Aerial view of proposal for "Integrated Urbanism." Courtesy: Gensler.

Aerial view of proposal for "Integrated Urbanism." Courtesy: Gensler.

Across, Through: A Mixed-Use Vision for Buffalo Bayou that Privileges Pedestrians and Cyclists

Texas is not a safe place to walk and bike. According to the National Complete Streets Coalition’s 2014 report, “Dangerous by Design,” Houston ranks seventh with respect to the likelihood of a pedestrian being struck and killed.

Making Houston safer for “vulnerable road users,” as pedestrians, cyclists, and others are described in the language of the 2013 “Safe Passing Ordinance,” is a complex problem that requires behavioral changes and urban design. The entire experience of the city — getting from your front door to your neighborhood street to your office to your watering hole to your favorite park — must come together in a more convenient, more pleasurable way in order to draw people out of their cars. The completion of the bayou greenways will go a long way toward that making that possible.

For now, though, as design critic Karrie Jacobs once found when she tried, and failed, to get from Hotel ZaZa to Hermann Park for a morning run, there are too few infrastructural connections to our parks and trails that don’t require risky at-grade negotiations. A tunnel at the Bill Coats Bridge that connects Hermann Park underneath South MacGregor Way is one example, but I can’t think of many others that get those vulnerable road users — literally — out of harm’s way.

more >


Erie Street Plaza by Stoss Landscape Urbanism. Photo:  John December.

Erie Street Plaza by Stoss Landscape Urbanism. Photo: John December.

Actively Provoking Participation: A Response to the Landscape Urbanism of Chris Reed and Stoss

Here, Oliver and Veras respond to the first lecture in the Rice School of Architecture/Rice Design Alliance Series, Projective Infrastructures. For more about the series, watch this preview video. The next lecture will be Christophe Girot on Wednesday, February 10. Join the event on Facebook!

At first, the way Stoss founder Chris Reed described the firm’s work was familiar to anyone acquainted with conversations over the past 20 years around landscape urbanism and ecological urbanism. His introductory rhetoric was one of accommodation and flexibility. Rather than seeking to control a landscape that is set in opposition to human settlement, Stoss “start(s) with landscape,” Reed said, seeking to weave inhabitation and ecology into a symbiotic whole, where the capacity to adapt to, and to accommodate, both human use and the inherent instabilities or “dynamic flux” of ecological systems is more highly valued than the establishment of a “stable situation in an unstable environment.”

With their Erie Street Plaza project in Milwaukee, for example, Stoss uses a series of gently sloping planes that both collect storm water for irrigation and restore natural drainage patterns toward the Erie River, where runoff is cleaned by new marshy plantings at the water’s edge. These simple planes composed of pavers and grass, which are explicitly “not programmed,” provide a flexible field that supports many different uses without explicitly prescribing them. It is a hands-off approach to inhabitation that invites the unexpected, where a sense that many things could happen is presumed to ensure that some do. Accommodation begets a sense of freedom and choice, which in turn begets “activation” of public space.

more >


Tesla on autopilot along the Southwest Freeway. Photo: Raj Mankad.

Tesla on autopilot along the Southwest Freeway. Photo: Raj Mankad.

The Future Now: Self-Driving Cars in Houston

“I find I speed less when autopilot is on,” says Steve Tennison — hands at his side, feet off the pedals — as his 2015 Tesla Model S 85D smoothly makes its way down the Westpark Tollway.

You are already sharing the road with self-driving cars. This technology may have a profound impact faster than expected, especially on cities like Houston that have multiple centers spread across a huge area. Early adopters like Steve open a window into the near future.

The trip in the Tesla begins in Montrose on a Saturday afternoon. A storm has just cleared and the January sun on my face feels good. Steve operates the vehicle himself and zips onto the I-69 Southwest Freeway. While fiddling with the audio recorder on my phone, I don’t notice that Steve has turned on the autopilot feature. With trucks and cars all around us, the Tesla deftly passes through the grand columns of the 610 interchange.

more >


Lawndale Regional Wilderness Zone. Photo: Adam Clay

Lawndale Regional Wilderness Zone. Photo: Adam Clay

Lawndale Regional Wilderness Zone

Behind Lawndale Art Center, the artists Elizabeth Eicher and Hélène Schlumberger built a construction they called Lawndale Regional Wilderness Zone (2015). This work, which closed on January 9, was a two-tiered observation tower of exposed plywood decking and stairs. From certain angles, it looked like a detached and incomplete home patio, plopped onto Lawndale’s Sculpture Garden. Caution signs were staked out along both sides of the staircase: “LIMIT 4 PERSONS,” “DON’T FALL,” “NO LIFEGUARD ON DUTY.” And had the viewer decided to take her life into her own hands, what was the reward that awaited? What was the view from the top? Try a mid-century office complex and the southwest corner of the parking lot. There are a few nice trees. It was underwhelming — and completely hysterical.

Eicher and Schlumburger continued their droll presentation of Lawndale’s wilderness with accompanying placards that pointed out various flora and fauna in the area. There were American sweetgums and Eastern Grey Squirrels, but there were also Light Poles, Sedans, and Lawndale staff members. These designations swung from a sincere recognition of urban ecology to the outright silly. The artists even included Cattle Rustler on this info-panel — just ludicrous or some sort of attempt at a deeper history? The only item missing from the info panel was the interactive “How many can YOU spot?” Or maybe a little checklist for the number of species you’d seen? They make those for bird watchers.

more >


Photos: Mary Beth Woiccak.

Photos: Mary Beth Woiccak.

“Architecture is Everywhere”: Reflections on the First-Ever Chicago Architecture Biennial

Yesterday, Curbed’s Patrick Sisson reported that, based on the “unequivocal success” of the first-ever Chicago Architecture Biennial, as Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in a statement, a second biennial is in the works. Here, RDA’s Mary Beth Woiccak shares her photographs and reflects on what she saw when she visited the first biennial.

The first-ever U.S. Architecture Biennial, The State of the Art of Architecture, took place in Chicago this winter. The three-month run ended at the beginning of January. The “big one” that you might have heard of, or even visited, is the International La Biennale do Venezia (Venice Biennial). Chicago wanted to put themselves on the map of biennials; they were in a great position to do so with their city’s architecture, setting, and passion.

A biennial is a conglomeration of numerous events (exhibition, lectures, and films, for example) focused on a particular theme where ideas are shared. The theme for the upcoming 15th Venice Biennale, opening May 28, is “Reporting from the Front.” Chicago’s title was borrowed from Stanley Tigerman’s 1977 conference, when numerous practitioners presented a specific project. For the 2015 participants, the scope was much more open and global. Some common threads that I saw were inequality, public housing, public health, the impact of architecture on communities, experiences with materials, and fabrication.

more >


Banner

Mayoral Runoff Candidates Sylvester Turner and Bill King On Parking, Parks, Pollution, Preservation, and More

In October, OffCite published this summary of the responses to a questionnaire sent to mayoral and at-large candidates. Sylvester Turner, who received the most votes for mayor but not an outright majority, was among the original respondents. We approached Bill King again after he secured a place in the runoff elections, and he responded. Today, as early voting begins, we share the complete responses, as provided by the candidates, below. Early voting runs through December 8; Election Day is December 12.

You can learn more about how the questions were compiled and read full .PDF versions here.

Please provide a brief biographical statement (i.e., education and employment background, any elected offices you have held and years held).

Sylvester Turner: I have served in the Texas House of Representatives [since] 1989, where I am currently Vice Chair of the Appropriations Committee and a member of the Legislative Budget Board. I was Speaker Pro Tem from 2003 to 2009. I chair the Harris County Legislative Delegation. I co-founded the law firm Barnes & Turner in 1983. For the past 18 years, I have owned American Title. I graduated from Klein High School, where I was valedictorian. I received a BA in Political Science from the University of Houston in 1977 and a JD from Harvard Law School in 1980.

Bill King: I grew [up] the son of a union pipefitter, and earned my undergraduate degree from the University of Houston — becoming the first in my family to graduate from college. I went to U of H law school at night, and since then have spent my life building businesses, helping a wide range of local civic organizations, and speaking out on our toughest problems. I am running for Mayor because City Hall has taken its eye off the ball and failed to address the financial crisis that threatens our future, and I have the know-how and the political will to hit these problems head on — and turn our city finances around.

more >


Flij, a temporary tent in the plaza of the Institut du Monde Arabe, 2014. Photo courtesy of Oualalou + Choi.

Flij, a temporary tent in the plaza of the Institut du Monde Arabe, 2014. Photo courtesy of Oualalou + Choi.

“Our responsibility as architects is to invent the form of public-ness:” An Interview of Tarik Oualalou

The seventh annual SPOTLIGHT: The Rice Design Alliance Prize was awarded to OUALALOU+CHOI, formerly KILO Architectures. Founded by Tarik Oualalou and Linna Choi in 2000, the firm has offices in Paris and Casablanca and recently completed the Moroccan Pavilion for Milan Expo 2015. You can see their full talk at The MFAH here. Before Oualalou and Choi accepted the award, Oualalou gave an interview to Cite Editor Raj Mankad, which is presented in an edited form below.

Raj Mankad: You took a tour of Houston with architectural historian Stephen Fox yesterday. Tell me your impressions of Houston?

Tarik Oualalou: It was a pleasure to see it with him because he is knowledgeable in facts and ideas and gossip, which gives an insider understanding of the city. But I have to say, it was a very big surprise. [This is] the first time I have come to Texas. I’ve known Houston through the eyes of our students — the Rice School of Architecture students in our Paris studio. I understand the city through what they say and what they do. Coming here, I realize this city has some incredible things going on and is also incredibly unlucky. Its relationship to landscape is very American in that the landscape defines the city at its core … the parks, the trees lining [the streets], all this is very beautiful.

more >


Left: interior of DZ Bank Building in Berlin, photo by Roland Halbe. 

Right: Frank Gehry, photo by Atelier Courbet.

Left: interior of DZ Bank Building in Berlin, photo by Roland Halbe. Right: Frank Gehry, photo by Atelier Courbet.

Are Architects Artists? A Review of Paul Goldberger’s Biography of Frank Gehry

“There are a lot of interesting and true facts that don’t belong in a biography because they don’t advance the story.”

Paul Goldberger said this at Brazos Bookstore when he was explaining what he learned in writing Building Art: The Life and Work of Frank Gehry (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014, $35). This is a long book, as clean of superfluities as any biography I’ve read, and the full story of a complex man who is still, at the age of 86, building art. As Goldberger’s title implies, the art of Gehry’s building creates buildings that are art and, of course, architecture too. And to make this argument, Building Art contains the facts that are necessary and many that are more than merely interesting.

For instance: Gehry was born Frank Owen Goldberg on February 28, 1929, in Toronto, into a working-class Jewish family. He changed his name for a couple of reasons, but he changed it to “gehry” because, set in lowercase letters, the “g” and “y” sink symmetrically below the horizontal like pylons and the “h” rises in the middle like a steeple. It looks architectural.

more >


The author bikes through Montrose. Photo by Adam Socki.

The author bikes through Montrose. Photo by Adam Socki.

The Future Now: Living Carless in Houston

The new issue of Cite explores “speculative ideas for the near future,” as guest editor Nicola Springer writes in her introduction to the issue. Here, urban planner Carson Lucarelli discusses his choice to sell his car — in one of the most car-friendly cities in the U.S. To see all the content from “The Future Now,” click here.

I live in Houston, and I got rid of my car. I’ve been living carless for a few months, in fact. It’s not that I hate cars; I grew up a “gear head.” Sundays meant helping my dad wash the family vehicles in the driveway. My mom used to say that they looked like they came off the showroom floor. In high school, my buddies and I used to tinker on cars. We were known as the Greasers. We even converted a Jeep to four-wheel drive — no easy task for a couple of 17-year-olds, but it still runs today.

But as I matured and transitioned through my education and training as an urban planner, I began to see automobiles for what they really are — tools of convenience that have facilitated one of the largest shifts in urban development that the world has even seen. Some would argue that that shift is much to the detriment of humanity, community health, and the environment. But this story is not about why auto-centric development has marred progress. Instead, it’s a retrospective, autobiographical approach at how going carless has impacted a sole Houstonian.

more >


Entrance to proposed Houston Arboretum Visitor Center with a vista of restored Gulf Coast prairie. Houston Arboretum.

Entrance to proposed Houston Arboretum Visitor Center with a vista of restored Gulf Coast prairie. Houston Arboretum.

ICYMI: Big Outdoors, Micro-Living, and More

Houston’s past of “big houses, not housing” and a “sensational lack of convivial public space” is being turned on its head. Molly Glentzer reports for the Houston Chronicle on the Houston Arboretum’s plans, which bring yet more firms of national repute to transform our parks, while RE/MAX markets micro-living in EaDo.

Putting the Wilderness Back in Houston Arboretum
Molly Glentzer, Houston Chronicle
Steven Spears of Design Workshop, Reed-Hilderbrand landscape architects, Lake|Flato architects, Texas ecologists from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, transportation planners from Walter P. Moore, cultural planners from SWCA environmental consultants, Texas A&M University forester W. Todd Watson, and park operations experts from ETM Associates reimagine the Houston Arboretum.

Micro-Living Project Coming to EaDo
Laura Cook, RE/MAX
A 24-story development of units less than 500 square feet will sit on a full 1.4 acre block at the Southwest corner of Leeland and Live Oak in East Downtown.

more >