A Park-Size Tunnel Entrance Concept for Downtown

How about a public park that also serves as a multi-story entrance to Downtown’s extensive underground tunnel system? One that might even provide a little natural light or outdoor seating for below-the-deck diners? This pie-in-the-basement concept for the block-size surface parking lot between One and Two Shell Plaza made an appearance in the Chronicle‘s real estate blog last week — though the architecture firm Gensler had first posted it online this past spring. For the company’s own “Town Square Initiative,” designers were charged with envisioning a new type of town square for various cities around the globe. Tunnel Loop Square, for the block surrounded by Walker, McKinney, Louisiana, and Milam, was one of several proposals stemming from the firm’s Houston office.


Rendering: Gensler

41 Comment

  • cue the snarky comments about homeless people downtown…

  • I think it’s a great idea. I personally think it should have extended hours since it’s not actually in the tunnel. It should also have restaurants, bars, and local retail!

  • Gives a new meaning to “money pit.”

  • While I generally pleased to see another park downtown is already well supplied with ample public green space in my opinion. This is not true in the nearby multi-residential neighborhoods that surround downtown. As the population density in our inner-city neighborhoods increases we should be creating more “public squares” that will break up an otherwise increasingly gerbilesque urban landscape.

  • When the question of “who pays for it?” isn’t asked, you can come up with some pretty cool concepts.

  • I like it too, but it would need physical barriers to prevent people from driving into it. Downtown driving does something bad to seemingly normal people.

  • I like the concept but it needs more hellmouth.

  • We need to turn the tunnel system into a public souq, similar to those in many Arab cities. A cool, covered area connected to the city streets that acts as an open market for various vendors and restaurateurs. Replace the bland tunnel surfaces with quality materials, carve out small market stalls, and offer them cheaply for any kind of business use. Connect the tunnels to street level every couple blocks. Each entry area could also house market stalls to offer a transition into the tunnels. This would help provide the “street” life that lacks in downtown Houston. Cheap rents could attract vendors from every type of ethnicity that has come to Houston. It would be a real attraction worth visiting.


  • The most valuable undeveloped block in downtown Houston, no?

  • unnecessary as we already have a couple of parks that operate as central gathering areas for their respective downtown areas, but i could always use some more descending staircases for biking.

  • So instead of enlivening the street level, they propose to sink the plaza ($$$) and create a space that will not really be used. (See Dallas’ sunken plaza space in downtown). Connection to the tunnel system is needed, but a whole city block seems much. The rendering doesn’t even show real engagement to the street other than spots to look down on the space. This concept harkens back to the 1970’s.

  • No ground floor retail. Get rid of it.

  • @Carpetbagger: The Watershed Market coming to EaDo will be our souq… http://watershedmarket.com/

  • @9 Exactly. This block has got to be worth, what $10MM+?

  • This is the kind of thing I personally envisioned for the place where the old Foley’s used to be.

    But this is only a block away, so maybe it’s not so bad.

    I’d prefer something grassy like a regular park, but with an entrance to the tunnels that looks more like a subway entrance instead of all this geometric concrete.

  • I think this is a cool idea. Y’all have no idea how many people coming to Houston for the first or even second or third time have no idea downtown is connected by a series of tunnels with retail and dining. A big, ambitious project like this will make those tunnels harder to miss.

    And there’s no need for grassy areas or parks. When we have flying cars, all transportation will be well off the ground and all our existing pavement can be ripped up and turned into beautiful turf.

  • By way of reference since I can’t visualize it, what section of tunnels is under this lot? What businesses down there now would be around this plaza space?

  • Thankfully we’re not a 3rd world country where we buy our stuff from a Souq. Souqs grew out of necessity within a walking distance of large populous, you can’t just build one and they will come.

  • I’ll chime in on the homeless downtown – its a real problem the city chooses to ignore except when big events come to town. Those that work downtown may have noticed the sudden disappearance of all the homeless people right before the Final Four came to town a few years back. A few weeks later, they all returned. Where did they go? That’s peculiar, isn’t it?

    Recently, a few female co-workers have walked to the theater district parking garage from their offices late in the evening through the park near city hall. They experienced having to walk past multiple homeless people defecating in the stairwells and were even kicked when trying to side step them. Unfortunately, access to the parking garages from the tunnels is not possible after 7 pm. They lock the tunnels down. Downtown will never come close to its potential as long as the city continues to ignore the homeless issue. Personally, I’m against more social programs – they don’t fix root causes. All they need to do is strictly enforce existing laws on the books.

  • I like it. Did the architect merely make a visual sketch, or did he brainstorm practical considerations like how to drain it?

  • I’ve been seriously considering getting a bunch of bus tickets (or vouchers so money doesn’t go to waste if they don’t use them) to California and start handing them out to the homeless.

  • @commmonsense

    The problem is that they will likely try to resell them rather than use them.

  • CS- Send them to the Bum Mecca: San Diego.

  • Jason C, This block is surrounded by One Shell Plaza to the west, Two Shell Plaza to the North, the Bank One Center to the east, and the Kinder Morgan building to the south (former El Paso/Tenneco bldg). There is a ‘tunnel loop’ that circles this block through each of the buildings I’ve listed.

  • The park does look cool, but as someone who worked in Shell Plaza for years, what the area really needs is a 20 story parking garage, not a park. If you still want another park, put one on the roof. There is an existing park one block from this site (City Hall/Tranquility Park)on the other side of One Shell, and Discovery Green an easy walk away.

  • A big part of Houston’s homeless problem is that the State of Texas has “chosen” the city as it’s state dumping ground from TDC and the state mental facilities. To reduce the homeless population city officials have to force the state to “repatriate” these incomers to the place they legally resided previously. Then again other parts of Texas are just fine dumping their trash on Houston.

  • I think it’s very cool. A gathering area for both the Eloi and the Morlocks.

  • I used to be so impressed with our tunnel system, but after experiencing the amazing underground “world” that Toronto has created in its tunnel system, Houston’s was revealed to be as lame and mediocre as most everything else we do now. The will to do anything great, or better, or heaven-forbid, best, consistently escapes the political and business leaders of this city, county, and state. It’s truly sad.

  • This is the ideal design for a large homeless encampment.

    On the other hand, if they’re all crowded into this thing, it should make Main St. somewhat less adventurous to walk.

    Getting change from the businesspeople exiting the tunnels also sounds like a better option than attempting to get change from random passersby on Main.

  • I think this is a good idea but it can be improved by adding glass ceilings enclosing large open indoor spaces like Copley place in Boston (Prudential Center, Back Bay):


    Again, good idea to start out but it can be improved by looking at good examples around the country.

  • I like it. The tunnels are perhaps Houston’s bigger secrets. Maybe this will let them be open on the weekends.

  • Public Service Announcement:
    Populace = noun, inhabitants of a place
    Populous = adjective, containing many people
    Populus = Latin name for a genus of trees in the family Salicaceae (poplar, aspen, cottonwood)

    That is all.

  • I agree with Sadz. The only practical use for that block would be a parking tower. Make it fabulous. Retail on the bottom and a garden on the top, some offices on the upper floors as well.

    The tunnel angle is overblown because there is nothing in the tunnels. The tunnels are a way for people who work downtown to avoid the streets, walk to appointments, go to lunch (almost all overpriced and mediocre) and go to a convenience store to buy a last minute gift for a co-worker. There is really nothing else down there.

  • Cool idea except I would replace any artistic wall-mounted inscription like “Prometheus, teacher in every art, brought the fire that hath proved to mortals a means to mighty ends” with “Rain, rain go away, come back another day.”

    Am sure that security peeps will shoo away vagrants and gangsters during the day but nighttime will be a hell-mouth mosh-pit you’ll be hosing down in the mornings. Don’t forget, like it or not (read:agree or not), downtown will become more of a free-train-ride-downtown for more and more people as the train network expands so a pit becomes a magnet not just for office workers but also for those who have nothing else they want to do.

    Agree Toronto’s awesome covered city and Montreal’s too makes Houston’s look pale. But we’re in Houston and our covered city is miles above (miles south anyways) Dallas’ at least. It should be better, yes, but we need to walk first, not run, and this pit, if it can somehow avoid other issues (vagrants, filling with with water, security) is a step in a direction of improvements downtown.

  • Finally, Historical Bulldozer addresses the elephant in the room: one day it will look like this: http://i.telegraph.co.uk/multimedia/archive/02383/sandy-ny-plaza-2_2383334k.jpg

  • Who’s gong to address the Aardvark in the room and talk about the fact that this block can be developed as a money producer in a form of a building or a parking garage, or a money loser as an unnecessary green space or some landscaping exercise to feed non existent pedestrian traffic to a not so great destination.

  • Most of the tunnels downtown are privately owned. Unless you are generically refering to “City of Houston”, or “Houston”, as the public and private sector, realize that the blandness of the tunnel system in Houston is a result of our building owners, not the City. I am not sure where the ownership of the Toronto system lies, but probably, as Canadians are more “we” oriented rather than “I” oriented, there is some public involvement in making them what they are. That would include adequate tax dollars for maintenance, and we won’t even adequatly support enough taxes for streets that don’t destroy your tires and car as you drive on them.

  • sjh; I was referring both the public and private sector, which is why I mentioned political and business leaders. It takes both to pull off what Toronto has done. Houston, currently has neither the guts or will to create something incredible, unique, or even moderately badass. The naysayers are in control, especially at the ballot box.

  • Please *don’t* give Houston homeless tickets to San Diego. San Diego is already sending their homeless to Portland– which has plenty of homeless folks already.

  • 6pm. Let’s lock the doors.