THE NATIONWIDE MCMODERN INVASION HAS BEGUN, AND THE UPPER KIRBY AND GREENWAY PLAZA AREA IS ITS GROUND ZERO “The typical McMansion follows a formula: It’s large, cheaply constructed, and architecturally sloppy,” writes Kate Wagner on Curbed. “Until around 2007, McMansions mostly borrowed the forms of traditional architecture, producing vinyl Georgian estates and foam Mediterranean villas.” But Wagner, who regularly dissects and ridicules the housing type on her McMansion Hell Tumblr page, notes that McMansion purveyors of late have increasingly begun borrowing, distorting, misunderstanding, and enlarging aspects of a newer type of home. “We are witnessing the birth and the proliferation of modernist McMansions: McModerns,” she writes. Where can we find these sleek new specimens? “In cities, McModerns are frequently constructed in rapidly gentrifying areas, such as the Greenway/Upper Kirby neighborhood in Houston, where $1 million, five-to-10-bedroom, builder-designed McModerns have been increasingly sprinkled among houses selling for $200,000 to $700,000: an earmark of speculation based on the increasing land values brought by rabid development.” [Curbed] Photo of 3003 Ferndale St.: HAR
The latest of Gensler’s renderings of that midrise parking garage planned atop the recently evacuated location of nightclub and drag venue Meteor shows the structure rocking a swath of greenery in place of the decorative bicycles pictured across the facade in earlier drafts. Cara Smith reports in the Houston Business Journal this week that the garage is one of the projects that Gensler is “future proofing” — that is, designing with an eye to an eventual decline in Houston parking garage needs, whether spurred by the rise of self-driving cars or other shifts in transportation patterns. The firm was featured by Web Urbanist last month in an article discussing some of its other current garage projects, some of which are being outfitted with conversion-minded utility hookup spacing, as well as ceiling heights suited to something other than car stacking; modular features like easy-to-tack-on facades and removable ramps are also in the mix.
There appear to be 6 retail spots in the foot of the garage that will be ready for tenants before such time as the rest of the garage might hypothetically be repurposed (along with a slew of other spaces in the development, per Edge Realty’s leasing flier):
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Prepped for Obsolescence in Fourth Ward
What puts the Mc- in McMansion? McMansion Hell hit the Internets recently hoping to answer that question, bringing along slews of illustrative photo examples covered with detailed (if at times bitingly sarcastic) annotations. The author notes that not all large post-1980 houses are McMansions — that’s a matter of factors like these. And not recognizing one isn’t necessarily a matter of having bad taste — it’s a matter of familiarity with basic design principles, which the site attempts to provide.
Starting with a McMansions 101 introductory primer on basic layouts and proportions, most of the site’s posts so far take on specific design aspects (last week’s called out useless and disproportionate column deployment). Other posts take readers on a Zillow-photo walkthrough of a single home — this afternoon’s critique dives into a Houston-area house (shown above), text block by aggravated text block:
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DIVINING HERMANN PARK’S FUTURE TRANSIT NEEDS Another 20-year master plan for Hermann Park is currently in the works as the last one gets wrapped up, writes Molly Glenzter this morning. Per designer Chris Matthews, who’s working on the project as part of landscape architecture firm Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, the planning isn’t all “fun things like choosing what tree to plant:” unlike the 1995 master plan redo, the design team this time includes a “consultant for all things mobile, which in the old days used to mean cars. Now it means cars, bikes, transit and pedestrians — how to balance all that stuff.” Matthews notes that the planning is further complicated by the need to predict what mass transit will look like 2 decades from now; Hermann Park Conservancy president Doreen Stoller adds that “with Houston getting ever more dense, each square inch of park space is becoming more precious and will need to be put to its highest and best use.” [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Photo of Hermann Park kiddie train: Lou Minatti
RICE UNIVERSITY’S U-TURN AWAY FROM A MODERNIST OPERA HOUSE A recent Facebook post by architect Allan Greenberg appears to confirm his firm’s involvement with the Rice University opera house project, of which possible renderings and a model recently surfaced in another building on campus. The choice of Greenberg, a self-described classical architect who designed the university’s Humanities Building, represents a major reversal of ideology from the previously announced selection of Diller Scofidio + Renfro (designers of part of New York’s High Line, who once created a building shrouded perpetually in fog). The selection of DS+R was announced in March of 2014; Greenberg had begun to publicly mention involvement with the project by this past December. [Previously on Swamplot] Photo of Rice University opera house design model: Swamplot inbox
First order of business at all future meetings around Motile: achieve full consensus on table height. The rendering above from Mayfield and Ragni Studio shows the Houston architecture and design firm’s plan for an adjustable conference table, allowing working teams to alternate at will between sitting and standing (so long as they can unanimously agree on exactly when to do so). The table is headed for this summer’s NeoCon design trade show, where it’s in the running for a HiP award; if you like the idea, the trade show’s online voting system appears to still be operational (though the voting period appears to have formally ended yesterday).
Table the Motion
COMMENT OF THE DAY: THE BEAUTY OF THE FAMILY SEDAN “The perceived blandness of modern office buildings has nothing to do with the lack of vision or enthusiasm of developers, it has to do with where the money comes from today. Decades ago there were eccentric millionaires and corporations with money to burn on monuments of their own egos, but these days money only comes from carefully calculated, vetted, reexamined, audited, and risk assessed finance packages. Throw in a healthy dose of anti-wealth and anti-corporate profit sentiment in the US and you have the real estate equivalent of a Toyota Camry — simple, functional, non-offensive, and very forgettable.” [commonsense, commenting on New Spec Office Building on Montrose Blvd. Will Sit Atop Southwest Fwy. Wall Vines] Illustration: Lulu
COMMENT OF THE DAY: A BY-THE-DECADE GUIDE TO HOUSTON HOME CLICHES “. . . How to estimate when a home was built:
Before 1920s: has a historical marker out front.
1920 & 30s: large porched front on narrow lots.
1940s: houses built low to the ground — almost always look identical to each other.
1950s: seafoam green/Pepto Bismol-pink tile in the bathrooms.
1960s: wood paneling in the den.
1970s: diagonal exterior wood plank paneling.
1980s: skylights, skylights, skylights.
2000s: faux Tuscan exteriors.
2010s: Tear down something from the above list and build whatever in its place. Doesn’t matter what — we’ve run out of ideas at this point.” [Native Houstonian, commenting on Houston Home Listing Photo of the Day: Dead Animal Planet] Illustration: Lulu
COMMENT OF THE DAY: WHEN NOTHING IS BETTER THAN SOMETHING “. . . this is Houston, where most people think that something is better than nothing (like a WalMart). If you live here long enough, you learn the hard way to stop expecting much from local developers — even those who build amazing things in other cities. They don’t bother here, mostly because they don’t have to. No zoning, no planning, no architectural or design reviews, hell the 4th largest city in the land doesn’t even have an architecture critic on staff anywhere (only food and arts critics in H-town), so no bad reviews — just kudos from the press for ‘at least’ doing something. Houston has become the land of ‘at least’; at least they built something; at least it’s not an empty lot anymore; at least . . . Empty lots are underrated.” [Jon, commenting on Hanover’s Next Apartment Tower for BLVD Place]
COMMENT OF THE DAY: IN DEFENSE OF THE SAME OLD-LOOKING STUFF “I hate to say it, but there’s a lot going for inoffensive tried-and-true faux-historical designs built from readily available, durable, and inexpensive materials by contractors that have done dozens of projects before, just like it.
Spectacular architecture necessarily entails the risk of spectacular failure.” [TheNiche, commenting on Apartments Planned for Montrose Fiesta Site Will Go Tall Mediterranean]
COMMENT OF THE DAY: THE KEY TO THE CITY “Just what the heck is regionally appropriate in style for Houston? That is the most idiotic comment that I have heard. Everything about Houston is imported from someplace else in order replace or augment what is natural to Houston. This include the folks who have moved here over [the] last 150 years. Going back to the Allen brothers, the whole idea has been to cover up what Houston “Is” and make it into what is is not.” [Bubba, commenting on Comment of the Day: Importing the Right Look for Houston]
COMMENT OF THE DAY: IMPORTING THE RIGHT LOOK FOR HOUSTON “Let me get this straight: we’re upset that an Austin-based store looks like it’s from Austin? Has anyone explained to Houstonians that a city 2.5 hours away is a helluva a lot closer to “regionally appropriate” than Tuscany or Greece will ever be?” [cooperella, commenting on Austin Powers the New North Montrose Whole Foods]
COMMENT OF THE DAY RUNNER-UP: IN HOUSTON, DESIGN INSPIRATION IS EVERYWHERE “As a nearby property owner, I must say I’m glad to see something replacing the burned-out building, but I just can’t help but feel this apartment house came out of someone’s Happy Meal.” [kilray, commenting on The Norman’s Replacement Price]
GALVESTON’S NEW RINSE-OFF NIGHTSPOT A lawsuit will determine whether Scott Arnold can collect the remainder of the insurance money he expects for the loss of the famed Balinese Room to Hurricane Ike. In the meantime, the former owner of the waterside bar wanted to make sure his next nightspot would survive another big Galveston flood. So . . . is his new Granite Room, which opened on July 4th as part of the Voodoo Lounge complex at 26th and Mechanic streets, on an upper floor or something? Naaah. It’s mop-down friendly: “This building got nine feet of water during Ike,” he tells HBJ reporter Allison Wollam. “So I designed the club with granite and marble so that if it floods again, we can just hose everything down and be open again within a week or two.” [Houston Business Journal; previously on Swamplot] Photo: Granite Room
Weary of so many drab and formulaic new kitchens boasting granite countertops and stainless-steel appliances? Thanks to a miracle of modern science journalism, design help is on the way. The tyranny of the knee-jerk Kitchen redo formula may soon be over!
The “Your Granite Countertop May Be Radioactive or Emit Radon” meme got a major boost in the media last week, as an article in the New York Times and separate reports from a Rice University nuclear physicist spawned fears among consumers — and dismissive retorts from industry spokespersons.
No need to panic: Your countertop may not be emitting enough radiation to cook the food you put on it. But hey, maybe you should have your surface tested? The idea of bringing a Geiger counter along on your Home Depot shopping trips conjures up so many exciting possibilities!
Whether the latest concerns indicate a pointless consumer scare or an actual health hazard, the writing is on the wall for the granite-countertop trend, which jumped the shark long ago. In Houston — which has no stone naturally, but where builders love to follow design trends long abandoned elsewhere — they were always a strange import. Cliche-weary designers will likely promote radon-and-radiation fears just to get fashion-handicapped clients to try something else. And solid-surface competitors will only be too happy to take advantage of the situation. But if the 2-decades-long granite-surface craze finally ends, how long will their “Looks Just Like Granite” surfaces be attractive to buyers?
Photo: A2D Construction