Category Results

Category: Infrastructure

The METRO Referendum: Are Voters Just Along for the Ride?

Though national politics get most of the attention, several major choices about the future of the local built environment will greet Houston voters at the ballot box. Colley Hodges cuts through the morass around the METRO referendum so you can make a choice. If you would like to get involved before Tuesday’s vote, you can join in the “Pro-Transit Flash Mob” this Saturday at 12:30 pm. OffCite’s next post will feature METRO board member Christof Spieler, so stay tuned.

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett described the METRO referendum facing Houston voters in the coming weeks as “a little bit of a convoluted ballot item.” He wasn’t joking. If you’re the type who only evaluates local propositions in the voting booth, good luck on this one. You’ll wish you’d done your homework. Here’s the language you see on the ballot:

Metropolitan Transit Authority, Referendum on Street Improvement Mobility Program

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Exterior of Torre David, Caracas. All photos courtesy Daniel Schwartz and The U-TT Chair at ETH Zürich

Interview with Alfredo Brillembourg about Torre David and the Future of the Global South

Just a few weeks after winning the Golden Lion at the XIII Venice Architecture Biennale, Alfredo Brillembourg of Urban-Think Tank (U-TT), spoke September 19 at the Rice Design Alliance Fall 2012 lecture series addressing the future of architectural education. (Watch the lecture on YouTube.) With offices in Caracas, São Paulo, New York, and Zürich, Urban-Think Tank is an interdisciplinary design practice dedicated to high-level research and design.

At this year’s biennale, U-TT, along with Justin McGuirk and Iwan Baan, presented Torre David: Gran Horizonte, an installation documenting an unfinished 45-story office tower in the center of Caracas designed by the distinguished Venezuelan architect Enrique Gómez. Centro Financiero Confinanzas (as it was originally known) was almost complete when it was abandoned following the death of its developer in 1993 and the collapse of the Venezuelan economy in 1994. Today, it is the improvised home of a community of more than 750 families, living in an extralegal and tenuous occupation that some have called a vertical slum. Torre David: Informal Vertical Communities, edited by Brillemburg and Hubert Klumpner with photos by Baan, will be in bookstores this month.

Prior to the lecture, Scott Cartwright and Jenny Lynn Weitz Amaré-Cartwright of WAC Design Studio sat down with Alfredo Brillembourg and asked him questions about Torre David and squatting in Venezuela. This post follows on a response to the lecture by Alfonso Hernandez.

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Ideal X and the Berth of Container Shipping in Houston

The current issue of Cite features a special section on the Port of Houston, including an intriguing history, oral histories of Father Rivers Patout and ship pilot Lou Vest, gorgeous photographs by Vest, and ideas for reconnecting the city to its port. You can subscribe to Cite online or find us at independent bookstores if you are at all curious about, well, why Houston even exists! One key story the new issue did not cover was told by Danny Marc Samuels in the Winter 2003 Cite (56). Few realize that the first docking of a container ship was right here in Houston. Don’t know why that event is important, why the global economy as we know it began that day, why an entire way of life and work on the port was soon wiped out? Then read on in this excerpt of “Port of Call: The Deep-Water Ambitions of a Bayou City” or download the pdf from our archives.

On April 26, 1956, when the freighter Ideal X carried the first load of 58 containers — steel boxes eight feet by 8 feet by 35 feet — from Newark, New Jersey, to Houston, it was not, on the face of it, a shipping revolution. But the eventual success of this shipping concept transformed not only the shipping industry but the nature of the global economy as well as the character of port cities around the world. When a producer could load a container in a factory anywhere in the world and ship it directly to a consumer anywhere else in the world quickly, at low cost, and in relative security, the whole equation of supply and demand shifted. Every point of production became directly connected to every point of consumption. A new kind of global commerce was born.

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Crop from illustration by John Earles

Westheimer on Foot: Home of the Hip. Walk of the Brave.

The new issue of Cite (89) is available at Brazos Bookstore, CAMH, MFAH, Issues, Domy, River Oaks Bookstore, and other stores. You can subscribe here. The issue has already generated a good deal of talk, including a piece by David Theis calling for an investment in Westheimer. Let us know if his vision matches your own in the comment section?

A few years ago, my wife, Susanne, and I made our first excursion to Anvil, the Westheimer curve’s cocktail bar with high standards, to see what the young people were up to. The bar was already celebrated, even in the national media, for its pre-Prohibition era concoctions. We were also intrigued by owners Bobby Heugel, Kevin Floyd, and Steve Flippo’s conversion of an old commercial building into a contemporary space. They were continuing the welcome trend set at Café Brazil, Hugo’s, and Empire Café of renovating old buildings rather than demolishing them.

We went and we enjoyed. Watching the bartenders (they happily eschew the trendy term “mixologists”) strain mightily as they shook their cocktails was surprisingly entertaining, and we compared notes on our drinks with the thrill-seekers beside us at the bar. It’s quite possible that between us we had The Brave (tequila and sotol, for starters), the Kentucky Cane (rum, rye, and more), the Americano (campari, vermouth, and soda), and a Waxing Poetic (cinnamon-infused bourbon, absinthe, and more). I may have also thrown down a craft beer. All this as we admired the handcrafted-ness of the space itself: the reclaimed meat locker doors that led to the bathrooms and the tongue-and-groove flooring used as tabletops.

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David Robinson leads a discussion of a plan for Dunlavy Street at the site for the Montrose HEB. Photo by Chris Curry.

Architect as Politician: An Interview with David Robinson

David Robinson is an architect who has served in a number of different public positions—chair of the urban design committee for the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects, president of the Neartown Super Neighborhood, and president of the Super Neighborhood Alliance among others. He sat down with Raj Mankad, editor of Cite, at Empire Cafe for an interview on September 20.

Raj Mankad: Why not stick to designing buildings? What motivated you to enter politics and, now, run for City Council?

David Robinson: Since studying architecture in college and really even before that, I have always had an interest in the public realm.

RM: But why politics?

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Trinity River in early 1900s

Today's Drought Presages Future Catastrophe

In this special series, OffCite focuses on water and waterways. If this interests you, be sure to check out the Rice Design Alliance civic forum, Water: Challenges Facing the Houston Region, Wednesday August 31, 6:30 pm, The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston’s Brown Auditorium.

“It may not be a nice thing to talk about around dinnertime, but you want them flushing those toilets [in Dallas-Fort Worth],” said Dr. James Lester, Vice President of the Houston Advanced Research Center, at the Rice Design Alliance civic forum on water scarcity held August 24. The audience chuckled and the scientist hammed it up. “That water molecule you are drinking today may have been through some other person up in Dallas-Fort Worth in the last few months, but it is still a water molecule.” His humor, though disturbing, was a needed moment of lightness during an evening of alarming analyses about Houston’s drought.

To see ten minutes of highlights from the forum, play the embedded video below or watch the video on Youtube. You can also watch the full video at the bottom of this post.

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Galveston Bay, photo from United States Geological Survey, Wikimedia Commons

Is It Honorable to Choose Your Lawn Over Our Bay?

In this special series, OffCite focuses on water and waterways. If this interests you, be sure to check out the Rice Design Alliance civic forum, Water: Challenges Facing the Houston Region, Wednesdays August 24 and 31, 6:30 pm, The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston’s Brown Auditorium.

Last week, I led a discussion of Kwame Anthony Apiah’s The Honor Code with a group of Rice University freshmen. In the book, Apiah explores moral revolutions. He finds that appeals to honor, not rational arguments, make the difference. When 19th-century British workers saw the trans-Atlantic slave trade as an affront to their own collective honor and when Chinese literati saw foot-binding as a source of national shame, those practices came to a rapid end. Appiah does not engage in this history as an academic exercise. He challenges us to use honor as a means to end injustices today.

In today’s Houston Chronicle, John Jacob’s op-ed decries our existing rates of water consumption. He focuses on an economic justification for conservation, but I’m going to recast his argument in terms of honor and morality.

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Homes in the Northwest Park Utility District at Atwood Grove and Mimosa Grove off Tomball Parkway

On MUDs and Drought

In this special series, OffCite focuses on water and waterways. If this interests you, be sure to check out the Rice Design Alliance civic forum, Water: Challenges Facing the Houston Region, Wednesdays August 24 and 31, 6:30 pm, The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston’s Brown Auditorium.

As editor of Cite, I have seen all kinds of houses, but a few months back while on the way to a photo shoot with Jack Thomson I saw a little suburban street that qualifies as one of the strangest I’ve ever seen. From a distance, it looked like a scene from 2001: A Space Odyssey. A huge blue monolith shot up from behind new houses. We pulled off the Tomball Parkway, parked at some distance, and cautiously approached. The monolith, on closer inspection, was a water well and tank for the Northwest Park Municipal Utility District or MUD.

Most Houstonians have no idea where their drinking water comes from, but for the folks in the MUD the opposite is true. Their water supply looms over them, at once more precarious and secure.

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OffCite Goes to China: High Speed Rail

In this series, Christof Spieler gives regular reports on his trip to China for a special issue of Cite. Read more about RDA’s China initiative here, which includes a knockout lecture series in the Fall.

The Beijing-Shanghai high speed rail line opened on June 30; I rode it four days later. Cruising along smoothly at 190 mph, I could not help but be impressed by the ambition of this project. It’s 800 miles of new, double-track, grade-separated electrified railway. Eighty-six percent is elevated, including two major river crossings; where a hill got in the way it was obviated by one of 22 tunnels. Twenty brand new stations serve cities along the way, and the Beijing and Shanghai stations were completely rebuilt to serve high speed rail. Imagine traveling from Houston to Atlanta by train in 5 hours and you get the idea.

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OffCite Goes to China: High-Speed Hub

In this series, Christof Spieler gives a daily report on his trip to China for a special issue of Cite. Read more about RDA’s China initiative here, which includes a knockout lecture series in the Fall.

Beijing South is an immaculate and well-organized high speed rail station as you’ll ever see. This is the Beijing hub for high speed rail, including the new line to Shanghai. It’s a shiny new building, completed in 2008. It’s a perfect oval in plan, though that’s best appreciated in satellite photos, not in person. Two concourses — one below the rail tracks and one above them — connect to bus terminals, taxi lanes, underground parking and a subway station. Inside, there are ticket offices, waiting areas decorated with palms, and retail — food, books, gifts — catering to travelers.

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