Houston is set to double the amount of tax breaks it gives to developers for downtown apartments and condos to try to lure people to the city's sleepy business district. The City Council unanimously agreed to expand the Downtown Living Initiative, which first launched a year and a half ago, to offer tax breaks for 5,000 residential units, up from a previous cap of 2,500. Houston will now offer developers up to $15,000 for each residence they build in a complex of at least 10 units, provided they meet design guidelines focused on getting retail built at street level. The idea is to lessen the hurdles to developing downtown, such as high land costs, and to draw in retailers to serve the new residents and create a more vibrant street scene. "We made a judgment that it was needed when we looked at the extra cost of construction downtown," Andy Icken, the city's chief development officer, told the Houston Chronicle. "Retail follows rooftops, and it's our view that critical mass is needed. We've had a lack of retail in downtown. We believe that will follow and we believe this is needed to make it happen, to really continue the momentum that's on right now." In the decade preceding the subsidy, only one new residential development was built. After the subsidy initiative launched, 13 new projects have been announced, including six recent proposals that could add more than 2,200 new apartments to the urban core. The momentum is hard to miss. The total cost of the tax breaks could reach $75 million.
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The historic Niels Esperson Building has lit up the Houston skyline since 1927, but far below the tower's neo-Classical cupola, a basement space connecting to a series of tunnels meandering underneath the city has remained out of the spotlight. Now, the building’s basement gets to play catch up in the fame game with a $2.5 million renovation spearheaded by architectural firm Page. The Niels Esperson Building is the only example of Italian Renaissance in Houston. Reconstruction entails maintaining architectural integrity while improving the existing businesses. The renovations will improve access to Houston’s underground tunnel system, which stretches out over six miles beneath the city. The improvements will hopefully solidify the building as a landmark in a city known for demolishing its architectural heritage. Page's design includes several new business additions, including a public relations firm, a car sharing service, and a software company. The building's food court will be making new friends as well, with the addition of two new restaurants. The real show stealer is a two-story glass “art wall” that will stretch from the building’s basement level up into the lobby. The top half, which will feature an opaque geographic design, is intended to become a new landmark in downtown Houston’s landscape. Natural stone, wood veneer, textured glass, and stainless steel all will be used in the design, which is expected to reach completion by June 2014.
Never mind! After all that fuss to preserve the iconic Texas tin structure, Rice University's Art Barn met the Grim Reaper on Wednesday, April 16. While a group was able to salvage the building’s corrugated metal siding, wrecking crews tore away at the Martel Center's structure, marking a definitive end to efforts of preservationists to move the building to another site in Houston. Andy Warhol’s famous oak tree planted in front of the former structure will remain intact, but once the dust clears only a grass lawn will serve as tombstone. A rogue power line temporarily stalled the demolition, thereby buying a commemorative moment for the Art Barn’s historical and cultural import. The building’s spirit will live on through the Menil Collection it once housed, as well as its legacy with other tin houses.
Leaving campus the way it came in—amid a swirl of shifting plans and controversy—seems to be the modus operandi for Rice University’s Martel Center, more colloquially known as “the Art Barn.” After reports last month that the building would be demolished, Rice University changed its mind and announced that it would, instead, relocate the historic structure to the Fourth Ward area of Houston, just west of downtown. The Art Barn has graced Rice University’s campus since 1969. Originally conceived by John and Dominique de Menil as what was meant to be a quick-fix housing solution for their prestigious private art collection, the squatter became father to a generation of its kind, and established itself as a cultural mainstay not just within the university, but the community as a whole. The Art Barn was never meant to be more than a temporary safe haven during a turbulent time. The Menil Collection, which boasts over 15,000 pieces of art—including originals by Picasso, Duchamp, and Matisse—sought a sanctuary for their darlings after facing rising tension from original host, St. Thomas University. The resulting structure, which was dubbed the Menil Museum, and its “twin brother,” the Rice Media Center, were built out of a corrugated metal known as galvalume, a metal siding that was affixed to a wooden frame. This design spurred Houston’s West End “tin houses,” a 1970s movement named after the building’s noticeably atypical siding. These inexpensively constructed modular buildings sprouted up throughout Houston shortly after the Art Barn was built. They often played fundamental roles in the community art scene. Although the Art Barn was not the original tin house, it was, perhaps, the most predominant forerunner of the movement, as it was a highly visible fixture due to its stark contrast with Rice’s surrounding masonry buildings. The Art Barn’s 1968 inaugural exhibition, The Machine as Seen at the End of the Mechanical Age, attracted tens of thousands of visitors before going on to enjoy a three-month residency at MoMA. In 1969, Andy Warhol’s Raid the Icebox also showed at the space and went on to achieve renowned fame. The space remained open to the public and free until 1986, when the de Menil Arts program was relocated. However, the Martel Center (as it was renamed) continued to act as host to art shows, classroom and office space, and was the home of Rice’s Glasscock School of Continuing Studies. Now, the Art Barn is being removed due to alleged safety problems and the potential cost of renovation, although there is some controversy over the validity of these claims. The building was never meant to be permanent, argue the defenders of its removal. Its very mode of construction asks that it be taken down. Naysayers, however, are less convinced, citing other cases where historical structures have been recycled for new purposes. Photography professor Geoff Winningham calls attention to the fact that the space could easily function as much-needed studio space, and points out that Rice’s forthcoming art center will not be completed till 2016. Until then, a simple green lawn will memorialize the removal of the campus treasure, as will the live oak tree planted by Warhol on the site after the Raid the Icebox show. Many hope the relocation and repurposing of the building to Houston’s Fourth Ward, where it will act as an art center and contribute to Houston's rise in culture, will ease the blow to the aggrieved arts community. Rice’s Visual and Dramatic Arts Department organized a last huzzah for the beloved space in February, during which they invited commemorators to bring picnics, music, and any other modes of expression they wished to share.
It’s no secret that Houston is going through a growth spurt. The city currently has four central business districts that, if separated, would each be among the country’s top 15 employment centers. In the next 30 years, 3.5 million people are projected to move to the 8-county region, with two million of those concentrated in Harris County. In a recent presentation to the Livable Houston Initiative, Kimley-Horn Associates engineer Sam Lott characterized the increased traffic that this population growth will entail as an impending crisis. “Our crisis is that we cannot build enough capacity,” said Lott. “TxDot is reaching the limit of what they can do. They’re now at a point where it’s going to be a challenge to maintain the capacity we’ve got. More traffic will move to city streets and the congestion on the freeways…is going to last all day long. The light rail and bus system, as important as it is and as we need to build it, is not in itself going to be able to provide the necessary capacity.” Lott put forth a three-fold solution to this congestion forecast. 1) Establish protected right of ways to increase the capacity of the freight rail system. 2) Create a regional commuter rail system as an alternative to the freeways with stops every five to 10 miles. 3) Build a grade-separated transit circulator system to work in concert with the light rail and regional commuter rail. Lott posited that a grade-separated circulator that connected the city’s four employment centers would be a boon for Houston. “I believe we would have the economic equivalent of Manhattan if this system were built,” he said.
[ Editor's Note: The following is a selection of reader-submitted comments from the online feature about AN's recent Reimagine the Astrodome competition. It appeared as a letter to the editor in a recent print edition, AN01_02.05.2014_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. ] Three of these are not serious, and the one with merit, the “sky dome” closely resembles a proposal I published over two years ago. Naturally we think that is a great concept, but the devil is in the details. We will continue to pursue our proposals, which are the result of over six years of research and collaboration. We will also continue to pursue the Orbital Experience, our original version of the “sky dome.” And we are fully date stamped so no one need think about challenging our intellectual property position on that. You guys are not connected to reality. Chris Alexander Astrodome Tomorrow Incredible article! First you assemble a team of, presumably, the brightest lights in the area as judges. Then you put out a call to the entire country for the highest and best visions for a re-imagined Astrodome—a call to artists, architects, engineers calculated to unleash the collective genius and spirit of Astrodome-followers everywhere. The stage was set perfectly for you to launch your new edition with a fabulous piece of journalism. Everyone was waiting. You had our attention. Harris County and the HCSCC set the lowest possible bar for you to meet or exceed with a plan that not even 150,000 people out of a population of 4 million wanted to support. Finally, after a month of agonizing over everything that came in, you did it. Congratulations on a job, well, done (note the punctuation). You managed to do something no one on the planet would have thought possible. You managed to make the County’s New Dome Experience look inspired and visionary. J. M. Arpad Lamell Lamell & Associates See the competition winners at: archpaper.com/news/articles.asp?id=6936
The Gensler-designed Capitol Tower, a 34-story speculative office building developed by Skanska USA on the site of the former Houston Club in downtown Houston, Texas, has been awarded Platinum Pre-Certification under the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED v4 ranking system. According to a press release put out by Skanska, the project is one of only a handful of in-the-works buildings to earn the distinction under the fourth generation of the LEED system. The company also stated that it wished Capitol Tower to be the greenest building in Houston. The design includes a high-performance facade system, daylight harvesting technology to reduce energy use, 90 percent access to daylight and views for tenants, a garage with daylight occupancy sensors and a green roof, alternative vehicle charging stations, a rainwater collection system, and bicycle amenities to encourage cycle commuting, among other sustainable features. “Skanska made it clear from the beginning of the design process that they wanted this to be the most sustainable building in Houston,” Gensler principal Kristopher Stuart said in a statement. “We really pushed our team to move beyond anything we have done before to create a building that offers an exceptional work environment in a high-performance envelope that will dramatically reduce operating costs. The design also places an extraordinary emphasis on public spaces and pedestrian experiences which we believe will greatly enhance and enrich Houston’s urban fabric." Under the LEED system, pre-certification allows owners to begin to market the proposed green features of a project to prospective tenants who wish to occupy a LEED certified space. Earning a pre-certification is not a guarantee of actual LEED certification. While the pre-certification review is conducted in the same manner as a combined design and construction review, no credits or pre-requisites can be awarded. They are instead marked as "anticipated." In addition, only projects registered under the LEED for Core & Shell rating system can apply for pre-certification.
Roads of Arabia: Archaeology and History of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia The Museum of Fine Arts Houston 5601 Main Street Houston, Texas December 19 through March 9, 2014 The Museum of Fine Arts Houston (MFAH) is hosting an eye-opening exhibition this winter that will uncover the rich history of the ancient trade routes of the Arabian Peninsula. Organized by the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in Washington, D.C., in association with the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities (SCTA), Roads of Arabia will feature objects recently excavated from more than 10 archaeological sites, and give insight into the culture and economy of this ancient civilization. Recently discovered objects along the trade routes include alabaster bowls and fragile glassware as well as heavy gold earrings and monumental statues. All of the artifacts are testament to the lively exchange between Arabs and their neighbors, including the Egyptians, Syrians, Babylonians, and Greco-Romans.
Yesterday, Houston voters killed a $200 million ballot initiative to renovate the unused Astrodome. Fifty-three percent opposed the measure and 47 percent supported it. The plan would have turned the stadium—the first domed and air-conditioned professional stadium—into a multi-use event and convention space. Houston's professional sports teams now play in Reliant Stadium next door and Minute Made Park in downtown Houston. Without funding for renovation, the dome appears destined for demolition. Tomorrow, AN will release the results of the "Re-imagine the Astrodome" competition, which includes both pragmatic and visionary ideas for re-using the Space Age structure. To celebrate, join us for coffee and refreshments at the Texas Society of Architects in the Grand Lobby of Fort Worth Convention Center from 10:00-11:00 a.m. We'll also be launching the inaugural issue of the Southwest edition. Stop by meet AN's new Southwest Aaron Seward.
As Harris County voters prepare to make their decision on the fate of Houston’s iconic Astrodome, some lucky locals will have an opportunity to bring home a piece of the historic stadium this Saturday. In preparation for the stadium’s pending rebirth as the “New Dome Experience” (or its possible destruction), the building’s managers are tearing a page out of Minneapolis' playbook as they put sections of the stadium up for sale. A limited quantity of seats, genuine sections of AstroTurf, furnishings, concessions equipment, and various memorabilia—including the space helmets worn by the grounds crew for the stadium's opening 48 years ago—are up for sale at the Astrodome Yard Sale and Live Auction at Houston's Reliant Center on November 2. If you live in the area, you could bring home a pair of two seats for $200, or a 12” by 12” section of turf for $20. Customers will be limited to four seats and four sections of turf, so forget about reconstructing the dome in your backyard. Proceeds from the sale will go to the Astrodome's pending renovation. While two recent polls show that voters are still split on the $217 million dollar proposal to transform the aging stadium into a sprawling 21st century event space in time for Superbowl LI in 2017, the project’s proponents are confident that they will pull through. But, if the historic structure does come to face the wrecking ball, this may be your last chance to claim a slice of the “Eighth Wonder of the World.” Either way, don't miss out on AN and YKK's Reimagining the Astrodome Award Reception on November 4th! Join us at the Grand Lobby of the Fort Worth Convention Center for the launch of our newest print edition, AN Southwest, and be there as the top teams explain their proposals for the future of the Astrodome.
Two Polls Indicate the Disposition of Harris County Voters Regarding $217 Million Astrodome Bond Fund
The Houston Chronicle is reporting that two recent polls have given clues as to how the denizens of Harris County will vote in the matter of approving $217 million in bonds to fund the reuse of the Astrodome. Previously, the Harris County Commissioners Court set the matter of the bond fund to a November 5 referendum. If voters approve the fund, the Harris County Sports and Convention Corporation will be able to proceed with its plans to create a New Dome Experience in time for Superbowl LI in 2017. Harris County property tax will also experience a slight hike to pay for it all. If voters oppose the issue, the Astrodome will in all likelihood meet the wrecking ball. Either way, entrants to AN and YKK AP's Reimagine The Astrodome competition will be watching with bated breath. A poll conducted by Rice University political scientist Bob Stein for KUHF/KHOU shows 45 percent of voters would support the bond issue, while 35 percent would oppose it, and 20 percent are undecided. The poll surveyed 650 potential voters and claims a 3.8 percent margin of error. Another poll that was conducted by a group of save-the-dome proponents showed a tie, with 43 percent in favor, 43 percent opposed, and the rest undecided. While the polls don't suggest a landslide victory for proponents of preserving the dome, Stein told the Chronicle that he suspects the referendum will pass simply because there is no organized opposition.
Artists Dan Havel and Dean Ruck of Havel Ruck Projects have garnered attention for some interesting installation pieces in Houston, blurring the lines between art and architecture. Over the last eight years, the collaboration has constructed temporary artworks using old, wooden homes, bizarre shows of simultaneous deconstruction and reconstruction of architecture. Inversion from 2005 recreates two wood bungalows, donated to the artists by Art League Houston, into a vortex of white wooden planks. In 2010, the Houston Art Alliance sponsored Havel Ruck Projects’s creation of Fifth Ward Jam. A wooden home doomed for refuse in Houston’s 5th Ward became an imaginative community stage of vertically spewed boards.