harris County to revitalize the four-square-mile area and improve “its desirability for residents, consumers and businesses.”

While the AID has been running for more than a decade, issues such as a lack of centralized water service, poor road and pedestrian infrastructure, and bayou flooding still hamper the area’s development. In fact, 50 percent of the district’s land lies within a floodplain—a problem that impacts water and sewage services as well as housing.

“There is no money dedicated to flood relief coming for another 50 years,” said Kinder Baumgardner, managing principal at Dallas-based landscape architecture, planning, and urban design studio SWA. “As a result, all the major urban development that one would want to do is not going to happen until the flooding is dealt with.”

SWA is in the process of implementing a master plan that will maximize the pre-existing communal infrastructure at the AID with the long-term aim of using revenue generated by the resulting businesses to combat flooding in the future. A key part of this plan involves the five major flea markets that can be found on Airline Drive between Gulf Bank Road and Canino Road. Baumgardner said that on weekends, approximately 50,000 people travel to these markets—dubbed Market Mile—“doubling, if not tripling the vicinity’s population.” Though quiet during the week, he described it as a weekend “festival,” albeit blighted by “unresolved” pedestrian circulation.

To SWA, these flea markets are a potential source of infrastructure capital—if the tax base can be expanded that is. (The district currently generates revenue through a one percent retail sales tax). Baumgardner explained that the studio took two approaches to boost the area.

Rebranding Market Mile would advertise the flea markets to a wider audience. The Harris County-Airline Improvement District Livable Centers Study carried out by SWA in 2009 found that just over half of the visitors frequent the market weekly, 46 percent of visitors stay two to four hours each time, and 41 percent visit other businesses in the area while at the market. And of this demographic, which is 90 percent Hispanic, only two percent either cycle or walk in.

In 2009, Harris County pledged $2.9 million to be spent on pedestrian improvements, a scheme that involved two new, signalized crosswalks on Airline and sidewalks on much-used streets. Harris County, however, does not view sidewalks favorably. The county has a policy of only installing sidewalks on new roads if a city or another source finances it. “It’s an expense that doesn’t have to do with transportation,” Mark Seegers, a spokesman for Harris County commissioner Sylvia Garcia told the Houston Chronicle. “The county does not do sidewalks; it’s not what gets cars from point A to point B.” Subsequently, planned sidewalks from SWA will be financed by Airline Improvement District.

SWA’s logic is that, if more people can come to the popular flea markets, more revenue will be generated due to more businesses being set up as a result of greater demand. SWA’s plan works both ways. If the market can’t come to the people, then the market can come to them through what they call “mobile community infrastructure.”

A fleet of retail and food trucks would be able to extend the services of Market Mile to those who don’t have access to it. Taking advantage of regulations (or lack thereof) found outside the city of Houston, such trucks could set up chairs and canopies, becoming a permanent location if they find success in a particular area, Baumgardner explained.

In the future, these trucks could provide more than just goods. SWA’s survey found that just over 30 percent of the AID population had an education no higher than ninth grade. Baumgardner went on to say how the trucks could provide educational facilities too, thus attracting more than just shoppers to the mobile market.

Additionally, 57 percent of people said they would take part in health awareness programs if given the opportunity to do so. Meanwhile, 43 percent said they would participate in job training and finance and business development programs.

“There’s a food truck culture that’s sweeping the country, especially in Houston,” said Baumgardner who added he met someone who already has a bookmobile in the area– perhaps a sign that the project is slowly taking off. Baumgardner concluded: “We want this district to have all the things that a livable center should be planning toward, but we also wanted to look at how a project could get going, even at a limited scale.”

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Houston’s newest theater has its own two-story open-air “street”

To tell a story, three elements are crucial: setting, plot, and characters. To tell a story well, these three essentials require refinement and time to reveal them. The setting—Houston—provides the context, and the plot—how to design and build a new theater in Midtown—is compelling. The characters—a vibrant mix—complete the challenge that’s been thrown to Lake|Flato Architects and Studio RED.

Located off Main Street at the Ensemble/HCC MetroRail stop, the site was formerly a chain-linked parking lot for the city permit building. After years of planning and fundraising with a strong arts board and consultant and philanthropic pledges, the Midtown Arts and Theater Center Houston (MATCH) came to life as a nimble metal-skinned building with glass-box theaters bisected by a double-height breezeway.

The $25 million community arts complex provides a central home base in Midtown for a spectrum of leading and emerging arts and culture organizations. The 59,000-square-foot facility consists of four dedicated theater spaces, rehearsal classroom spaces, and several gallery spaces, along with back-of-house support and office space.

Ryan Jones, an associate partner at Lake|Flato, knew that the building’s breezeway, with its grandstand and functional connective artery, was key, but it took some convincing that a two-story open-air “street” for media projections would thrive given the heat and humidity that swallow most days in Houston. The solution was to install six Big Ass Fans, which keep outdoor public spaces comfortable by exhausting hot air through the chimney effect.

The building’s agile presence does not overtake its program. For this new Midtown theater and arts center, the soul of the building is internalized, and life illuminates from within the breezeway, theaters, rehearsal spaces, and control booths. The building remains in the background, allowing the exuberance of theater life and the visual arts to stand in the limelight. Its skin and structure have a subdued, protective strength amid the bustle and frenzied transactions of Travis Street traffic that includes Main Street light-rail interruptions, bus stops, church, college, and urban passersby, daily logistics, ticket sales, and cafe pauses. For Lake|Flato and Studio RED, the decision to invite the street into the building is best exemplified by their addition of graffiti art by GONZO2047 where patrons’ names are tagged on the bathroom walls to merge high art and street culture.

Houston, as described by Barrie Scardino, Bill Stern, and Bruce Webb in their book Ephemeral City, was “built around characteristic features of modern life such as rapid change, built-in obsolescence, indeterminacy, media orientation, a culture of style, and instant gratification.” It is indeed an ephemeral city, hard to pin down and understand at large, but perhaps easier to encapsulate in one permeable space.

2016 Best of Design Award for Civic Institution: Architecture of Buffalo Bayou Park

The Architect’s Newspaper (AN)’s inaugural 2013 Best of Design Awards featured six categories. Since then, it’s grown to 26 exciting categoriesAs in years past, jury members (Erik Verboon, Claire Weisz, Karen Stonely, Christopher Leong, Adrianne Weremchuk, and AN’s Matt Shaw) were picked for their expertise and high regard in the design community. They based their judgments on evidence of innovation, creative use of new technology, sustainability, strength of presentation, and, most importantly, great design. We want to thank everyone for their continued support and eagerness to submit their work to the Best of Design Awards. We are already looking forward to growing next year’s coverage for you. 2016 Best of Design Award for Civic Institution: Architecture of Buffalo Bayou Park Architect: Page Location: Houston, TX

As part of a varied program of structures commissioned for Houston’s three-mile long Buffalo Bayou Park, Page’s pavilion is designed to withstand the area’s frequent flooding. Solid board-formed concrete piers provide resistance to flood damage and are paired with an expressive steel frame and delicate steel screens to create shade. When a severe flooding event occurred just after completion of the structures, no damage was sustained.

Landscape Architect SWA Group

Environmental Consultant Hunt & Hunt Engineering Corp. Contractor Millis Development & Construction Wood Supplier US Lumber Brokers Railing Manufacturer Pool Custom Ironworks

Honorable Mention, Civic Institution: Congregation Beit Simchat Torah

Architect: Architecture Research Office Location: New York, NY

To provide a home for the world’s largest LGBTQ Jewish community, ARO renovated a landmark Cass Gilbert–designed warehouse to create a synagogue that embodies the community’s core values of transparency, intimacy, warmth, and flexibility.

Honorable Mention, Civic Institution: Museum of Neon Art

Architect: Shimoda Design Group Location: Glendale, CA

The renovated 8,400-square-foot building and public pedestrian space infuses a new sense of cultural and pedestrian connectivity in downtown Glendale. Shimoda Design Group kept the interior of the gallery space as raw as possible, while maximizing its existing volumes to include a neon workshop, classroom, and museum shop.

2016 Best of Design Award for Adaptive Restoration: The Cotton Gin at The Co-Op District by Antenora Architects

The Architect’s Newspaper (AN)’s inaugural 2013 Best of Design Awards featured six categories. Since then, it’s grown to 26 exciting categoriesAs in years past, jury members (Erik Verboon, Claire Weisz, Karen Stonely, Christopher Leong, Adrianne Weremchuk, and AN’s Matt Shaw) were picked for their expertise and high regard in the design community. They based their judgments on evidence of innovation, creative use of new technology, sustainability, strength of presentation, and, most importantly, great design. We want to thank everyone for their continued support and eagerness to submit their work to the Best of Design Awards. We are already looking forward to growing next year’s coverage for you. 2016 Best of Design Award for Adaptive Restoration: The Cotton Gin at The Co-Op District Architects: Antenora Architects Location: Hutto, TX

As part of a new master plan for this 16-acre former agricultural co-op site, two cotton gin buildings were adapted into an open-air public events space. Perforated stainless steel on the south facade fills the area with diffused natural light while accentuating the delicacy and elegance of the original structure.

Structural Engineer Architectural Engineers Collaborative [AEC] Mechanical, Electrical, and Plumbing TTG General Contractor American Constructors Wall Panels Centria Lighting Supplier ERT Lighting

Honorable Mention, Adaptive Restoration: The Cistern

Architect: Page Location: Houston, TX

A minimal approach was taken to repurpose the 90-year-old decommissioned drinking water reservoir cistern into a destination and civic art space that is accessible and enjoyable. Soft LED lighting from the entry tunnel continues in transparent handrails around the perimeter of the 221 concrete columns within 87,500 square feet.

Honorable Mention, Adaptive Restoration:  Fisher Hill Reservoir Park Gatehouse

Architect: Touloukian Touloukian Inc. Location: Brookline, MA

This former reservoir was acquired by a local municipality to serve as a new soccer field. The original 1887 gatehouse became a restroom and the restoration includes full masonry re-pointing, roof and window replacement—a thoughtful marriage of the historic and the modern to preserve a strong sense of place.

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston showcases photographer who documented NYC streets for nearly 50 years

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston will pay tribute to Helen Levitt, the American photographer known for capturing scenes of urban life in New York City. The exhibition, titled Helen Levitt: In the Street, covers her career from the late 1930s to the mid-1980s. It features more than 40 works, as well as her 1948 short film In the Street, which centered on her early photographs of children. Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Levitt was included in the inaugural exhibition of the photography department at the Museum of Modern Art, and she had her first of three solo shows there just three years later. By the late 1940s, Levitt had begun experimenting with the moving image, and worked full-time with film until the advent of color photography in 1959. It was then that she picked up the camera to revisit the scenes she had captured in black-and-white.

Helen Levitt: In the Street The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston 5601 Main Street, Houston Through January 2

Inside the just-launched plan to save the Astrodome

The disused-but-beloved Houston Astrodome may have finally found its savior.

In early October, the commissioners of Harris County approved a $105 million proposal to reconfigure the aging Astrodome for events and concerts. Plans call for the floor of the vacant stadium to be raised so approximately 1,400 parking spaces can be built underneath.

Designed by two firms—Hermon Lloyd & W. B. Morgan, and Wilson, Morris, Crain & Anderson—in the mid-1960s, the 18-story Astrodome was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2014. When it opened, it was the U.S.’s first enclosed and air-conditioned multipurpose stadium and boasted the largest clear span dome ever built. Before it shuttered in 2000, the Astrodome served as home field for the Houston Astros, the Houston Oilers, and the University of Houston Cougars. It reopened briefly in 2005 to accommodate New Orleans residents displaced by Hurricane Katrina.

Legacy aside, the Astrodome’s age and size present distinct financial challenges to adaptive reuse. Maintenance costs run to $170,000 annually, but tearing down the structure would cost $30 million. The just-approved proposal is all taxpayer funded:property taxes, hotel tax, and parking revenue will each contribute to a third of the cost, while 10 percent of the funds will go toward finding an architect and engineer to design the renovation. Once (if) the plan is complete, revenue from parking will be plowed back into the venue to make the project financially viable.

If the architect and engineer’s design ends up costing more than $105 million, however, the county will not cover the shortfall—local government will employ other, to-be-determined financing methods. Taxpayers defeated a measure to resurrect the stadium in 2013 over cost concerns, so it’s too soon to tell if this latest plan will bring the Astrodome back.

Artist Jonathan Schipper continues to explore gradual destruction in latest installation

Jonathan Schipper creates a new installation for his latest exhibition, Cubicle: an office setting that will undergo subtle, yet inescapable changes over the course of two months. It is a continuation of his work that includes The Slow Inevitable Death of American Muscle, in which two full-size automobiles crash into each other, simulating the force of a 30-mile-per-hour head-on collision, but over several days. The cubicle is meant to be a signifier of the not-too-distant past. Time has transformed the concept of the cubicle from a utopian vision of workplace comfort and privacy to an obsolescent remnant, giving way to the open office plan. Similarly, Schipper’s Cubicle will undergo mechanical stress for the duration of the exhibition.

Cubicle Rice Gallery 6100 Main Street, Houston Through December 4

Architecture Research Office to renovate Rothko Chapel in Houston

New York City-based Architecture Research Office (ARO) has been selected to lead the renovation and master planning of the Rothko Chapel in Houston, the home of 14 monumental panels by artist Mark Rothko. The chapel's interior was designed to the artist's precise vision. ARO will seek to improve the Chapel’s interior lighting and its presentation of Rothko’s panels by renovating the skylight, the interior light baffle, and the electric lighting systems in collaboration with lighting designers from George Sexton Associates. According to a press release, the project will also include improvements to the HVAC system and acoustics, and the entry vestibule will be redone to better enhance the visitor experience, all while maintaining a close eye toward Rothko’s original intent for the space. The master planning portion will address the outdoor plaza and reflecting pool containing Barnett Newman’s sculpture Broken Obelisk, as well as several adjacent edifices. Given that the chapel’s neighboring institutions, the Menil Collection and the University of St. Thomas, are both undergoing extensive renovations, the plans for Rothko Chapel seek to elevate its visibility while maintaining its identity and function as a quiet sanctuary. ARO has a history of working with leading universities and cultural institutions and is the winner of the 2011 National Design Award for Architecture from the Smithsonian’s Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum.

Two hotel rehabs illustrate evolving attitudes about preservation in Houston

Two projects—one under construction and the other scheduled to start at the beginning of 2017—continue the trend of repurposing old buildings in downtown Houston. This movement began in the 1970s and accelerated in the mid-1990s when the city created a tax increment reinvestment zone for downtown coupled with tax breaks as incentives.

The 21-story Melrose Building (1952), originally designed by Lloyd & Morgan and the first modern skyscraper to be built in Houston, features horizontal bands of windows shaded by cast-in-place concrete brise-soleils. After languishing empty since 1991, it is now being converted into a Le Meridien hotel by the Beck Group, a Dallas-based construction and architecture firm for the Memphis, Tennessee, Development Services Group, Inc.

Assistance in funding the $80 million project came from a mixture of sources, including: $15 million from the federal EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program, which allows foreign nationals to essentially “buy” green cards by investing in job-creating businesses in the United States; the Federal Historic Preservation Tax Incentive Program, which provides tax credits equal to 20 percent of the income tax owed on qualified rehabilitation expenditures; and the Texas Historic Preservation Tax Credit Program, which gives credits equal to 25 percent of eligible rehabilitation costs. Key requirements of these credit programs are: The building must be listed on the National Register of Historic Places or a Recorded Texas Historic Landmark (the Melrose Building was entered in the National Register of Historic Places in September 2014), and the proposed remodeling work must follow the guidance of the Texas Historical Commission and the National Park Service.

The exterior elevations will be restored to their original appearance. When the building was first completed, the spandrels below the clear vision glass were clad with turquoise tiles. In 1969, Lloyd & Morgan, who were commissioned to modernize its then 16-year-old building, proposed a modest update that entailed covering the tiles with bronze anodized aluminum panels and replacing the clear glass with bronze-tinted glass. These exterior changes are currently being reversed in the name of authenticity—that is to say, to erase the marks of time on the building and return it to a supposedly pristine state.

The second project is the conversion of the Houston Bar Building into an AC Hotel. This building, currently sheathed in dark-tinted glass and a granite panel curtain wall, is actually two adjacent 10-story buildings, the M.E. Foster Building (1914) and the Gulf Building (1916), both designed by architect Alfred C. Finn. In 1966, architect Eugene William Slater was tasked with the unenviable job of modernizing them to keep them competitive for leasing.

Slater stripped historical ornament off the exterior and interior of both buildings and sheathed them with a bronze-colored, reflective glass curtain wall. Inside he covered the elevator lobbies’ walls with panels of smooth, polished marble. The unified building was then renamed the Houston Bar Center in an effort to appeal to downtown lawyers. Although the Bar Center was never abandoned, it was looking tired, especially considering the new construction activity around it in the last few years, and was ripe for its second redevelopment, this time at the hands of Dallas-based hotel management firm NewcrestImage. The $44 million project is also in part supported by tax incentives. The Downtown Redevelopment Authority, which controls expenditures from the Downtown TIRZ, provided an economic development grant of 50 percent of the tax increment generated by the project site for the first 10 years, equivalent to approximately $1.2 million. Additional state and federal tax breaks are pending the building’s entry into the National Register, which is currently in process.

The developers claimed to be surprised that the Texas Historical Commission recommended not to go back to the 1914 and 1916 originals, but rather to rehabilitate the 1966 curtain wall. The logic for this decision was twofold: First, the slipcover is fifty years old, a critical threshold for historic consideration, and second, the building’s original facade was so damaged during Slater’s remodeling that the missing ornament would have to be almost entirely reconstructed. According to the developer, this will be the first time that such a slipcover has been intentionally preserved in Texas. This approach has raised the ire of no less an authority than architectural historian Stephen Fox who complained that the Texas Historical Commission was using “twisted logic to preserve a mediocre exterior.”

These two projects demonstrate the nimble maneuvers that developers and preservationists increasingly have to make as they knit together institutionalized funding incentives and a growing awareness of the importance of historical architecture—even in a city as notoriously anti-historical as Houston.

How kinneymorrow is helping to reinvigorate the Houston architectural scene

Taryn Kinney and Michael Morrow’s eponymous architectural practice, kinneymorrow, is one of several small, reasonably new studios that should gain enough momentum to redefine the staid Houston architectural scene in coming years. What sets this cohort apart from its peers is the intellectual rigor of its design methodology. Rather than slapping together a collage of materials and boxy shapes—the kind that typically passes for modern architecture in the Houston market—kinneymorrow’s designs arise out of a careful analysis of the program. These initial studies almost intuitively take the form of a diagram, with shades of the Beaux Arts era esquisse, a rapidly drawn sketch containing the big idea (or ideas) that guides the project to completion. Coupled with this is an unusually pronounced contextual sensitivity that is all the more remarkable considering that Houston, table-flat and sprawling messily over the Gulf Coast plain, is by no means considered a city where architecture has served its traditional role of spatially defining the urban environment or of even making a mark on public consciousness. These two tendencies produce thoughtful, modest, and witty projects that—despite their oft-diminutive size and small number—are immensely satisfying on many levels. 

Both Kinney and Morrow are graduates of Rice University, studying there in the late 1990s and early 2000s when it was headed by the Swedish polymath Lars Lerup, perhaps best known as a writer of marvelous essays that speculate in a simultaneously poetic and bemused fashion on the current state of the contemporary city. In 1994, Lerup described Houston in the essay Stim and Dross, (required reading for all Rice students at the time): “The European metropolis-without-crowds has skipped westward while radically transforming itself into a new creature: leaner, meaner, and more superficial, but harder to catch, at once simpler and less bearable to live in.” kinneymorrow, now about a dozen or so years out of school, is doing the hard work of turning such ideas into an architecture inflected by the experience of living in this ephemeral city and it is exciting to see. 

Austin Studio Austin, Texas

This support space for an artist’s studio was plugged into an existing prefabricated metal shed in a rustic outpost just west of Austin, Texas. It measures 12.5-feet-wide by 25-feet long and contains a small kitchen, bathroom, living area, and sleeping loft. The building is conceived as a didactic tool to explain the artist’s process as a printmaker. The site slopes to one side, necessitating a tall concrete foundation, which the architects extruded up an extra three feet past the level of the floor to form a structural wainscot around the inhabitable spaces. Into this concrete, they inserted a set of the artist’s wood blocks, corresponding to different colors and shapes used to make a single print. After the concrete cured, the blocks were removed and the relief images around the base of the building record the artistic process. The new building, with its taut, vertical proportions clad in corrugated metal siding, is a foil to the long, low shapes of the existing studio and its extension. The artist uses red as a signature in her prints and it appears sparingly as an accent in the otherwise all-white, concrete space.

Decatur Street House Houston, Texas

Here, Kinney and Morrow were commissioned to remodel a double shotgun house built in 1894 located in the Old Sixth Ward, a compact community in the shadow of downtown Houston that contains the largest collection of 19th century architecture in the city. Since the Old Sixth Ward is designated as a protected historic district, the exterior elevations of buildings cannot be altered. The architects, who also live and work in this neighborhood, focused their interventions on the interior instead. The existing long and narrow plan consisted of two rows of four interconnected rooms with no hallways. In the new plan, the service areas including kitchen, bathrooms, and closets are arranged along the western side of the house, thus retaining the longitudinal logic of the shotgun house, but adapting it to the desires of contemporary clients. The entire eastern side is left open for living and dining areas with three new sets of double French doors opening to a new outdoor deck and a new, giant seven-foot square window at its farthest reach that entices with a distant view of a pocket garden. Space is articulated with level changes and subtle variations in proportion, rather than with walls and doorways as in the former plan. To accommodate the larger dimension of these living areas and bedrooms, the architects simply extruded the shape of the existing house to the rear building line of the lot.

Kane Street Office Houston, Texas

For another project in the Old Sixth Ward, the architects negotiated the purchase of a 751-square-foot house built sometime in the 1880s—positively ancient by Houston standards—that was to be relocated from its original lot to make way for a new structure. Remarkably, Kinney and Morrow were only the house’s third owners. Its plan, a double shotgun, like that of the Decatur Street House consisted of two rows of three interconnected rooms. Through some investigative detective work and relying on a single photo of the house from the 1970s, they discovered that the center room along the western half of the house was originally a semi-enclosed porch. They restored it along with the missing front porch on the house’s street-facing, north elevation. In the eastern three rooms, the configuration was left unaltered, and the architects chose to make a radical intervention by running a row of giant, black-stained plywood work desks through openings cut through the walls between the rooms. This unites the three rooms and also introduces an intriguing ambiguity in scale, proportion, and color inside the otherwise all-white studio work space.

East 21st Street House Houston, Texas

A second project in Sunset Heights revels in the small scale. The architects were commissioned to rework a diminutive 750-square-foot house built in 1890 as one of the original farmhouses on the tract before it was subdivided. The house, which is 22-feet-wide by 26-feet-long, is a miraculous survivor and the architects could not bear to see it get scrapped. Therefore, the design scheme was to use the existing house as the module and replicate it twice more to accommodate the new program of an increased number of bedrooms and a larger living area oriented to a majestic pecan tree in the back yard. The exterior of the old house with its hipped roof, waterfall siding, and bit of ginger-breaded porch will remain essentially untouched, while the new modules, connected by low, flat-roofed hyphens will retain the square plan and pyramidal roof—but will have modern, minimal detailing to indicate their place as successors to the originals.

At interdisciplinary conference, Houston highlights its new relationship to the natural landscape

Houston’s green renaissance set the stage for a recent conference of landscape architects, designers, planners, institutional leaders, and policy makers who convened at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston on March 11.

Hosted by Washington, D.C.–based non-profit The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF), Leading with Landscape II: The Houston Transformation focused on how landscape architecture is changing the city at a scale not seen in the U.S. in a century.

Charles Birnbaum, founder and executive director of TCLF, posited Houston’s built heritage in three sections: The linear hardscape and engineering of freeways, the iconic architectural monuments connected by said infrastructure, and today’s emerging landscape architecture that is stitching together the natural and built environments.

“The story of zoning and planning in Houston is a fascinating study, one that lies at the very center of the conference and tours. It is a story characterized by political wrangling, economic boom and bust cycles, hurricane and flooding, the influence of the automobile in infrastructure and housing development, public-private partnerships, and the presence of the many bayous that traverse the city,” Birnbaum wrote in the conference guide. “Houston provokes the question, ‘Can a city that has developed largely without a plan also be one that is leading with landscape?’”

Conference discussions looked ahead to the ambitious new plans for Bayou Greenways, Memorial Park, the Menil’s Campus, and the Houston Botanic Garden, while examining the successes of Discovery Green and Hermann Park. Issues of street-level design for pedestrian experiences, equity, inclusion, and funding were also brought to the forefront to improve upon the city’s connectivity and accessibility.

The daylong panel discussions included the voices of leading landscape architecture firms and various institutions: SWA, Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, West 8, Hargreaves Associates, the Office of James Burnett, Reed Hilderbrand, Design Workshop, Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects, Asakura Robinson, Clark Condon, the Hermann Park Conservancy, the Kinder Institute for Urban Research at Rice University, the Houston Chronicle, the Kinder Foundation, Chilton Capital Management, Clean Line Energy, the School of Architecture at the University of Texas at Austin, the Houston Parks and Recreation Department, Rice University, the University of Houston, and the Anchorage Foundation of Texas. San Antonio mayor Ivy Taylor and former Houston mayor Annise Parker also spoke during the final session titled, “An Appraisal.”

Taylor, an urban planner originally from Queens, spoke about parks as potential anchors for neighborhoods, including San Antonio’s redevelopment of the Riverwalk, Pearl Brewery, and drainage improvements, as well as matters of park equity. She cited having grown up near Central Park in New York, “the granddaddy of them all.”

“As a little girl, I didn’t go to those parks. We had a square patch of grass. How do we reach out to folks to experience the natural environment?” Taylor asked. Her presentation led to the question: How are we to be stewards for the next generation?

The foundation also hosted expert-led free tours March 12–13 at more than 30 iconic sites that demonstrate Houston’s legacy of green and public spaces, including Buffalo Bayou Park, Sesquicentennial Park, the Menil’s Campus, Gerald D. Hines Waterwall Park, Sabine Promenade, and Discovery Green.

“This is my city. I love this city,” Parker said. “This is a city of big ideas and we tackle big things in big ways.” She continued to discuss the importance of the Port of Houston, the Astrodome, “Houston” as the first word on the moon, and issues including infrastructure, parks, preservation, and public art. She also elaborated on the Bayou Greenways Initiative and how it touches every community in Houston by creating an interconnected green web. As great cities attract intellectual capital, it also needs amenities and attractions for its citizens.