03/08/16 2:30pm

Renovation of Sunset Coffee Building at Allen's Landing, Downtown, Houston, 77002

A shiny new cistern is now in place at the former Sunset Coffee building at Allen’s Landing, which Buffalo Bayou Partnership and Houston First have been redeveloping into an office-topped boat-and-bike-rental spot.  The 1910 coffee roasting facility has once again donned walls after moving past a Summer 2014 minimalist phase, and is currently decked out in a muted Café du Monde orange.

The no-longer-see-through structure is back to limiting the view from the Harris County Jail across the bayou (visible on the far right, above). A set of stairs are in place alongside the new cistern, along with railings around what appears to be the planned rooftop terrace.


Nearing Launch at Allen’s Landing
03/01/16 11:30am

Art Guys Situation #4, Wheatley St. at Pinemont Dr., Garden Oaks/Oak Forest, Houston, 77091

Here’s the southernmost end of the newest work from the Art Guys: the designation of an existing ‘designated natural area’ in Garden Oaks/Oak Forest as part of their series of situation sculptures. The grassy median strip along Wheatley St. between Pinemont Dr. and Tidwell Rd. is evidently one of the no-mow zones labeled by the city’s parks and recreation department that spurred complaints in 2011, when area residents alleged that newly planted trees had blocked sight lines and created hazardous driving conditions.  According to the city’s website, the zones are carefully placed to “help promote the natural regeneration of the urban forest.

As for techniques employed by the artists: per their other pieces in the series, the duo appears to have left the area alone. They have, however, provided GPS coordinates and a Google map to help visitors avoid losing their way.


Adventures on Wheatley St.
09/15/14 3:45pm

734 E. 8th St., Houston Heights

734 E. 8th St., Houston HeightsIf you’re wondering what an expanse of fake grass is doing in the back yard of a $1.345 million home around the corner from Antidote, Premium Draught, and the Sonoma Wine Bar in the Heights, the architect of the 4-bedroom, 3,769-sq.-ft. structure has an answer for you: “The synthetic grass was the owner’s idea, which had my full support,” Cameron Armstrong tells Swamplot, after an email from a reader alerted us to the astroturfing issue. “It’s 100% recycled material, and significantly reduced our landscape irrigation needs,” the architect notes, “which gained the project some points during LEED certification (Silver).”

Ouch! Does learning that last bit give you a brain cramp? If so, you’re not alone:


No Mow
03/31/14 4:00pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: GETTING RID OF WASTEFULNESS Trashing Old Building Materials“It amazes me that we’ve become so rich as a society that we can collectively afford to have fashions of home improvements that will go in and out of style (although remain perfectly functional) the same way clothes do. The funniest to me is when you see on one of these HGTV shows someone espousing all the right ‘green’ mantras, but the first thing they do when they get the house it tear out all the perfectly functioning appliances, cabinets, counters and carpet…etc to be thrown in a dumpster. All the while feeling smug about how sustainable the place is because they are putting in bamboo flooring . . .” [longcat, commenting on Comment of the Day: Your ‘Updates’ Are Dating You] Illustration: Lulu

07/19/13 4:00pm

Some of the green that goes with this early player in energy-conscious home building in Bellaire could be the $200,000 price increase over its sale last July, when it went for $1.35 million. The ca. 2002 limestone-and-stucco property with Texas Hill Country stylin’ — designed back then for her own family by architect Kathleen Reardon — popped back up on the market earlier this week with a $1.55 million asking price. Some of the enviro-sensitive elements are visible from the get-go, such as the deep overhangs on the eaves. Others are buried deep in the lot — where a network of caverns 250-ft. deep use underground temperatures to regulate the air conditioning and heating. Solar panels and low-water landscaping also play the green card.


06/20/13 2:00pm

The Mirabeau B. condos apartments in Hyde Park take a lot from the city: The sales center, for example, comprised a pair of recycled shipping containers that were powered by the sun. And now atop the building at 2410 Waugh a photovoltaic canopy is hoarding juice for each of the 14 units; cisterns are stealing rainwater that’s then used on the landscaping and rooftop greenery. Even the development’s moniker has been plagiarized. And so it makes a lot of sense that one of the building’s interior features is inspired by something just as local: a transformer box and a snarl of wires. Houston artist Randy Twaddle, for whom power lines have become something of a muse, installed 65 of these gypsum cement tiles in a 7 ft. by 25 ft. wall at the building’s entrance inside its parking garage. Each 40-pound tile, fabricated by Dallas firm Topocast at a lab at UT Arlington, features a 3D reproduction of one of the particularly twisted scenes that Twaddle can’t seem to help noticing.


03/15/13 11:00am

ACTUALLY, SAY CRITICS, ‘ONE BIN FOR ALL’ MAYBE NOT BEST IDEA Mayor Parker’s prize-winning garbage program was questioned yesterday by activists and environmentalists, reports Hair Balls’ Vanessa Piña — especially because the $1 million the city won from Mayor Bloomberg seems awfully puny in light of the expected $100 million the new sorting facility could cost. And, reports Piña, critics are suggesting that “One Bin for All” seems kinda unnecessary: “There is a successful partnership between the city and waste management, and material is daily being handled. Waste Management’s single stream sorting facilities are running at an estimated 50 percent of capacity and can easily handle more if the city will only provide more carts to our citizens,” says Leo Gold. And here’s Dr. Robert Bullard, public affairs dean at Texas Southern: “For someone who has done research and written more than 18 books on this stuff it is rather odd that we would be opting for an unproven, risky idea.” [Hair Balls; previously on Swamplot] Photo of recycling bin in the Heights: Charles Kuffner

03/13/13 2:00pm

GARBAGE PROGRAM STILL ‘ABSOLUTELY DOABLE,’ SAYS MAYOR PARKER So Houston’s “One Bin for All” idea didn’t win the $5 million grand prize in Mayor Bloomberg’s philanthrophic challenge — but it did tie for second. And that means $1 million will be coming Houston’s way, along with $50,000 extra for being so darn lovable and winning the “fan favorite” vote online. And what’s the city going to do with all this dough? The Houston Chronicle’s Carol Christian reports that the consolation prizes might be just enough to get the program off the ground: Though the idea to combine garbage, recycling, and yard waste into one big bin for mechanized sorting later has been around for awhile, Mayor Parker says, “This award will allow us the seed money to begin the process . . . We have thoroughly researched the technology. It’s absolutely doable.” Construction on a new sorting facility could begin as early as 2014, reports Christian. [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Photo of recycling bin in the Heights: Charles Kuffner

Shoppers on 19th St. will soon be able to pop in between stops for vintage cowboy boots and vinyl LPS for a few gallons of non-toxic paint, now that a second location of the Green Painter is opening Saturday. When the original store debuted in 2011 beside New Living in the Rice Village, the owners were claiming it was the country’s first non-toxic retail paint store. The new Heights location at 321 W. 19th St., shown here, will be in the 2,600-sq.-ft. suite that used to house Jubilee. You can’t miss it: Just look for the lamppost that’s been painted green.

Photos: Allyn West

02/25/13 10:00am

IF YOU CAN’T BEAT ’EM . . . Two single-family houses in Midtown, 1505 Rosalie and 1917 Ruth (pictured here), have been home since 2010 to an assortment of yoga instructors, police sergeants, and college students, all of whom share the cooking and cleaning in a cooperative housing project, reports the Houston Chronicle’s Nancy Sarnoff. Part of Houston Access to Urban Sustainability, the houses require all tenants to sign a “sustainability pledge” before they move in, but that doesn’t mean it’s all rainbows and rain barrels: “Each person is responsible for contributing five hours of labor to the house per week. Those who shirk their domestic duties are fined $10 for every hour missed.” Sarnoff adds: “There are regular parties and events, though the housemates are quick to stamp out comparisons to hippie communes or college frat houses. Such misconceptions frustrate Rabea Benhalim, a corporate finance attorney who says some think the residents can’t be professional and they all do drugs and sleep together.” [Houston Chronicle ($)] Photo of 1917 Ruth St.: HAUS

Animal bones, mirror shards, scrap lumber destined for a landfill: Dan Phillips builds houses up in Walker County out of almost anything he can get his hands on. The former Sam Houston State dance instructor finished this one, known as the Charleston House, in 2004. It’s got a hallway floor composed of corks (at right) and a fence (above) detailed with the wine bottles from which those corks very well might have been popped. Phillips’s organization Phoenix Commotion tells Swamplot that he likes to sell to low-income families and hungry, if not starving, artists, who often help build the houses themselves. But the Charleston House is one that’s changed hands a few times. Now it’s ended up on the “regular market.” The 935-sq.-ft. 3-bedroom at 912 University was originally listed last fall at $899,900. Then it came down a bit to a rather more sober $89,900.

Photos: HAR

10/27/11 10:16am

A new report from Rice University’s Shell Center for Sustainability includes a few suggestions for the future of Galveston: step all development back from the beach in anticipation of continuing erosion; use a map of the island’s cataloged geohazards to guide where development should go; or permanently abandon the west end of the island entirely. That third recommendation comes with 2 possible natural enforcement mechanisms: a projected future hurricane headed for the western tip of the island, or a combination of sea-level rise and continuing retreat of the shoreline. All 3 scenarios encourage concentrating residents and visitors in the “higher, thicker, wider” East End. A collaboration between earth scientists and the School of Architecture chock-full of charts and diagrams, the Atlas of Sustainable Strategies for Galveston Island includes a series of large-scale design proposals cooked up by Rice architecture students.


06/21/11 5:47pm

Hanging out on the roof of Houston’s new Central Permitting and Green Resource Center at 1002 Washington Ave.: Solar panels, anchored by the first-ever commercial installation of Metalab Studio’s new PV-Pod. The local architecture firm developed the hollow high-density polyethylene pods with support from a UH Green Building Components grant. There’s one pod for each panel, and each is filled up with just enough water to resist required wind forces. This kind of assembly is much simpler to install than a typical photovoltaic-panel rack system with concrete ballast blocks, claims Metalab’s Andrew Vrana. It also allows for a more flexible layout. The new permit building opened for business yesterday.


04/18/11 10:53am

Opened over the weekend: a 1,500-sq.-ft. space at 6115 Kirby in the Rice Village that its owners are claiming is the country’s first non-toxic retail paint store. The Green Painter, a project of green-building supply house and organic-mattress showroom New Living, takes over a former tile store next door to its parent company. Partner Jeff Kaplan says most of the paint and coatings sold at the Green Painter — including its own NOVOC brand and a lower-priced line of contractor-grade paints — won’t have any volatile organic compounds at all, but the store does carry one line of paints for cabinets, trim, and exteriors that qualifies as a low-VOC product.

Photo: Adam Brackman

01/13/11 2:26pm

Sometime before
the Christmas holiday last year, “high winds” caused a part of one of the wind turbines mounted to the top of downtown Houston’s Hess Tower to “detach” from its mounting point. “Two pieces of the debris fell to the street. Nobody was injured,” Hess Corporation spokesperson Mari Pat Sexton tells Swamplot today. Sexton had no comment on circulating rumors that one or more of the the pieces struck a car on the street.

The incident helps explain why the whirling turbines, installed as a featured element at the top of the new 29-story tower last summer, have been silent since mid-December. In the photo above, taken by a HAIF commenter shortly before Christmas, the turbines appear to be missing. “After the event occurred, (the turbines) were locked down,” Sexton says, adding she is unaware of the turbines’ current status or whether there are plans to replace them. “The building is still under construction.”

The Gold LEED certified skyscraper, named Discovery Tower until Hess signed on to lease the whole thing 2 years ago, sits at the northern edge of Discovery Green, a short walk from Minute Maid Park. It was developed by Trammell Crow, designed by Gensler, is the thirtieth-tallest building in Houston, and was the first in town to feature — and draw some power from — wind turbines. Here’s how they looked (and sounded) last year, before the incident: