The Building and the Bayou: Views of The Dunlavy

In the Kitchen, patrons point their phones toward the bayou. Instead of Instagramming their meals, diners at the small restaurant in the Dunlavy train their cameras past the chandeliers to the sprawling live oak that envelops one of the restaurant’s fully glazed façades. The interior fades into the periphery and focus shifts to Buffalo Bayou Park. The reflected glare of the chandeliers is the only reminder of the shell at the edge of the building before the green patchwork of leaves and branches. But a turn of the head reveals open sky looking down on Lost Lake — the re-created pond whose banks failed in the 1970s. Broad-shouldered highrises loom on the horizon.

These are the impressions of the Dunlavy. It delineates the border of bayou-side development. It is a perch through which to view Houston’s most iconic landscape — a bayou box seat. It is a hovering mass behind the trees — an eyebrow at the banks of the bayou. What you see depends on where you stand.

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Photo: Kate Cairoli.

Postcard from Copenhagen

My husband and I and our 1-year old daughter visited Copenhagen for two weeks while he worked from his company’s office. We tried to imagine ourselves living here in this happiest of cities. We studied the faces of residents, peered through windows of coffee shops and bakeries, borrowed bikes and joined the masses in bike lanes, rushed outside when the sun was shining and stayed outside, layered in blankets and jackets, when the fog and rain rolled back in. We sized up their biking habits and wondered if Houston, an equally flat city, could embrace some of this culture.

After two weeks of poking and prodding, scoping and scrutinizing, I came up with an unscientific analysis of three steps toward embracing biking in our city.

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CiteSeeing: Hollie Tatnell’s Grave

OffCite invites short essays, reviews, and observations on specific moments and places. Interested in contributing your own? Let us know.

The way the girls kept their distance made me think the dog wasn’t theirs. They stood in their yard facing each other but looking across their shoulders at the small dying animal in front of the house. If it was theirs, maybe they were so disturbed by its death – the violence and uncertainty – that they left him alone. The woman who hit the dog was the only one who gave any impression of urgency. But she stood impotently outside the car looking and wouldn’t move past the open driver’s side door. Death is ultimately a private moment. The dog was still and quiet in the road.

I drove slowly past this scene in Hearne, Texas, on the way to see my grandmother. I had traveled the two hours northwest from my home in Houston because of a story I remember my grandfather telling me nearly a decade before he died. So many years later, I wasn’t sure if I had made it up or gathered it from a movie or book and added it to my memories of him. It was about a grave in the middle of a road. A cemetery had been moved, a body left behind, and now cars had to drive around the headstone. I hoped that my grandmother had heard the story, and that, true or not, she would remember where it came from.

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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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

“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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