Griggs Road and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. Photos: Raj Mankad.

Griggs Road and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. Photos: Raj Mankad.

Houston’s First Mixed-Use, Mixed-Income, Transit-Oriented Development

This article is an adapted excerpt from “Big Mixed-Use Developments and the Remaking of Houston” in Cite 98, which examines the economics of architecture and the way that developers, banks, and other institutions shape the built environment.

Houston is in bind. We expect to welcome millions more people into the region over the coming decades, and our economic model depends on that growth. A greater density of people will support better city services, more music, more grocery stores … and, if these people are all driving, more traffic jams. What if a greater portion of our population lives along rail and bus lines, though? The fear is that an influx of well-heeled urbanites will drive out low-income people from the very places they have sustained through difficult years, and just when things are turning around. It’s a fear founded on what has happened in neighborhoods like Freedmen’s Town and the West End.

We can imagine a future in which neighborhoods change without a loss of community and history but where are the models? A development under construction now promises one way forward. The backstory, though complex, offers a path for the future of Houston.

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Photos courtesy Emergency Floor.

Photos courtesy Emergency Floor.

Two Miles from Syria: An Update on Emergency Floor

A year ago, OffCite published “Emergency Floor,” an article about a flooring solution for refugee camps developed by two Rice University graduates, Sam Brisendine and Scott Key, and their crowdfunding campaign to help put their modular tiles of extruded polypropylene on the ground. Below is an update that Key and Brisendine sent to supporters on July 15. You can learn more about the project here.

It is surreal to walk amid refugee shelters in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon a few short miles from ISIS-held towns in Syria. By in large, these families have lived in shelters cobbled together from tarps, scrap wood, and refuse for four to six years on average.

In the summer, temperatures soar to well over 100 degrees and in the winter down below freezing. Unfortunately, like many countries in the region, cold winters coincide with wet weather. One teenager told us living in his shelter in the winter “is like living in a wet refrigerator.”

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Interior courtyard of New Hope Housing's Rittenhouse complex. Photo: Mark Hiebert.

Interior courtyard of New Hope Housing's Rittenhouse complex. Photo: Mark Hiebert.

Changing Conversations: New Hope Housing’s Unique Approach in Houston

A stigma of “hulking towers and barren blocks,” as Alan Mallach writes, is associated with affordable housing. Sam Davis, author of The Architecture of Affordable Housing, identifies a “misconception” that good design — or, rather, almost any design at all — is too expensive, unnecessary. According to that misconception, affordable housing “should be basic, safe, and clean — but no more.”

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Rendering of pocket park by Open Architecture Houston team and Near Northside community members. Courtesy.

Rendering of pocket park by Open Architecture Houston team and Near Northside community members. Courtesy.

Community Design: How a New Pocket Park Came to the Near Northside

Not all vacant lots are the same. Some are nestled between residential lots and looked after by neighbors; some are littered and adjacent to highways; still others have a nascent appeal that can benefit from the right intervention.

One such lot is located along Fulton Street between Panama Street and Hammock Street in the Near Northside. The property consists of two vacant lots owned by the City of Houston’s Parks and Recreation Department. A crosswalk connects the property to a light rail stop. There are commercial properties along Fulton to the north, south, and west; to the east is a residential area. Currently, there is one tree in the middle of the site, overgrown brambles and a row of trees along the fence on the eastern side of the property, and a utility right-of-way with power lines that bisect the lot.

Community members have long wanted to create a pocket park here. Recently, they worked with the Greater Northside Management District (GNMD) to realize that vision.

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Photo: Katie Edwards.

Photo: Katie Edwards.

An Industry in Crisis: How Construction Career Collaborative is Trying To Do Right By Its Workers

The essay appears in Cite 98. The issue explores the intersections of finance and design. You can purchase the Cite 98 at local bookstores, including Brazos Bookstore and the shops at the Menil Collection and The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. You can also subscribe.

Hermen Valdez realized that he wasn’t going to be able to afford to get back to Texas. His oldest son, a Houston native, was set to graduate from Baylor, and Valdez needed a plane ticket.

But he also needed to make payroll that month.

Valdez, who had moved away in the late 1980s from the recession in Houston to New England in search of more steady construction work, was an independent contractor, responsible for the salaries and insurance payments and taxes on a crew of about 20 general and skilled laborers.

He started working in the construction industry in high school. Before that, since he was 10, he had been helping his parents as a manual laborer. He grew up a few hundred miles southeast of Seattle, where his parents settled after emigrating from Mexico. When he graduated from high school in the late 1970s, he heard there were opportunities in Houston, then in one of its booms. Developers like Hines were financing big commercial projects Downtown, and the Medical Center was expanding. You could move to Houston, build buildings, start a family — and that’s what Valdez did.

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Photo by Luis Ayala.

Photo by Luis Ayala.

Sparking Creativity: Houston’s Smaller Arts Groups Finally Meet Their MATCH

The essay appears in Cite 98. The issue explores the intersections of finance and design. You can purchase the Cite 98 at local bookstores, including Brazos Bookstore and the shops at the Menil Collection and The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. You can also subscribe.

The building is meant to be seen at night. That’s when the full context of this project, which is really a model for a type of development, can be appreciated. For the moment, Midtown Arts & Theater Center Houston (MATCH) is a beacon among blocks of darkened construction projects that border it on nearly every side. Still, the surrounding blocks are buzzing. Streets closed by reflective cones and food trucks, a beat broadcast down a block queued with cars and couples quickly crossing sidewalks. The steady flow of headlights, spilling across the pavement like the surf or swinging around corners. Within the MATCH’s breezeway — a glass-lined canyon cut through white metal panels and galvanized steel — the audiences of four simultaneous small shows spill out into the glow that emanates from the heart of the building, lighting up the block.

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Purcell-Cutts House, 1913, Purcell & Elmslie. Photos by Stephen Fox.

Purcell-Cutts House, 1913, Purcell & Elmslie. Photos by Stephen Fox.

“Baronial in Scale”: Stephen Fox Does Instagram

Stephen Fox, architectural historian and Fellow of the Anchorage Foundation of Texas, led a Rice Design Alliance (RDA) tour of Minneapolis and St. Paul during the first week of June. Fox is the author of several books including forWARDS: Ten Driving Tours Through Houston’s Original Wards. Now you can experience his inimitable tour of the Twin Cities through Instagram @RDAHouston. Below, OffCite brings you his photos and words about the Purcell-Cutts house.

One of the highlights of the tour involved the smallest building we visited, the spatially ingenious house that architect William Gray Purcell designed for his family in 1913. The living room and upstairs bedrooms face southeast, toward the street.

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Michigan Avenue in Corktown, Detroit. Photo: Allyn West.

Michigan Avenue in Corktown, Detroit. Photo: Allyn West.

Postcard from Detroit

For a few blocks, all six lanes of Michigan Avenue, the major commercial strip of Corktown, Detroit’s oldest neighborhood, are paved in brick. Petunias bloom in plastic bins underneath the street trees. Original buildings now home to shops and cafes and offices line the wide sidewalks. The going is easy, interesting. There are a few spaces for lease, but most of the real estate is taken up and appears to be doing well.

But it wasn’t easy getting there. If you don’t have a car in the Motor City, you’re at a disadvantage. Heading west from the Renaissance Center in Downtown, where I was staying to attend the Docomomo US Symposium, I had to trudge past long stretches of vacant land and negotiate unfriendly infrastructure. A bus or two rattled past. I didn’t see any other pedestrians. As I walked, a wide strip of asphalt down the middle of Michigan stuck out, not quite covering up the streetcar tracks that signify how connected Corktown used to be.

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New Corktown proposal by Albert Pope and Jesus Vassallo, US Pavilion, 2016 Venice Biennale. Photo: Peter Molick.

New Corktown proposal by Albert Pope and Jesus Vassallo, US Pavilion, 2016 Venice Biennale. Photo: Peter Molick.

New Corktown: Reporting From the Venice Biennale

The 15th International Architecture Exhibition at the Venice Biennale (La Biennale di Venezia) opened with a Vernissage last week, a private preview of the work produced for one of the most immensely exciting times for architectural practice, research, and theory. The exhibition entitled “Reporting From the Front” was curated by 2016 Pritzker Laureate Alejandro Aravena of Chile, who placed construction and quality of life at the center of the discussion.

Curators from each country selected representatives to exhibit their work in national pavilions at the Giardini, the grounds of the Biennale. In addition, the Arsenale collated projects from various countries illustrating significant examples of vernacular building methods, formal languages, and tectonic systems in current development. It was especially interesting to be in Venice at the time of the Vernissage because exhibitors, installers, supporters, and academics alike spilled out from their respective pavilions and onto the connecting alley, Via Giuseppe Garibaldi, to socialize.

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Rendering of Ruby City. Courtesy: Linda Pace Foundation.

Rendering of Ruby City. Courtesy: Linda Pace Foundation.

Ruby City: David Adjaye Designs an “Important Civic Moment” for San Antonio

You can see in the renderings of Ruby City, the building David Adjaye Associates has designed to hold the Linda Pace Foundation’s art collection in San Antonio, the same “skewed, swelling shapes” that architectural historian Stephen Fox praises in his essay in Cite 78. “[Adjaye’s] buildings,” writes Fox, “don’t conform to their programs and sites; they deform in response to them.”

It is a very compelling, very optimistic deformation. The site, in this case, is the Pace Foundation campus on Camp Street in Southtown. The campus comprises the one-acre meditation garden CHRISpark, one-room SPACE Gallery, and the former Tobin Building, a 1927 candy factory that has been converted into residential lofts and Pace Foundation offices. The three large galleries of Ruby City will add 10,000 square feet of exhibition space for contemporary paintings, sculptures, installations, and video works.

What Fox calls “disarmingly exuberant cheerfulness” in earlier Adjaye buildings here manifests most obviously in color and material. When they met in 2007, Pace sketched for Adjaye a vision for Ruby City that had come to her in a dream: a series of magenta turrets, all bedazzled and bejeweled, atop a circular plinth like a merry-go-round. Adjaye translated this whimsy into off-kilter forms and material experimentation. To be clad in an array of red-stained precast concrete panels that Adjaye says will have embedded in them “bits of recycled red glass and other reflective materials,” Ruby City will shimmer in the Texas sun, even more so in the context of the drab buildings immediately surrounding it.

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