The motto of Houston architecture, civic art, and product design firm METALAB is "finding new and better ways to build things." In addition to forming the core of his professional practice, this mission aptly describes principal Andrew Vrana's work with the Texas digital design and production network TEX-FAB. "We align emerging designers working with contemporary digital design techniques with companies who are experts in digital fabrication to build experimental architectural assemblies that push the capabilities of all parties," he explained. At next week's Facades+AM Houston symposium, Vrana will share his perspective on new techniques and materials in high performance building envelopes through the lens of TEX-FAB's annual design and fabrication competition. The theme of each TEX-FAB competition reflects the community's commitment to exploding the limits of conventional architecture practice. "We have recently been interested in materials that allow for plasticity in form and performance," said Vrana. Hence the title of the 2014 competition, PLASTICITY. The winning project, by computational design specialist Justin Diles, is called Plastic Stereotomy, and explores the use of composites in construction. After taking first prize in the small-scale prototype round, Diles teamed up with Kreysler & Associates to build a full-scale pavilion for this year's TEX-FAB conference in Houston. (The pavilion also traveled to the AIA convention in Atlanta.) Past competition winners have similarly paired with industry experts to bring their concepts to fruition. For the 2013 SKIN competition, for instance, TEX-FAB put the winning team—a group associated with the University at Buffalo, with materials sponsor Rigidized Metals—in touch with Zahner "to construct an innovative facade prototype using patterned sheet metal folded into complex origami-like modules," explained Vrana. Hear more about TEX-FAB's approach to digital design and fabrication at Facades+AM Houston June 18. Register today and see a full list of presenters on the event website.
Posts tagged with "Houston":
As EcoServices team leader for Kirksey Architecture, Julie Hendricks spends her days thinking about how to build sustainably without busting a project's budget. On a typical job, whether for Kirksey or an outside firm, "we look at energy use, daylighting, and site analysis," she explained. "We do a lot of different studies to make sure buildings are performing at the highest level." The EcoServices team also conducts non-billable research, primarily focused on comparing actual to projected performance on buildings designed in-house. Hendricks will present an example from her research portfolio on June 18 at the Facades+AM Houston symposium. Achieving sustainability goals is particularly challenging in Houston, said Hendricks. "We feel like we have a unique and especially difficult climate because of the humidity and heat," said Hendricks. As a result, she explained, they have a limited range of passive strategies to work with; yet passive interventions are the most straightforward and cost-effective tools for mitigating thermal gain and moisture transfer. "That's the number one thing we deal with, and have tried to become experts in," she said. The hot Texas sun can be especially hard to beat. Too often, said Hendricks, facades systems are applied counter to their intended use. "One of our favorite games on the EcoServices Team is to drive around and point out ineffective shading devices," she said. "It's ironic, because they're really expensive. It means someone's investing in a device that has a purely aesthetic function." On the flip side, Hendricks is encouraged by the increasing availability of glass products with built-in thermal protections. "When we can [mitigate solar gain] with just glass, those solutions tend to be more affordable," she explained, citing glazing with embedded shading devices, ceramic frit glass, and electrochromic glass as examples worth exploring. Besides the potential to keep costs down, these options better satisfy clients seeking a streamlined curtain wall aesthetic. Catch up with Hendricks and other experts in high performance facade design and fabrication at Facades+AM Houston. Register now on the event website.
As founding principal of Muñoz Albin, Jorge Muñoz has a unique global perspective on high performance facade design. Based in Houston, the firm's earliest projects were located overseas. "In the last 20 plus years, we have worked and continue to work on projects in Western Europe, where there is a tradition of more generous budgets on building envelopes as well as more flexible user and developer demands on efficiency," said Muñoz. Over the course of his career, Muñoz—who will bring his comparative point of view to a panel on "Current Projects Pushing the Envelope" at next month's Facades+AM Houston symposium—has observed the tendency of facade design and construction technologies to vary from one locale to the next. "There are many exceptions to this rule, but in general, a building envelope matches the market expectations and budget allocation of where the building is being built," he explained. "Climate, program, environmental performance, and design challenges are different in different markets." In Houston, said Muñoz, building envelopes have evolved alongside the economy. "One can see double skin solutions built in the early 1960s, and advanced solutions in the 1970s," he said. "While Houston has lived through many years of pragmatic envelopes, in the last few years architects have been pushing for more and more sophisticated solutions." Houston has tended to be "timid" when it comes to adopting advancements in envelope design, explained Muñoz, but is beginning to consider cutting-edge performance solutions. "In time, we will have some of those buildings in our city," he said. As for local projects, Muñoz expressed admiration for HOK's Sysco headquarters phase one building. The building is on the older side, but "the massing as well as the envelope design denotes a sophisticated understanding of performance and aesthetics," he said. Like conference co-chair Kristopher Stuart, he also pointed to Pickard Chilton's Exxon complex in the Woodlands, as "another example of a complex and sophisticated envelope solution that is worth studying and understanding." Muñoz and Stuart also agree that another Pickard Chilton project, the under-construction 609 Main Street, is worth a close look. "It will offer not only a double- or triple-layered skin that also envelopes an eroding and slightly more plastic building massing, the first in the city," said Muñoz. Muñoz looks forward to a productive dialogue among panelists and attendees at Facades+AM Houston. "I think that facade design is a fascinating subject, and one that elicits plurality of thought," he said. "It will be most interesting to hear about the current trends in the city." Visit the Facades+AM website today to learn more or to register.
Thanks to the city's humid subtropical climate, facade designers and fabricators face a special set of challenges in Houston. Unchecked, steady sunshine and high temperatures can permeate the building envelope, leading to a heavy reliance on mechanical cooling systems. Meanwhile, Houston's Gulf Coast location makes it vulnerable to tropical storms. Sanjeev Tankha, principal and director of facade engineering at Walter P. Moore, argues that the solution to performance issues including solar gain and wind lies in a holistic approach to facade design. "All aspects of building envelope performance—from materials science to building physics analysis, structural analysis, research and development, waterproofing and weatherproofing, longevity and life cycle analysis—must be given a platform to engage effectively in the design process," he said. "Our industry must come to terms with and take on the challenge to respond effectively to the elements of solar heat and wind mitigation." Tankha will share his experience responding to the local climate next month at Facades+AM Houston. A half-day spinoff of the popular Facades+ conference series, Facades+AM brings regionally-specific discourse on high performance building envelopes to AEC industry professionals, students, and policymakers. In the real world of building design and construction, observed Tankha, environmental performance is regularly sidelined in favor of other concerns. "Performance of the building skin, in any given project, is often trumped by financial pressures to the detriment of overall building performance," he said. "I would like to see more commitment from AEC stakeholders to make performance issues a core value in our work." The key, he explained, is making performance a priority from the get-go. "The early design work needs to embed these values in the development so they are not add-on features," said Tankha. "This is a philosophical debate that is held on every project, and many times building performance comes out on the losing side." In Tankha's experience, less can be more when it comes to addressing solar gain and wind. "I always encourage the use of passive technologies and passive building systems first before the overlay of active systems," he said, pointing to historical strategies including building form and orientation. "I see some of that design philosophy coming back and now coupled with advancement in materials, coatings, and efficient mechanical systems, we have a palette for a holistic approach towards exploring effective solutions." To hear more from Tankha and other building envelope specialists, register today for Facades+AM Houston.
For Kristopher Stuart, design director and principal at Gensler, Houston's rapid evolution is exactly what makes practicing architecture there exciting."Houston is a city of change and a great testing ground for new ideas," he said. "The past decade has been particularly robust for design and construction, so we've developed some excellent benchmark projects representing the current state-of-the-art for facade design. The new projects focus on sustainability and resilience with our often extreme local weather in mind; wellness and connectivity that improve the quality of life for people; and performance and innovation that make buildings smarter, more efficient and more cost effective for owners and managers." Next month, Stuart will co-chair Facades+AM Houston, a half-day version of the acclaimed Facades+ conference series. The morning seminar comprises three panels featuring three experts each on topics relevant to AEC industry professionals, observers, and students in Houston and beyond. The June 18 event marks the symposium's Energy City debut. Facades+AM Houston attendees will not have to look far to find examples of innovative envelope design and construction. Stuart cited several recently-completed projects in the city's "energy corridor," plus high performance buildings for Anadarko, ExxonMobile, and Southwestern Energy north of downtown. Downtown, construction is presently underway on Skanska's Capitol Tower and 609 Main, developed by Hines. "It will be exciting to see this next generation of buildings emerge, iconic buildings that will raise the performance bar while enhancing the human experience within the urban environment," Stuart noted. He also pointed to some of the Midway Companies' recent or planned work including CityCentre and Kirby Grove, describing them as "more contextual, urban infill projects that are looking at facades from an experiential as well as a performance perspective, projects that will impact the way we think about facades in the Houston design community." In Stuart's view, Houston's challenging climate has pushed the local AEC industry to a deeper understanding of how design decisions affect performance. The community has also been successful in cultivating relationships with facades consultants and fabricators to execute efficient envelopes. "One might say that we've mastered the basics, and now need to shift our focus to innovative materials and fabrication techniques as well as unique collaboration relationships in order to achieve more dramatic performance enhancements that will be executable and affordable," he said. Stuart looks forward to the June 18 conversation with other movers and shakers in the field of high performance envelope design. "Facades+AM Houston is a unique opportunity to share some outstanding work that has been executed recently either in Houston or by Houston design firms, to hear about facade innovations from academic and industry experts, and to engage in a conversation about the future of building facades in the Houston market," said Stuart. To learn more or to register for Facades+AM Houston, visit the event website.
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.
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.