They say "everything is bigger in Texas." So it goes for Houston's skyline, the fourth largest in the United States. Big, too, are the names behind Space City's most iconic skyscrapers. The city's tallest, the 75-story JPMorgan Chasetower, was designed by I.M. Pei in 1981. A number of other internationally-renowned architects and firms have left their mark on Houston, including César Pelli, Philip Johnson, Robert A.M. Stern, Renzo Piano, SOM, and Gensler. Today, Texas' most populous city is home to TEX-FAB, a network of academics and practitioners pushing the boundaries of computational fabrication. On the urban front, Houston is making strides away from its car-centric past. The city's light rail system, MetroRail, opened in 2004; in 2013, Mayor Annise Parker issued an executive order outlining a Complete Streets policy. Last year, Mayor Parker directed the planning commission to create a General Plan—the first in Houston's history—with a special focus on walkability. And if a panel of advisers from the Urban Land Institute have their way, the disused Houston Astrodome could be transformed into a massive public park in time for 2017's Super Bowl LI. Both Houston's architectural legacy and its potential for urban transformation make it a natural fit for Facades+AM, the quick-take version of the popular Facades+ conference series on high performance envelope design and fabrication. On June 18, AEC industry leaders will convene at the historic Hotel Icon (formerly the Union National Bank, designed in 1911 by Mauran, Russell & Crowell) for a look at the latest developments in the world of building enclosures. Chaired by Gensler's Kristopher Stuart, the half-day event will feature three sessions with three speakers each, to conclude by 12:30 pm. Register for Facades+AM Houston or learn more at the symposium website. Check back frequently for updates on presenters and panel topics.
Posts tagged with "Houston":
The last time Robert Durst—the accused killer and heir to one of New York City’s most influential real estate dynasties—was behind bars in the Southwest, he was on trial for the murder of his neighbor, Morris Black, in Galveston, Texas. That time he was caught after swiping a sandwich and some Band-Aids from a Pennsylvania supermarket while wearing cross-dressing attire. Now, he is donning an orange jumpsuit once again. A day after the finale of the HBO documentary about his life, The Jinx, he was charged with the murder of his friend, Susan Berman, and later brought into custody. Curbed reported that a few weeks ago, “seven police officers raided Durst’s Houston condo, the Robinhood, eventually departing the 14th-floor apartment with two cardboard boxes.” Apparently the 71-year old suspect has been living in the high-rise for a number of years, and perhaps his belongings may yield some clues or evidence for the prosecution, maybe some misspelled letters addressed to Beverley Hills? According to Curbed, neighbors said that Durst would occasionally attend homeowners’ association meetings and chitchat about real estate news. The Durst Organization owns more than 9.5 million square feet of commercial and residential space in Manhattan, including 4 Times Square, Bank of America Tower in Bryant Park, and a percentage of One World Trade Center. Murderer or not, he’s got real estate in the blood.
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!
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 email@example.com. ] “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 firstname.lastname@example.org. ] 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.