11/10/10 1:42pm

A small fleet of modified shipping containers outfitted with adjustable solar panels will soon serve as mobile emergency power supplies for the city of Houston. City officials are currently negotiating a contract to purchase 25 of the units, which are based on a prototype originally deployed as the green-themed sales office of a Montrose condo project. The solar-powered containers, called SPACE (“Solar Powered Adaptive Container for Everyone“), were created by a joint venture of local architecture firm Metalab, Joey Romano’s Harvest Moon Development, and design firm ttweak (best known for the popular “Houston. It’s Worth It.” marketing campaign). City sustainability director Laura Spanjian announced at the opening of the University of Houston’s Green Building Components Expo last month that SPACE and energy company Ameresco had been selected through a public-application process to supply the city with the mobile “solar generators.” Spanjian now tells Swamplot the contract should be complete “in a few weeks.”


10/05/10 12:19pm

A New York land development firm called Coventry Development has just announced grand plans to establish a giant eco-friendly, mixed-use development modeled heavily on the ecological principles first demonstrated decades ago by The Woodlands — on an 1,800-acre site just south of that community. It’s now a pine forest near the intersections of I-45 North, the Hardy Toll Road, and the projected path of the Grand Parkway, about 30 miles north of Downtown Houston. Some portions of that forest will remain: Plans call for a 150-acre nature preserve along one section of the community’s northern reaches, which stretch to Spring Creek. South of that, and along the northern border of the Grand Parkway, the developers are planning a town center with the hallmarks of major mixed-use employment centers: office space and retail, a medical district, townhouses and apartments, and single-family homes. But they’ve gone ahead and given the place a formula-tested suburban-housing name: Springwoods Village.

Springwoods Realty Company has owned most of this land since the 1960s. Why develop it now? Because it’s now pretty clear that the Grand Parkway will actually be built right at the property’s southern border, the developers say. Plus, there’s development on all sides now.


06/14/10 8:26am

The ambitious mixed-use “eco urban” project shown here — intended for the site of the former AstroWorld — was the idea of a south Florida developer who had the property under contract for an extended period of time, a source tells Swamplot. Called Epicentre Houston, Vantage Plus Corp.’s gargantuan development was meant to be a “city within a city” — combining typical mixed-use elements (1.6 million sq. ft. of shops, 5.2 million sq. ft. of offices, 1500 hotel rooms, and 1840 residences) with 1.9 million sq. ft. of medical space, all within walking distance of Reliant Park, the light-rail line, and the South Loop Sam’s Club.

The developer was scheduled to close on the property approximately 5 months ago, but was unable to, says the source. The 104-acre lot just south of the South Loop has since been sold to Fort Worth developer Michael Mallick, who doesn’t appear to be hiding any fancy renderings of transparent banana-shaped multipurpose buildings up his sleeve.

Oh, but what might have been! More zoomy images of the theme-park redo:


Opened yesterday across from the Taco Cabana drive-thru at 2502 Algerian Way, just north of the intersection of Kirby and 59: Randy Evans’s Haven. Evans, who last ran the kitchen at Brennan’s, teamed up with investors Debbie Jaramillo and Rhea Wheeler to produce a certified green restaurant, allowing fans of fine local food to dine on seasonal “farm-to-market” cuisine without having to visit either.

The 5,200-sq.-ft. restaurant was designed by Jim Herd, Geoffrey Brune, and Melanie Pereira of Collaborative Projects, who employed their own menu of environmentally conscious building strategies, including open ceilings, minimal finishes, and refurbished scratch-and-dent kitchen equipment. There’s a raised-bed chef’s garden on site, as well as a parking lot on a raised surface of concrete.


11/16/09 1:03pm

A reader sends in photos of the new Hess Tower, formerly known as Discovery Tower, under construction adjacent to Discovery Green Downtown.

You can see the tower isn’t quite finished yet but it sure looks like that plaza in front of it already is! Though really, all those office workers look a little young, don’t you think?

More pics:


What fancy high-tech firm just moved into that shimmering new green building off 290 at 43rd St.?

It’s your FBI. And hiding behind those dark shades in the new Houston Field Office:

The building includes a crisis management operations center, room for several crime and gang task forces, an arrest processing area where suspects are brought in, polygraphed, interviewed, booked and fingerprinted.

There’s a “complaint duty” office where anyone can walk in and lodge their concern with an officer on duty.

It also features a heavily equipped exercise room, a clinic headed by fulltime occupational health nurse Tisha Millard and the annual Citizens Academy led by Ronnie Cutlip, outreach coordinator.

The building includes the requisite extra-long-walkway anti-porte-cochere, specially designed to thwart vehicular attacks. But its real innovation is the external green-glass skin, hung away from the building on a lightweight metal frame, and specially formulated so the agents inside will be able to keep their cool when that Texas heat is on:


10/06/09 5:54pm

Meanwhile in Ranch Estates, architect Karen Lantz is deconstructing this 1950 Rancher, piece by piece. Her goal: building a new home on the site — but only after finding new homes for most of the materials that are already there.

This type of disassembly is almost unheard of in Houston, where relatively low local landfill tipping fees make crushing and dumping a much cheaper alternative. After 5 local demo companies turned down the work, Lantz decided to contract it all herself. She says she expects to be able to recover and donate 90 percent of the materials in the Banks St. home. Working with an appraiser, she’s been sending materials to the city’s new Reuse Warehouse, Habitat for Humanity of Northwest Harris County, the Houston Habitat Restore, Century Asphalt Materials, and Lone Star Disposal.

“The house going up will absolutely be going for LEED, hopefully the highest rating,” Lantz tells Swamplot. It’s intended for her and her husband. Lantz, the founding president of Houston Mod, says it’s been difficult to convince clients to commit time, energy, or funds toward this sort of attention to materials. Since she’s now preaching the benefits of building deconstruction, she sees this project as an opportunity to practice it.

How much will it cost to strip the place this way?


09/14/09 10:58am

A REALTOR’S TANKLESS JOB HAR’s consumer site won’t let you search for data in new fields that indicate whether a home has LEED or NAHB Green certification, AC with a high SEER rating, or other energy-related features yet, but listing agents have at least begun filling in the blanks: “For now, the word is still getting out – I doubt that all homes with Green features are being noted as such. There is also evidence that some of the homes are tagged incorrectly -Not even 90 days in to having these fields available there is not enough data yet to state whether or not homes with certain features definitely sell for more money than those without . . . Personally I have been amazed at the number of homes in the Houston area that have Solar PV or Solar Hot Water. The other trend that appears to grow by the week in MLS is the number of homes with Tankless Hot Water Heaters and Older homes with Low-E windows.” [Turning Houston Green, via Swamplot inbox]

09/14/09 10:33am

What’s happening to this brick office building on West Dallas, just east of Dunlavy? The Houston Business Journal‘s Jennifer Dawson reports it’s getting an energy-conscious renovation — overseen by Bailey Architects, designer of the original building in the early eighties.

The West Dallas building used to house local advertising firm Sachnowitz & Co. The vacant site of the former Aquarium Lounge is next door.

Early next year, the Royal Norwegian Consulate General will be moving in. The consulate general currently occupies offices in a tower on Allen Parkway.

Photo: Swamplot inbox

09/04/09 12:26pm

SECRET POWERS OF THE CORDELL ST. SHIPPING-CONTAINER HOUSE The Brookesmith home of Kevin Freeman and Jen Feldmann — fashioned from shipping containers by Numen Development’s John Walker and Katie Nichols — meets a national audience in the pages of the latest issue of Dwell: “The meat distributor [across Cordell St.] begins loading trucks as early as 5:30 a.m., but the couple imagines themselves as hipsters living in New York City’s meatpacking district, and that makes it okay. . . . The corrugated steel of the container that houses the master suite becomes a textured wall for writing messages in the home’s entrance. ‘When we were furnishing the house, I thought, “Oh no! Our fridge isn’t magnetic for Eli’s artwork,” but then I realized the whole house is magnetic,’ Feldmann says. ‘We’ve become magnet connoisseurs,’ Freeman adds.” [Dwell; previously in Swamplot]

07/29/09 11:42am

A reader calls attention to this Chronicle letter to the editor from Pamela R. Zuteck of Clear Lake Shores:

Regarding “Texans can pay extra to rebuild the eco-friendly way if their home is hit by disaster” (Page A1, Sunday), trying to “go green” using Houston’s contractors will make you throw up your hands. They are clueless or resistant to even simple things like low-VOC paint. Product suppliers are hard to find or too far away to be practical. We saw Ike as a real opportunity to step it up but have met frustration at every turn. There’s no help out there. It was a victory just to get a few items, like Hardiplank removable interior wallboard. We had to do all the research and coordination, then design and supervise every step of installation. We sorted the waste for recycling. No wonder more people don’t go green. It’s just too hard.

Writes our reader:

I have no reason to doubt the contentions, but am stumped at the writer’s mention of “Hardiplank removable interior wallboard.” Since your reader/participants are so very knowledgeable, could you ask them to weigh in? My search of the internets provided nada.

06/26/09 5:15pm

Hey, what’s happening to those fancy solar-powered recycled shipping containers on the corner of Hyde Park and Waugh, meant to attract eco-minded buyers to the $400K+ condo units in the Mirabeau B.?

Up and away they go! Did the Mirabeau B. meet its sales target? Nope . . . but it’s time for construction anyway, developer Joey Romano tells Swamplot:

Our financing is in place and we have signed our contract with Mission Constructors who have commenced work on the site. If all goes to plan at the City, the building work will begin in the next few weeks.

How’d that happen? With a little switch: to rental. But Romano says none of the project’s “green” features will be changed:

We’ll still plant our green roof; our 15 KW solar PV system will still power all common areas; and our rainwater retention system will still irrigate our native Gulf Coast plants. Our units will be large, open, and spacious, offering unique, high-grade finishes, high-end energy efficient appliances, and natural light in every bedroom.

So where are the shipping containers headed?


06/17/09 3:45pm

How’d that $99k house project turn out? One reader tells Swamplot he’s impressed that a custom-designed house that “may be LEED accredited” could be completed for that price:

The event was great, if very hot ( it was a Noon yesterday). The mayor and principals involved in the project all spoke briefly, and we toured the house.

More photos from yesterday’s official opening on Jewel St. in the Fifth Ward:


06/05/09 1:03pm

The Center for Neighborhood Technology has updated its interactive region-comparison website to show data comparing carbon dioxide emissions around the Houston region. The Housing + Transportation Affordability Index now allows you to compare CO2 emissions — from “household vehicle travel” only — on side-by-side zoomable maps.

The 2 new data sets available show CO2 emissions per acre (at the top above), and CO2 emissions per household (directly below that) from household auto use. The Houston-Galveston-Brazoria region is one of 55 U.S. metropolitan areas mapped on the website. The center’s point?

When measured on a per household basis, it found that the transportation-related emissions of people living in cities and compact neighborhoods can be nearly 70% less than those living in suburbs.

The center figures that transportation accounts for 28 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S.

Other H+T map tools focus on how affordable different locations are to live in — when you take transportation costs into account:


A new single bill providing rebates over the next 5 years for Texas homeowners and businesses who install solar panels — and requiring electric companies to pay a fair market price for the excess electricity solar-powered customers generate — now appears likely to reach the governor’s desk.

The Chronicle‘s Tom Fowler provides a local angle:

An installed residential solar system for a 2,100-square-foot home costs about $25,500, according to Houston-based Standard Renewable Energy. Existing federal incentives would knock about $7,650 off the price. In Austin, residents can get another $13,500 in incentives, in Dallas about $7,900, but Houston offers no such advantages.