Caution and timidity have been the ruling traits of Houston’s commercial real estate market for the past three decades. But, in the last few years, local developer Steve Radom and his team at Radom Capital have been working almost single-handedly to bring architectural sophistication back with their recent series of commercial developments. From the 1970s through the mid-1980s, Houston was an international architectural mecca. During these years, developers famously competed with one another to commission the best architects to design ever more sensational projects in a crowded real estate market. Then, a collapse in oil prices wrecked the city’s economy. In the decades since, with its high-flying developers grounded, Houston’s architectural scene has stubbornly trailed that of its nearby neighbors, Austin, San Antonio, and Dallas. The recent fracking oil crash has only exacerbated the situation. Even Gerald Hines, Houston’s greatest modern developer, has turned away from the outstanding architecture that brought him fame and success. Today, his buildings are tasteful, yet completely unremarkable. In this milieu, Radom’s commercial retail projects are noteworthy. Radom and his team commission talented architects on the basis of their design excellence. They insist on rigor and quality in concept and execution. Rather than follow an established set of safe but boring development rules, their projects cleverly reimagine the most banal of building types: the strip mall. The results are exciting. The fact that they have leased immediately in Houston’s unsteady economic climate demonstrates again that good design is a good business practice. Radom’s largest project to date is Heights Mercantile, a low-rise retail center partially located inside the Houston Heights Historic District a couple of miles northwest of downtown. Austin-based Michael Hsu Office of Architecture designed the shell-and-core build-out and some of the interiors. Up-and-coming Houston architects Schaum/Shieh and Content Architecture designed additional interiors. The Houston branch of the international SWA Group was the landscape architect, while Houston-based graphic design firm Spindletop devised the graphic identity. Heights Mercantile includes a mixture of six new and remodeled buildings—two of which are protected historic landmarks— spread across eight properties that were acquired in four separate transactions over a 14-month period. From 1967 to 2007, Pappas Restaurants, a local restaurant group, used three of the existing buildings as their headquarters. Two of the former Pappas buildings were remodeled to include a suite of shops and a wine bar. The third Pappas building, a one-story prefabricated metal warehouse used for cold storage, was demolished and replaced by a two-story building containing retail and restaurant space on the ground floor and a fitness club and offices on the second floor. The two protected historic buildings are one-story wood frame bungalows. They were converted into a clothing boutique and an ice cream shop. A small one-story wood frame building was built behind one of the bungalows and houses a cafe. Although Houston lacks zoning, it has other methods of land-planning. Among the most onerous are its excessive off-street parking requirements, which forced the design team to be creative in organizing the site. By reusing instead of replacing the Pappas buildings, the developers were able to maintain the existing, but now illegal, head-in parking. The bulk of the additional required parking was fitted between the bungalows and the new two-story building. According to the developer, the city requested that the final property Radon bought directly north of the bungalows facing Heights Boulevard be devoted completely to parking. Fortunately, the 140 parking spaces do not overwhelm the development, thanks to creative landscape and siting decisions. Houston Heights, like the city of Houston, is a tattered collection of heterogeneous residential and commercial buildings. Platted in 1891 as a streetcar suburb, it actually contains very few pre-1900 Victorian houses. What remains of its historic architecture is mostly Queen Anne worker cottages from the 1910s and bungalows from the 1920s and ’30s. These are interspersed with garden apartments from the 1960s and ’70s and the occasional one or two-story postwar commercial building. Up until 2010, when the city’s preservation ordinance was changed to prohibit demolition in designated historic districts, the last Queen Anne cottages and bungalows were quickly being replaced by townhouse developments and lot-filling faux-Victorian houses. Heights Mercantile wittily addresses its motley neighborhood by providing its own assorted mix of buildings. Rather than replicating the same building across the site, as most recent strip developments in and around Houston Heights have done, the architects consciously worked to make each building look and feel different. Furthermore, they casually spread them across the site, which is split up in a very ad hoc Houston manner by an active street, a popular hike and bike trail, a drainage easement, and an abandoned alley. The results celebrate the mess that is Houston. And, along with some clever landscaping interventions, they feel inviting and fresh rather than chaotic and dreary. If this is the vision Radom and his team want to promote for Houston, then I’m all for it. And judging from its completely filled lease spaces, so is the real estate market.
Posts tagged with "SWA Group":
When it comes to plazas and parks, Los Angeles–area landscape architects and designers have big plans for the future. The region is slowly warming up to the possibility of a more pedestrian-oriented urbanism, and, as a result, public spaces old and new are being imagined to suit that potential future. And while the region is adding plenty of new parks—the new Los Angeles State Historic Park, the ever-expanding Grand Park by Rios Clementi Hale Studios (RCH Studios), and the now-iconic Tongva Park by James Corner Field Operations come to mind—attention is now beginning to shift toward redefining the public plaza as it is practiced in L.A. One experiment comes from RCH Studio’s renovations to the Music Center plaza, originally designed by landscape architects Cornell, Bridgers, and Troller in association with Welton Becket and Associates in 1967. The stepped concrete plaza currently contains a Jacques Lipchitz–designed sculpture at its center, the art object surrounded by a maze of sunken courtyards, large planter boxes, and interactive fountains. RCH Studios plans to revamp the plaza to make the space more ADA-compliant while also bringing pedestrian energy from bustling Grand Avenue up into the plaza. The complex is on the same street as the Walt Disney Concert Hall and the Broad Museum and sits on axis with Grand Park and City Hall, relationships that the designers wanted to emphasize and perfect over the course of their renovations. Bob Hale, partner at RCH Studios, said, “Creating open space in L.A. is a very different thing than doing so in other places,” explaining that one of the goals of the renovations was to make the plaza hospitable enough to function as a “fifth venue” to complement the four existing concert halls and performance spaces on the site. The proposed 50,000-square-foot plaza—scheduled to reopen in 2019—will be completely flat, punctuated at its corners by pavilions containing a full-service restaurant, a cafe, a bar, permanent public restrooms, and a welcome kiosk. The project will also involve replacing existing—and over-pruned—ficus trees with new Agonis Flexuosa trees that will help create a more comfortable plaza as their canopies fill out. In Culver City, SWA Principal Gerdo Aquino and his team are working to create a new central square for the city on top of what was once a dusty parking lot. The firm’s Culver Steps project—created in partnership with EYRC architects and Hackman Capital Partners—is part of a podium-style development that will bring a new 55,000-square-foot stepped plaza with generously landscaped open spaces to the city’s core. The ascendant plaza will sit above a new underground parking garage and will share ground floor areas with a bevy of storefronts. A so-called “grand staircase” is to run up the slope, flanked by pockets of seating areas. The summit of the jaggedly stepped promenade will contain restaurants on one side and a four-story office structure on another. In all, the superblock- size project will unite a mix of squares and promenades served by the commercial and office spaces. “Many American cities are reimagining their city centers, sometimes in unconventional locations and ways,” Aquino explained. “The city and the major stakeholders have always considered the plaza as something that could be ‘out of the box’ and not tied down to any one precedent.” Landscaping for the plaza is inspired by the Sierra Nevada Mountains and will contain more conventional plantings along its lowest levels, with increasingly showy and diverse species of shade trees and evergreens up the steps and at the top of the structure. Ultimately, the steps will open in 2019 with the aim of creating a bustling and interactive plaza “filled with as many trees as possible.”
Joni Mitchell, Dallas has heard you. The City Council of Dallas has decided to un-pave a 3.2-acre parking lot—in place since 1921—and put up a paradise in the form of Pacific Plaza Park. Nonprofit Parks for Downtown Dallas has been trying to swap hard top for green space in Dallas for several years. The group originally proposed donating $35 million to the city to fund the construction of four new parks in Downtown, including Pacific Plaza, with the caveat that the city would match them with $35 million to get the job done. When for-profit 4P Partners proposed building an underground parking garage topped with a park on the site, located off Pacific Avenue, Parks for Downtown Dallas decided to shift around their funds and provide one hundred percent of the construction costs for the park. This move helped expedite the project. HKS Architects, whose offices are located in One Dallas Center adjacent to the site, also made a donation for the park’s construction. Landscape architecture, planning, and urban design firm SWA Group was tapped to design the project in early 2016. They approached the park from the perspective of the neighborhood, holding two public “envisioning sessions” to gauge the needs of the community before they began their designs. The main desires were for social connectivity and, of course, access to nature. With this in mind, SWA allocated an acre of open green space as the central portion of the park, flanked by rows of shade trees intended to buffer the park from its bustling surroundings. Live oaks original to Aston Park, a small park already on the site, will be absorbed into the landscape to preserve existing foliage. Walking paths weave through the trees and encircle the green space. A 670-foot-long stone seating wall, deemed the “thread,” helps stitch the various spaces of the park together. Additionally, a halo-shaped structure anchors the southwest corner and provides an opportunity for seating, shade, and socializing. Construction on the park is scheduled to begin in early 2018 and is expected to last 12 to 18 months. Although it has been a long fight to get Pacific Plaza Park underway, Parks for Downtown Dallas is still pursuing its proposal for three other parks in the Downtown as well. “Quality ‘green space’ is an asset wherever it is found,” said Chuck McDaniel, SWA Dallas managing principal. “During the next few years, there will be a chain of parks throughout downtown Dallas that will work together to cool the air, enhance the aesthetics of our city, and make downtown an even more livable and walkable place.” To learn more about the Pacific Plaza Park and the Parks for Downtown Dallas organization, you can visit their website here.
A group of U.S. firms have been selected to help design one of Toronto's major undeveloped sites, a 683-acre property where a mixed-use urban neighborhood will be built. These include the Laguna Beach, California-based office of SWA Group, San Francisco-based BCV Architects, and New York-based Nelson\Nygaard Consulting Associates. The site—about 1.5 miles north of Toronto's Pearson International Airport—is currently owned by Woodbine Entertainment Group; the development will be built around the existing Woodbine Racetrack, which hosts live horse races four days a week. The group's gaming offerings will be the focus of the development, and a new casino will join the racetrack on the site. Woodbinem, who's working with development consultant Live Work Learn Play, will also add biking and walking trails, retail and restaurants, and housing. The project will also experiment with growing feed on the premises for its resident thoroughbred horses. Planning will take place over the next six months, while construction might be a decades-long process.
Pershing Square Renew just announced the four finalists of the Pershing Square design competition: SWA with Morphosis, James Corner Field Operations with Frederick Fisher & Partners, Agence TER with SALT Landscape Architects, and wHY with Civitas. These teams will now develop fully fleshed out proposals for the five-acre park in Downtown Los Angeles. The finalist concept boards offer clues as to what to expect from the final proposals: SWA and Morphosis identified four strategies for their reorganized park: ecology (native trees and a drought-friendly water feature), mobility (a road diet along Olive Street and better Metro connections), programing (a market and a day/night event venue), and sustainable business (reworked parked concession, food vendor, and retail spaces.) James Corner Field Operations with Frederick Fisher & Partners held off at hinting at a design. Their concept boards show increased porosity between the park and the both the surrounding neighborhood as well as the cultural life of all of downtown and the Arts District. Expect the design to engage both in the park and along the adjacent streets and sidewalks. Agence TER with SALT Landscape Architects’ boards depict a boldy understated proposal. They envision Pershing Square as a giant lawn with several atmospheric gardens: a foggy garden, a scent garden, a dry garden, a wind garden, and an edible garden. Services are discretely tucked under a large shade canopy. wHY with Civitas landscape architecture group’s concept boards was also slim on design details. Although the proposal echoed some ideas seen in other team proposals, such as connections to the surrounding neighborhood, an emphasis on natural ecology, and food/market vendors, it uniquely suggested that the park offer education programming as well as something that could be digital connectivity entitled “Syncing Urban Hardware and Software.” The four finalists will develop their proposals over the first quarter of 2016, leading to another round of jury interviews and a public presentation in March. It’s unclear how and when the design will be built, since at moment the only funding for the project seems to be the $2 million pledged to by the Department of Recreation and Parks and MacFarlane Partners, who each chipped in one million. The Pershing Square Renew jury is: Janet Marie Smith (Jury Chair) SVP, Planning and Development, Los Angeles Dodgers José Huizar, Councilmember, 14th District, City of Los Angeles Donna Bojarsky, Founder and President, Future of Cities: Leading in LA Simon Ha, Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council and Downtown LA Resident Mary McCue, Founder, MJM Management Group Rick Poulos, Principal, NBBJ Janet Rosenberg, Founding Principal, Janet Rosenberg & Studio Michael Shull, General Manager, Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks Michael Woo, Dean, Cal Poly Pomona, School of Environmental Design
In October, Pershing Square Renew selected 10 teams as semi-finalists for the redesign of Downtown Los Angeles’ oft-maligned urban space. The international design competition drew hundreds of entries and the two-handfuls selected represent both local and global practices. Reviewing the initial presentation boards, there’s common interest in opening up Pershing Square to the surrounding urban blocks, a porosity currently lacking in Legoretta’s scheme. The teams’ approaches are split between active and passive landscapes with some concepts showing large lawns and water features meant for calm reflection and light recreation, others packed the square with programming: dog parks, cafes, yoga zones, performance venues, etc. Pershing Square Renew posed the concept boards on their website and are now asking the Los Angeles community to weigh in with comments for the jury. Soon, the organization will select four top teams out of the field of semi-finalists and have them each develop a more comprehensive final design. Until then, have a gander at the boards below.
In 2011 SWA built the nation's largest planned Zero-Net Energy (ZNE) community. Working in collaboration with the University of California Davis and developer West Village Community Partnership (WVCP), the project houses over 2,000 students and 500 staff and faculty families. When UC Davis started the West Village Energy Initiative (WVEI) in cooperation with WVCP in 2003, the university initially only aimed for a 50percent reduction in energy consumption (compared to the California Energy Efficiency Building Code). However, in 2008 the initiative proposed that without losing quality and at no extra cost to the developer, West Village could become a ZNE community. A public-private partnership with the developer and UC Davis has been able make WVEI's 2008 proposal a reality. SWA master planned the 225-acre neighborhood and prepared landscape strategies for its development. Included in the housing scheme is a network of parks, storm water ponds and corridors, bicycle and pedestrian trails, a community college, and retail and recreational services. These areas incorporate on-site energy generation which are aesthetically designed and in harmony with local environmental conditions. In preparation, SWA conducted analyses at regional, site, and building/garden scales in order to maximize opportunities for passive cooling. Designers arranged buildings in loose clusters that allow breezes from the Bay Delta to filter through the site. SWA also proposed the planting of deciduous shade trees, reducing the need for air conditioning. In a bid to promote zero-energy methods of transportation, SWA integrated an extensive cycling network into the scheme making it the primary way of getting around the neighborhood. Davis is, after all, home to the first bike lane in the United States. SWA integrated drainage into the site's system of parks, sports fields, trails, and gardens. Storm water drains to the site's large northern ponds, where it is purified by native wetland planting in a series of basins. The slopes of the site's ponds incorporate native shrubs and trees, selected in cooperation with UC Davis' horticulturists, botanical garden curators, and ground and maintenance personnel, to provide a sustainable habitat for migratory birds, while also providing a visually appealing natural landscape for residents year-round. UC Davis' internal monitoring shows that the West Village ZNE community achieved an exceptional 87 percent of initial ZNE goals in its first year. In 2013, West Village received the ULI Global Award of Excellence, which honors outstanding development in both the private and public sectors, with an emphasis on responsible land use.
The Center for Active Design (CfAD) has announced the winners in its annual Excellence Awards, which honors buildings, public spaces, and, for the first time this year, research, that promotes active lifestyles. All competition entries had to meet at least one of CfAD’s “Active Design approaches,” which include Active Transportation, Active Recreation, Healthy Food Access, and Active Building. After a blind selection process, a jury picked six winners and five honorable mentions. “Regardless of the size, location, or use, the Excellence award winners serve as catalysts for broad based community transformation, maximizing their impact by embracing a cross discipline approach to the design process, which in many cases included use of the Active Design Guidelines from the outset,” said Joanna Frank, the center's executive director, in a statement. This year’s winners will be recognized at “Celebrate Active Design” in New York City on May 11th. For more information on the event visit the CfAD's website. You can read more about the winners and honorable mentions below. City of Pontevedra, Spain From CfAD:
City council members led by Mayor Fernández Lores, began their quest in 1999, by developing a community-driven master plan that prioritized people and public spaces. ... The occupancy of the public spaces post-renovation was almost immediate. 81% of schoolchildren walk to school, half of them on their own. Traffic has decreased by 70% in the downtown area and 30% in the city overall between 1996 and 2014, with zero fatalities due to accidents in the last eleven years. The space devoted to pedestrians and cyclists in streets and squares increased over 60%, using space that was previously devoted to motor mobility and parking. Sidewalks were widened, streetlights improved, and over 400,000 street trees were planted throughout the city. By prioritizing resident health in the design, construction, and maintenance of public spaces, Pontevedra is a pioneer in the Active Design movement.Guthrie Green, Tulsa, OK By SWA Group From CfAD:
Submitted by the SWA Group, the 2.7-acre Guthrie Green Park serves as a central hub for social and cultural events for the community, now receiving over 10,000 visitors annually. Given that Oklahoma has some of the worst obesity and life expectancy rates in the country, team members aimed to use this project to promote health and physical activity among residents. The design converts a former truck yard into a flexible venue for community gatherings set among gardens, a central lawn, park pavilion, outdoor stage, and interactive fountains that invite visitors to connect with nature and join community events. A geo-exchange grid under the park supplies heating and cooling for nearby non-profit organizations, further contributing to revitalization of Tulsa's downtown Brady Arts District.New Settlement Community Campus, Bronx, NY By Edelman Sultan Knox Wood Architets with Dattner Architects From CfAD:
The New Settlement Community Campus in the Bronx, New York started with a simple desire for a public swimming pool, but soon expanded into an innovative, joint-use project that tackled school overcrowding and a dearth of local community services. Bringing together community activities that were previously located in various neighboring affordable housing buildings, the New Settlement Community Campus provides a resource for both students and residents in this low-income community. Designed by Dattner Architects and Edelman Sultan Knox Wood / Architects the New Settlement Community Campus is a vital community hub providing 1,160 K-12 students and the surrounding neighborhood with a wide range of indoor and outdoor learning spaces, fitness classes, and activity hubs, along with a healthy food program and on-site health clinic.Casitas de Colores, Albuquerque, NM By Dekker/Perich/Sabatini From CfAD:
Casitas de Colores brings much needed affordable housing to families in downtown Albuquerque. With a walk score of 94/100, it has been recognized as an important project for supporting activity in the downtown area. Located within walking distance to city amenities, transit networks, and employment areas, the project promotes walking, rather than driving to daily destinations. Submitted by Dekker/Perich/Sabatini design firm, the Casitas de Colores community includes open stairwells, terraces, and patios, that maximize visibility and provides community facilities with an array of amenities to promote their health and wellness. Staircases are prominently located near entrances, elevators, and walkways, are wide enough for group travel, brightly colored, and offer views to the courtyards and downtown area. Walking paths are artfully decorated and exposed to natural light, enhancing the pedestrian experience, connecting residents to outdoor courtyards, and supporting a range of activities and social interaction.Stanford Healthy Neighborhood Discovery Tool, United States, Mexico, and Israel Stanford Prevention Research Center and the Stanford University School of Medicine From CfAD:
The Stanford Healthy Neighborhood Discovery Tool, is a research project that empowers citizens with technology to have an impact on policy decisions that effect the built environment. Researchers from the Stanford Prevention Research Center and the Stanford University School of Medicine, equipped resident 'citizen scientists,' with technology, allowing them to asses their neighborhoods and advocate for more support for healthy living. Using recorded, geo-coded photographs and audio narratives, GPS-tracked walking routes, and survey responses, residents have successfully engaged policy makers and collaborated on funding decisions for built environment improvements. The citizen scientist application has now been used in three countries (Mexico, Israel, USA), leveraging resident 'citizen scientists' and mobile technology that empowers communities to promote active living and healthy eating.Queens Plaza From CfAD:
Queens Plaza has shifted the way New York City conceives of its public spaces, recognizing them as a critical part of its urban infrastructure, capable of creating vibrant neighborhoods. The application of Active Design principles transformed a parking lot surrounded by 16 lanes of traffic and noisy subway lines into a space that prioritizes the pedestrian.Honorable Mentions Space to Grow: Greening Chicago’s Schoolyards Chicago, IL From CfAD:
Space to Grow is a multi-sector partnership that transforms Chicago's aging, and in many cases underutilized, schoolyards into dynamic outdoor spaces that support physical activity, learning and community engagement. Selected Chicago Public School schoolyards are located in urban neighborhoods that have a deficit of recreational facilities and green space, and that are also prone to flooding during heavy storms. The project is co-managed by Healthy Schools Campaign and Openlands – two Chicago based nonprofit organizations, and is funded by Chicago Public Schools, the Chicago Department of Water Management, and the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago.Gateway Community College New Haven, CT From CfAD:
The Gateway Community College project represents how thoughtful design can create an educational environment that promotes health, while anchoring the urban revitalization. Submitted by Perkins + Will, this project is designed around a central atrium and open stairway, which links the academic spaces and doubles as the primary gathering space. Informal stadium seating and lounges are provided around this central core. Classroom wings also offer open access to a series of egress stairs, enhanced with hold-open devices, abundant daylight, comfortable width, and views to a rain garden. A range of exterior spaces, like a roof garden and multi-purpose courtyard, are offered to support on-site recreation and special programming. Located in a formerly neglected part of New Haven, Gateway Community College enhances the neighborhood pedestrian environment through the addition of more public elements, such as an interactive, LED art installation visible through the building facade. The images that are projected as part of this art installation are curated by the students and provide a greater identity for themselves and the campus community.New York City Police Academy College Point, NY From CfAD:
The New York City Police Academy was designed from its outset using the Active Design Guidelines. It consolidates many of the Police Department’s existing training facilities into one consolidated campus. Built on a former landfill site and submitted by the New York City Department of Design and Construction, the campus offers numerous opportunities for occupants to engage in physical activity. A monumental stair is featured at the building’s entrance that connects physically and visually to the circulation stairs located throughout the plan. Egress stair doors on each floor use hold-open devices to maximize visibility into stairwells. Fitness facilities include a swimming pool, indoor exercise spaces, outdoor running tracks and walking routes that move users around landscaped gardens, which are also usable by the surrounding community.Fulton Center New York, NY From CfAD:
The newly renovated Fulton Center transit center in New York City’s financial district effectively organizes the circulation patterns of about 300,000 daily riders between eight train lines. Designed by Grimshaw Architects under prime design consultant Arup, the Fulton Center is focused around a new civic space with a grand oculus bringing in ample light into waiting areas that were previously dimly-lit and confusing. The improved Fulton Center not only simplifies transit connections, but also provides 65,000 square feet of retail and office space. Features such as wider and brighter concourses make walking between subway lines a more enjoyable and less confusing experience. A spiral staircase located centrally in the atrium attracts the attention of visitors, and wayfinding signage and interactive information kiosks are strategically placed throughout the station. A new pedestrian tunnel offers expanded connections to additional subway and transit lines.Safe Cycling Design Manual for Istanbul Istanbul, Turkey From CfAD:
The Safe Cycling Design Manual for Cycling is an evidence-based report that aims to raise awareness of cycling as a mode of transportation in Istanbul. After undertaking an extensive literature review, and a series of surveys, interviews, site visits, and visioning workshops with cyclists, the research team at EMBARQ Turkey, found that residents prefer cycling because it is healthy, fast, affordable, and flexible. They also noted however that challenges to cycling in Istanbul include, lack of police enforcement, supporting infrastructure and fast flowing traffic. Leveraging the research and corresponding proposed solutions outlined in the Manual, the EMBARQ team has a created a valuable source on sustainable urban transport for the national government, local authorities, and community members in Turkey.