Eavesdrop is scratching its head. First, in January, Gensler released new renderings for the Hotel Alessandra in downtown Houston. Where before the firm had proposed a sleek modern glass tower for the site with strong, swooping vertical lines that accentuated the building’s height, the new iteration shows a collection of rectilinear facade treatments of varying levels of transparency arranged to express a podium, tower, and crown with cornice. Jonathan Brinsden, CEO of the project’s developer, Midway, described the new look as a “modern interpretation of European style.” Then in February we learned from Nancy Sarnoff of the Houston Chronicle that real estate company Hines is in the middle of constructing “a dense European village” (a.k.a. gated community) in the northwest 610 Loop full of townhouses in “Regency and Normandy” styles. The development also features a canal, so residents can pretend they live in Amsterdam, perhaps. A day later, news emerged that The Woodlands Development Co., a subsidiary of The Howard Hughes Corp., is building “luxury high-rise residences with a European sensibility” designed by Atlanta architecture firm The Preston Group. By the look of the rendering, however, the project’s sensibility seems to be closer to that of The Westin hotel that is rising next door. Eavesdrop is unsure what the marketing benefits might be of touting Europeanism in real estate development projects of this kind, nor if there is a hell waiting for those who would seek to undermine and cheapen 2,000 years of Western Civilization so that they can chisel a few extra bucks out of their customers, but we are damn sure not going to be duped into aping this meaningless drivel!
Posts tagged with "Houston":
In late January 2014, an Urban Land Institute (ULI) Advisory Services panel presented recommendations for the dilapidated Houston Astrodome. The report follows several ill-fated dome reuse attempts, including a plan and $200 million bond referendum to turn it into a convention center that was shot down by Harris County voters in 2013. The ULI panel was definitive in its assessment. The dome, it stated, must be saved. It also unveiled a plan, complete with design sketches and funding strategies, to transform the former stadium into a public park that could be completed in time for Super Bowl LI, which Houston is hosting in 2017. ULI's plan for the dome combines certain elements of some of the previous reuse schemes that have been floated, either formally or informally, and seems to attempt to forge a compromise among the most practical of them all. It proposes to raise the dome's sunken floor to grade level and to turn the interior into a flexible public park complete with lawns, climbing walls, and zip lines. Sheltered from the sky by the 600-foot clear span Lamella dome roof, the plan opens portals in the building at the four cardinal points. The four portals can be open or closed, and parts of the planted ground surface can be removed and replaced with hard surface for the purpose of hosting conventions, such as the annual Offshore Technology Conference. The interior is also reconfigurable for the other regular NRG events: game day for the Houston Texans NFL team, or the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. The lower levels provide 100,000 square feet of parking (a similar, but far less bold proposal as the winner of AN's Reimagine The Astrodome competition). The ULI plan also made recommendations for the 360-acre NRG Park, which includes several other large facilities—namely NRG Stadium, the NRG Convention Center, and NRG Arena—not to mention more than 26,000 parking spaces. The most significant of these is a civic park with live oak–shaded promenades that creates an ordered progression from the METRORail light rail station at the east edge of the site to the dome. Shaded promenades also link the dome to the other large facilities, and a park, planted with native vegetation, surrounds the dome itself. To pay for it all, ULI recommended a public private partnership with money coming from TIRZ24, hotel and occupancy tax, philanthropy, project tax credits, federal and state energy funds, and a county bond if necessary. It estimated that the park's operating budget would be between $500,000 and just under $1 million per acre, which, to provide some perspective, would put it between the operating budgets of Brooklyn Bridge Park ($460,000 per acre) and the High Line ($1.3 million per acre). It's too soon to tell if the ULI plan will be fully fleshed out and implemented, but if it's going to happen in time for the Super Bowl, Houston and Harris County need to move fast. Harris County Judge Ed Emmett told Urban Land, ULI's magazine, "I give this almost a 100 percent chance of succeeding." Almost, of course, won't do it, and given the nearly 20 years of dithering discussion about whether to save or raze the one-time "8th Wonder of the World" without any decisive action one way or the other, it's hard to get too excited about this plan.
It was announced in July of 2014 (very quietly evidently) that Zaha Hadid had been commissioned to design a new headquarters for real estate/oil and gas conglomerate The Richland Companies in Houston. Why had we not heard about this? Well, thanks to Vladimir Kagan, we are now in the know! The legendary furniture designer not only tipped AN off about the commission, he was also responsible for introducing Ms. Hadid to Suzanne Klein and Edna Meyer-Nelson, the Richland execs who promptly hired the Pritzker Prize winner to plan their mixed-use HQ. No design has been released yet, but we’ll be waiting with bated breath to see what sort of swooping, eccentric forms Zaha cooks up for the project—that is, unless falling oil prices put a lid on this baby before it’s hatched!
Framework is made of 260 unique steel boxes, laser-cut and sculpted on an 18-axis metal forming machine.When designers at Gensler's Dallas office dreamt up plans for a serpentine steel screen composed of hundreds of perforated cells, they enlisted the design-build talents of Arktura, based in Gardena, California, 14 miles south of downtown Los Angeles. Though still mostly architects, Arktura's staff includes mechanical engineers and even a physicist. The company’s 50,000-square-foot space includes a design studio, an engineering studio, and manufacturing space where they produce furniture, architectural products, and custom projects—like the one Gensler took to calling “Frameworks: Cellure Structure.” “It's in our DNA to allow a lot of flexibility when we're working with design teams,” said Sebastian Muñoz, director of project design and development. Gensler's concept remained intact through numerous redesigns, Muñoz said, but getting it right required a lot of flexibility. “They wanted something that was really elegant and light but very architectural. They wanted it to have spatial qualities,” said Muñoz. The form wends organically across two axes, wrapping up and partially enclosing a space in the lobby of their confidential corporate client's Houston offices. To get that lightness without sacrificing structural stability, Arktura had to develop custom software solutions. The screen is made of 260 unique steel boxes, laser-cut and sculpted on an 18-axis metal forming machine. The solution kept the complex project within budget, said Muñoz, which would have been impossible if they had used custom molds for each box. Opting for cleverly formed sheet metal over pricey composite materials also reined in the project's budget-busting potential. Once they were molded, the metal boxes needed to be aligned perfectly so the inside of the ribbon-like enclosure would appear as one continuous unit. At the same time, they wanted the outside cells to protrude on one end, poking out slightly like scales. That is where Arktura's custom software came in. Though it does not yet have a name, Muñoz said the digital design tool could have other applications in the future. Arktura manufactured the object in nine separate modules before shipping it to Texas, where it was assembled on site. In all, the piece uses 9,500 rivets with 14,000 points of alignment. The massive steel screen appears to tiptoe on a raised floor, but is fastened securely to the concrete slab beneath on custom footings. Muñoz credits New York City–based Laufs Engineering and Design with simultaneously giving the project a powerful presence and an almost airy lightness. Gensler's team—Chris Campbell, Ted Watson, Paul Manno, Emily Shively, and Amanda Kendall—punctured each steel box so sunlight could pour through. The aperture varies on either end of those cavities, as well as from box to box, creating distinct qualities of light inside the space enclosed by Frameworks.
Shelves and lighting added after installation help hightlight vendors and exhibitors who sometimes use the space to show off their goods. As the wending form tapers off away from the shelves, the shape provides a natural space for a retail desk.
Muñoz said without the combination of custom software and clever prefabrication techniques, the manufacturing process would have seriously compromised the design. Now it's possible to imagine pulling off future projects with the same level of complexity. “The computing power was not possible not that long ago," he said. "We're excited about it.”
yamatane Rice Gallery 6100 Main Street, Houston, Texas Through November 23 yamatane, on view now at Rice Gallery in Houston, is a site-specific installation by Japanese artist Yusuke Asai. Created in just under two weeks by Asai and a team of student volunteers working around the clock, yamatane is composed of pigments made from soil collected in the Houston area—brown, yellow, pink, red, and even green dirt that was gathered before the artist arrived and ground into pigment with only water added to turn it into paint. Asai used the natural paints to create what he calls an “earth painting.” It depicts a dense landscape of rolling geologic forms and tribal patterns populated by imaginary creatures and characters that spill from the gallery walls onto the floor. In Asai’s words, “I choose to use the earth as a medium because I can find dirt anywhere in the world and do not need special materials. Dirt is by nature very different than materials sold in art stores! Seeds grow in it and it is home to many insects and microorganisms. It is a ‘living’ medium.” Go see it before it’s gone. Asai embraces the ephemeralness of his medium, which can be wiped away with water. He has been making these paintings since 2008 and almost none remain today.
[ Editor's Note: The following comment was left on archpaper.com in response to our Unveiled on the Gensler-designed Alessandra Hotel in Houston (AN 03_04.30.2014_SW). Opinions expressed in letters to the editor do not necessarily reflect the opinions or sentiments of the newspaper. AN welcomes reader letters, which could appear in our regional print editions. To share your opinion, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. ] “Glass ceilings permit guests in the lobby to see through to the top floor restaurant.” That lobby will become the biggest gentlemen’s club in Houston. Bill Wood Rangeview High School
[Editor's Note: The following are reader-submitted responses to the editorial “Acceptable if not Noble” (AN 03_04.30.2014_SW), which considered the imminent demolition of John Johansen’s Mummer’s Theater in Oklahoma City and the renovation of Ulrich Franzen’s Alley Theatre in Houston. Opinions expressed in letters to the editor do not necessarily reflect the opinions or sentiments of the newspaper. AN welcomes reader letters, which could appear in our regional print editions. To share your opinion, please email email@example.com. ] There were local groups working hard to preserve and repurpose the Mummers Theater and conceptual plans put forth that incorporated the existing theater into a larger cultural and commercial mixed-use complex. My father supported and encouraged these efforts as an important and necessary evolution of this building, and architecture in general, to reinvent itself by adapting and embracing new ideas and technology. The counterforce was money in the hands of opportunistic, short sighted men and women with too much power and too little imagination. Christen Johansen Rhode Island School of Design Franzen would have added the fly loft. And zinc cladding does not exactly bring to mind corporate office buildings. Craig Hunt
Although Houston has been expanding outward for decades, its bus system has hardly kept up. This is not surprising given the track record for many American cities where cars take precedence over public transit. But what is unexpected—to the point of being radical—is a proposal that will grant greater, more efficient access to Houston’s commuters for not a penny more than its current cost. [beforeafter] [/beforeafter] How do these numbers run? Proponents of the plan explained that their efforts will not be to add to or subtract from the bus system so much as gut and rewire it completely. As it stands now, Houston’s Metro is terribly inefficient. It eats up most of its money in duplicate routes and lines that cater to the needs of a few instead of servicing the greater public, the group asserted. The new proposal wants to recalculate the routes for higher commuter accessibility that would lead to higher traffic and maximum fiscal efficiency. The current system is heavily oriented towards the downtown area, despite the fact that Houston has steadily decentralized for decades. Most of the proposal relies upon the realignment of the lines through neighborhoods that would use them. Although some people would no longer have ready access to the bus—with “ready” being defined as having to walk a quarter mile or more—the plan compensates for their toil by offering other nearby transportation outlets. The only catch, if it can even be called that, is that the plan’s completion is strongly contingent upon community support and approval. Public planning consultant Jarrett Walker pointed out that people who like the plan “falsely assume it will happen anyway.” Walker went on to emphasize that the plan will not happen without strong community vocalization. So go ahead! If you live in the Houston area, weigh in. If not, your comments are always welcome here.
Dunlavey Street in central Houston typifies the image of a Southwestern city street. It's a sprawling, four lane affair that is approximately 50 percent usable, 80 percent pedestrian unsafe, and, in this case, 100 percent in need of an update. Transportation officials are evening out the numbers for a proposed road diet that would reduce the four-lane street to two and using the outer lane space for parking, improved sidewalks, and bike lanes. Currently, many of Houston’s wide streets—and some of its highways—operate under the principle of induced demand. This idea dictates that existing space is utilized by sheer import of its presence. In other words, people use big roads because there are big roads to use. But the outer lanes of Dunlavey are hardly drivable. They are pothole-ridden, with uneven gutters and extensive debris. Because the lanes go largely unused, pedestrians misguidedly utilize them, sometimes with fatal results. Removing the exterior two lanes would remove confusion over what is drivable area and what is not. It would clearly delineate the road’s functionality, and create a responsible message to drivers and citizens about the roadway’s capacity. In years past, expanding outward has been the modus operandi of Southwestern transportation. Cars, and not people, determined the size of roadways. But this proposal overturns that tradition. The space that comes from the unused exterior two lanes will be converted into parking, bicycle lanes, and better sidewalks. According to planners, these changes will facilitate more efficient traffic, increase pedestrian safety, and encourage alternative methods of transportation such as biking or walking. It also curbs the expansion trend’s tendency to impinge upon private property—an aspect that, commuter or not, Houston’s citizens should be pleased about. If all goes according to plan, the proposal aims to not only increase the quality of life in Houston, but to be the beginning of a larger trend. Developers hope that Houston will be the next city that roadway planners look to when considering developments. A June open house meeting will follow up on the proposal’s details, while City Council will officially consider the changes in September. The plan’s announcement comes a week after Houston was named among the ten worst cities for pedestrians.
Soto: The Houston Penetrable Museum of Fine Arts, Houston 1001 Bissonnet Through September 1, 2014 The final installation in Jesús Rafael Soto’s Penetrables series—Houston Penetrable—will be on view at The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, as of May 8. An interactive display of 24,000 PVC tubes, each hand painted and tied, will hang from the second story of the museum’s Cullinan Hall. The strands’ collective visual expression is of a floating yellow orb visible upon a transparent background. The installation’s kinetic quality defies the idea that viewers look only with their eyes. The interaction of museum visitors playing with and among the strands is, in fact, the final element that completes Soto’s work. The installation, which took almost a decade to finish, is one of the few that Soto created for the indoors. The piece will be accompanied by a neighboring exhibition of eight other pieces that exemplify the artist’s career, including Plexiglas boxes, and selections from his Agujas (Needles), Vibraciones (Vibrations), and Ambivalencias (Ambivalences) series.
Beyond Craft Museum of Fine Arts Houston 1001 Bissonnet, Houston Through May 26 The Leatrice S. and Melvin B. Eagle Collection is one of the most remarkable decorative arts collections in the world, and goes a long way toward challenging the idea that there is a difference between decorative and high art. Although primarily American in scope, it also encompasses significant pieces by acclaimed international artists. At its core are stunning examples of ceramics by groundbreaking California-based artists, such as Robert Arneson, Ralph Bacerra, Viola Frey, David Gilhooly, Ron Nagle, Ken Price, Adrian Saxe, and Peter Voulkos. Also included is furniture by Wendell Castle and Sam Maloof; textile and fiber art by Olga de Amaral, John Garrett, John McQueen, and Cynthia Schira; and jewelry and metalwork by William Harper, Albert Paley, Earl Pardon, and Joyce J. Scott. The Museum of Fine Arts Houston acquired the collection in 2010. Beyond Craft represents its first major showing, surveying significant artists, aesthetic principles, and art movements from the mid-1960s to the early 1990s and beyond.
AN recently profiled the emerging architectural typology of spaceports across the country, and now there's news from the Houston site that helped launch the dream of space travel decades ago. Independence Shuttle, a full-scale replica of NASA’s iconic Space Shuttle, recently was moved from the Johnson Space Center (JSC) to its next-door neighbor, Space Center Houston. To some people, the relocation was a matter of mere logistics. To others, however, the transfer symbolized not just a lessening of power and precedence associated with Johnson Space Center, but with NASA’s space program as a whole. Johnson Space Center, formed in 1961, is one of ten major NASA field centers, and one of the most famous space travel establishments. The 40-foot deep swimming pool built for astronaut training, was, in its heyday, frequented by astronauts and the curious public alike. The control room oversaw the launch and devastating loss of the Challenger, received Armstrong’s transmission as he made his first steps on the moon, and rejoiced with the rest of America during the Apollo 13 recovery. To say that JSC is iconic, a cornerstone, and a piece of history is an understatement: it is a monolithic nexus of space travel, this world’s anchoring connection to the vast unknown. So as grand-scale space launches wane and commercial flight takes over, the creeping neglect of JSC’s facilities and consequent decline stabs into the hearts of those connected to NASA’s past—and not simply for nostalgic reasons. Astronauts associated with JSC’s glory days—men like Neil Armstrong, Gene Cernan, and Jim Lovell—have spoken out against the political shifts associated with JSC’s downsizing. One such maneuver occurred when President Obama cancelled Constellation—a Bush-era initiative to send astronauts to the moon—in order to shuttle a sizable chunk of NASA’s funding from the manned space exploration into commercial space flight. The shift denotes a decrease in specialist training aimed at greater expansion into grand scale space projects—missions to Mars, for example, or a continuation of low-orbiting space travel—towards everything that “commercial space travel” connotes: sending consumers, not specialists, into orbit; changing the pioneer frontier into a tourism industry. Armstrong and Levitt both argue that the change negates the $10 billion already funneled into Constellation. They claim that private enterprise is taking a major step backward, that government’s funding focal change will place the U.S. into a reliant relationship with Russia, thereby relegating the nation to a second-rate spot for space travel. These men are the voice, in a nutshell, of those deeply unhappy with the changes taking place. JSC countered these claims with an official statement claiming that the center is still relevant. It cited robotics projects and continued operation of Orion—a spacecraft designed to take astronauts to asteroids—as evidence. JSC, the statement said, is a cultural mainstay of Houston’s identity, and it will stay that way. Certain facts remain however, and seeing, in this case, is part of believing. The government’s retraction of funds has instilled the center with a calcified, weary demeanor. JSC has employed far fewer people in the past two years than ever before. Half the buildings have been torn down or consolidated. One of them is a new building, the NASA Johnson Space Center 20, which has upstaged its famous brother by being the first LEED platinum project of its kind in NASA. In comparison, the control room at JSC that once oversaw mankind’s greatest scientific achievements now has less technology than the average smart phone. “Nothing’s going on there,” said one former NASA employee. “People are leaving in waves.” The Independence Shuttle was just moved next door. But as far as interpreting symbols go, they might as well have launched it to the moon.