10/20/17 10:30am

Here we are in the newly revamped courtyard between Three Allen Center, Two Allen Center, and the building just renamed from One Allen Center to Motiva Plaza. (The new courtyard plaza itself has been given a new name as well: The Acre.) And what have we here? It appears to be a Swamplot reader, snapping a photo, probably to send to the site. Our report: automatically altered course to pass by and avert collision; continued crime detection through infrared and video feed, facial scans; added new license plates to database.

But in that photo, of course, now published above: the same scene, as viewed from the opposite side, with a little less data to accompany. Just showing the new 5-ft.-3-in.-tall Knightscope K5 Autonomous Data Machine, out on security patrol, Downtown.

Photo: Swamplot inbox

The Bots of Allen Center
10/17/17 12:45pm

SURVEYING THE SOGGY AFTERMATH OF HOUSTON’S ULTIMATE HOME-TOUR TEST Talk about timing: The Rice Design Alliance’s annual home tour this past March opened to inspection 6 structures built in Houston floodplains with some sort of strategy to make it through a major water event. How’d these properties survive the cataclysm that followed only 5 months later? A 1965 Meyerland home on the tour by Houston architects Brooks and Brooks one block north of Brays Bayou was damaged, Jack Murphy reports. And his follow-up story on the RDA’s H2Ouston tour includes no word on the Harvey experiences of François de Menil’s 5-story Temple Terrace townhome or the 3-story butterfly-roof home on Logan Ln. backing up to Buffalo Bayou Taft Architects built in 1996. But 2 more recently built homes on the tour — 2-story structures by architects Brett Zamore in Linkwood and Nonya Grenader in Shirkmere survived without much more than messes in their garages (and a flooded-out car), according to Murphy. Then there’s the Sunset Coffee Building fronting Buffalo Bayou Downtown, which serves as the offices of the Buffalo Bayou Partnership, and which in its recent redo by Lake Flato and BNIM (pictured), was designed to take on water: “All sources indicate that the design performed as anticipated. . . . The staff moved exhibit materials to the second floor and secured the elevator on an upper floor. But there are always issues. The grease trap filled with water, thermostats need to be replaced, and the elevator shaft had five feet of standing water at the bottom, causing electrical issues. Security cameras mounted on the building filled with water and malfunctioned. The fire alarm went off for four days, making the area sound like a war zone, even catching the attention of a CNN reporter. Still, water didn’t crest into the offices on the second floor. (It was almost this high during Allison.) Shortly after the waters receded, the building was habitable again.” But this sort of resilience wasn’t just added to the building by its renovators: “The BBP’s Rebecca Leija and Anne Olson told me their insurance adjuster said the Sunset Building, built in 1910, was well-suited to handle floods due to its height and angle relative to the bayou. Sure enough, in plan the building is set at an angle to the bayou’s flow, presenting a corner to floodwaters rather than a flat face. And, its east façade breaks slightly, perhaps to further reduce the surface area ‘seen’ by floodwaters and therefore reduce their force on the walls and foundation.” [OffCite] Photo of Sunset Coffee Building renovation: Adam Williams  

10/16/17 3:30pm

There’s a lockout notice posted to the front door of the ground-floor retail space of the 1100 Smith Garage Downtown on the corner of Dallas St. and Brazos St. Droubi Brothers Mediterranean Grill, at 507A Dallas St. — shown open in the older photo above — is now closed; the restaurant’s website has been taken down.

Here’s the notice:

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Shawarma Gone
10/10/17 2:00pm

Skanska is touting the green roof it’s planning atop the 11-story parking-garage portion of the Capitol Tower as a “Sky Park”: It’ll be the “first and largest green roof in Downtown Houston to be open to all building tenants,” the development company says. The 24,000-sq.-ft. roofscape will feature pathways surrounded by plants, grasses, and a few decorative trees; arbors with roofs modeled after the pipe-assembly structure seen at Rice’s Brochstein Pavilion, and “an infinity edge that makes it appear as though the park is floating in the sky.” Plus: an automated irrigation system that’ll pull water from the building’s 50,000-gallon rainwater cistern. Looming neighbors will include the Esperson Building, 712 Main, and Pennzoil Place.

Access to the roofscape, which was designed by OJB Landscape Architecture, will be through west-facing doors on the building’s 12th floor, the 35-story building’s lowest office level:

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Green Roofs Downtown
10/05/17 1:30pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: THE LAST MESSAGE OF DOWNTOWN’S ENTOMBED WESTERN UNION BUILDING “. . . Soon after I moved to Houston, I had money wired to me at this Western Union building (this would have been November of ’81). Didn’t make much of an impression on me. I think the façade had been stripped off, and the office itself was shabby. I started work at HL&P in February of ’82, and our offices looked directly across the street to the construction site. The ‘big pour’ for the concrete foundation slab was quite an event. Starting very early on a Sunday morning, a seemingly endless parade of mixer trucks crept down Louisiana Street. Obviously, most of the block had been excavated, and the lot where Western Union sat (well, sits) was supported by a series of diagonal beams. After seeing the engineering required to save that lot, the lower ‘banking hall’ design for that side of the building makes sense. While construction continued, the south side of the WU was given a fresh coat of paint with a large graphic proclaiming ‘A Gerald R. Hines Project‘ (or some such thing), which doubtlessly is still there, virtually unseen for 35 years.” [BigTex, commenting on Comment of the Day: Inside the Western Union Building Buried Inside the Bank of America Center Downtown] Photo of banking hall interior, looking toward the Western Union building’s south wall: Bank of America Center

10/04/17 2:30pm

Update, 6 pm: At the request of Lovett Commercial, the company’s renderings of this project originally included in this story have been removed.

Hadn’t heard that Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas and his Office for Metropolitan Architecture have been designing the massive redo planned for the 16-acre campus around Houston’s shuttered Barbara Jordan Post Office at 401 Franklin St. Downtown? Or that the project’s owner and developer, Lovett Commercial, is boasting that the 530,000-sq.-ft. redevelopment, on a site along Buffalo Bayou, will include the world’s largest urban rooftop farming operation, supplying a 40,000-sq.-ft. festival food market below? Maybe that’s because none of this has been officially announced yet.

There’s more to the plans being waved about: apartments, live-work studios, coworking and maker spaces, parks, events venues, a combined 100,000 sq. ft. of indoor and outdoor markets and even a digital library honoring Barbara Jordan. More than just that library is being named after the former post office facility, however: As of last year, the entire venue has been dubbed Post Houston (or Post HTX for sorta-short.) Also, because it’s what comes next for the city — get it?

“Post Houston aims to be a world class creative campus for technology, the arts, culture, and dining,” announces a Lovett Commercial leasing brochure. Here’s a walkthrough of some of the ambitious project’s proposed main features, using images that appear to date from earlier this year:

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Post HTX
10/03/17 10:30am

ALLEY THEATRE FLOODING DRAMA CAME FROM AN ALLEY THIS TIME, NOT THE TUNNEL Harvey flooding caused an estimated $15 million of damage to the Alley Theatre’s basement-level stage, lobby, and dressing rooms, but for the most part spared its recently renovated box-office entrance, main stage, and upper-level lobbies. The good news, relayed by theater managing director Dean Gladden in an email to members: Submarine doors in the tunnel prevented water flowing from the Theater District’s underground parking garage from entering the theater as it had during Tropical Storm Allison. But this time there was another way in: a fresh-air intake vent in the Alley’s drive-thru Alleyway driveway fronting Jones Plaza on Texas Ave. (pictured at left in the above photo): “Harvey’s waters crested so high that this in-take vent provided an opening that enabled the flood waters to enter the building unimpeded. The water was so powerful it knocked through a cement block wall and blew open locked doors. When the cement block wall collapsed, it broke a 2-foot fire line that started spewing water out at 150 gallons a minute. About 900,000 gallons of water would come from this source before it was turned off. The flood water from the bayou would account for 2.8 million gallons of water. The water would reach 10-feet high in the Neuhaus Theatre and lobby and 15-feet high in the basement level. The Alley Theatre below ground was completely flooded.” [Alley Theatre] Photo: Jason Hrncir  

09/27/17 4:45pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: INSIDE THE WESTERN UNION BUILDING BURIED INSIDE THE BANK OF AMERICA CENTER DOWNTOWN “The Western Union building is only 2 stories. It is completely intact, tar and gravel roof included. The 3rd floor Mezzanine of the BOA building was built clear span over the top of the old WU building. The windows you see on the outside are for the mezzanine. As for the ‘gap’ between the buildings, you can walk/crawl around most of it. Some areas between the buildings are big enough that you could set a desk in there, some are tight enough to induce panic. There is basically nothing left from WU in there, but there were still some curious old artifacts last time I was in there. I worked for the building for a while, and led a few of the tours of architects/designers when this project was in the concept phase.” [ProFixer, commenting on For Its Next Trick, Bank of America Center Will Completely Digest the Secret Building It Swallowed 35 Years Ago] Photo: Mary Ann Sullivan

09/26/17 1:15pm

Something you might not have noticed about Houston’s iconic Bank of America Center (top) at 700 Louisiana St. Downtown: There’s an entire unused building hidden inside. The thrice-renamed spiky Dutch-ish PoMo tower complex, designed by architect Philip Johnson in 1982, sits across the street from his other famous Downtown Houston office building, Pennzoil Place. It’s not obvious from the exterior or interior, but the 2-story former Western Union building on the corner of Louisiana and Capitol streets (pictured above in a photo from 1957) takes up almost a quarter of the block Bank of America Center sits on. This was Western Union’s longtime regional switching center; Johnson was asked to design his building around it because the cable and electrical connections maintained within it were deemed cost-prohibitive to relocate.

Thirty-five years later, it’s the building’s anchor tenant that’s relocating: Bank of America, which now occupies 165,000 sq. ft., will move to Skanska’s Capitol Tower in a couple years. As part of a new set of renovations to the structure the bank is leaving behind, owner M-M Properties plans to completely dismantle what remains of the Western Union building, recapturing 35,000 sq. ft. of space without expanding the building’s footprint. Among the plans for the resulting space: A “reconfiguration” of the lobby and the addition of a “white tablecloth restaurant.”

The secret Western Union void is well disguised. It isn’t in the lobby of the 56-story tower but in the 12-story adjacent bank-lobby building fronting Louisiana St., more formally known as the the Banking Hall when the building first opened in 1983 as RepublicBank Center. It takes up the entire northern half of that structure: It’s beyond the colonnaded-but-blank wall on your right as you enter the lobby from Louisiana (on the left in this photo):

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Tales from the Vault
09/15/17 12:30pm

Residents of the 79 apartments in the Hogg Palace Lofts are expecting air conditioning in their units to be restored sometime today — for the first time since power went out early on the morning of August 27th. At a meeting earlier this week, attorneys for and representatives of the Randall Davis Company told tenants of the 8-story building at 401 Louisiana St. that they were aiming for Friday for the AC to be turned on, though could not guarantee it — but that work would continue over the weekend if it couldn’t.

A somewhat parallel sequence of events played out after the promised trailer-mounted Aggreko 1 MW generator pictured above was parked along Preston St. in front of the building last Friday; difficulties in connecting it to the electrical system — including a hunt for the unknown owner of a white BMW parked in a tenant spot in the parking garage that stood in the way of a hook-up — delayed the restoration of electrical power until Monday.

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Power to the People
09/08/17 11:15am

Today’s the day a 48-ft.-long trailer-mounted 1MW Aggreko generator is expected to park on the Louisiana St. side of the Hogg Palace Lofts, a Randall Davis Companies rep tells residents. The goal: Power restored in all 79 units by the end of the day. But generator power won’t be going to elevators, corridors, or the building’s retail tenants (which include the Pad Thai restaurant on Louisiana). Those areas will have to wait until replacement electrical equipment arrives and is installed to restore permanent power in the building. References to a series of so-far-unsuccessful efforts to repair existing equipment are included in a series of emails sent to residents by the building’s management over the last 2 weeks.

The 8-story building at the corner of Louisiana and Preston has been without power since around 8 am on August 27th. “What we as tenants have been able to piece together is sub-level parking levels of the Lyric Center and the new Lyric Center garage became flooded as the bayou took a short cut down Prairie and took a left on Louisiana,” a tenant tells Swamplot. Water coursed into those parking garages down entrance ramps, then “made it under the street through vaults or conduits or whatever into the basement of the Hogg where it shorted out the electrical equipment.”

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Harvey Outages
08/30/17 12:45pm

City Hall, the City Hall Annex, the Bayou Lofts, Market Square Tower, The Rice (formerly the Rice Hotel), Hogg Palace, the Theater District and Tranquillity Park parking garages, Bayou Place, the Downtown Aquarium, the Houston Ballet Center, the Wortham Theater Center, Jones Hall, the Alley Theatre, the Hobby Center, and the some of the historic homes in Sam Houston Park are all buildings that were damaged in some way by floodwaters rolling in after Hurricane Harvey’s days-long assault on the city, according to a statement released by the Downtown District today. Damage mostly came from water pouring into first-level or basement spaces, though the building at 1415 Fannin St. did catch on fire.

High water flowed to Downtown’s low points, to the north and west — primarily in the Warehouse, Historic, and Theater Districts. How did the tunnels fare? Only sections adjacent to the Theater District and Civic Center garages were damaged, according to the district.

Other structures that took on water: The Spaghetti Warehouse, the new AIA Houston offices under construction across from that restaurant on Commerce St., the Sunset Coffee Building, the Dakota Lofts, and the Cotton Exchange Building on Travis St. Here’s the complete list (with addresses):

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Casualty Lists
08/29/17 4:15pm

Just days before Harvey hit Houston, the newest corner restaurant at 1302 Nance St. in Downtown’s old warehouse district looked ready to debut. The photos here, taken by Swamplot reader Will Breaux shortly before the rains came and the waters swelled, show the spot formerly occupied by Oxheart sporting a new exterior paint job and window nameplate.

Inside, renovations had been taking place for months. Proprietor Justin Yu had plans to open Theodore Rex later in August. But the restaurant flooded. Now, he writes, “it might take a little more time to open.”

Photos: Will Breaux

 

To Redo Again
08/24/17 1:00pm

The City of Houston website may still describe Jones Plaza as a “fully renovated” public square that forms the centerpiece of the city’s Theater District downtown, but Houston First appears ready to fully renovate it again. The quasi-public agency says it will select 5 teams from among any “experienced urban design firms, landscape architects or architects capable of creating an inspired, iconic, accessible and welcoming design” that apply before September 5 to create preliminary designs for a redo. Among the possibly familiar items listed for inclusion on the redesign menu: a water element, a “green oasis with seasonal plantings,” a performance space, an art installation, and a 4,000-sq.-ft. fast-casual restaurant.

Jones Plaza’s current design, which features similar items, dates from a 2001 rebuild led by Bricker+Cannady Architects; that renovation lowered and canted the previously raised plaza surface so that all steps could be removed from the Louisiana St. side facing Jones Hall:

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Do-Overs
08/21/17 11:15am

Events that took place overnight at the University of Texas in Austin may have repercussions for Houston: Workers under cover of darkness removed 2 statues of Confederate generals and one of a Confederate government official from prominent display on campus. University president Gregory Fenves announced that the bronze statues would be relocated to the university’s Briscoe Center for American History — after events in Charlottesville last weekend made it “clear, now more than ever, that Confederate monuments have become symbols of modern white supremacy and neo-Nazism.

The statues depicted Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Albert Sidney Johnston and Confederate postmaster John H. Reagan. A fourth statue, of former Texas governor “Big Jim” Hogg — also known as dad to the developers of River Oaks and to Houston matriarch Ima Hogg — was also taken down, according to a university spokesperson only because it was part of the set (2 years ago, a likeness of former U.S. president Woodrow Wilson that was symmetrical with another statue moved to the Briscoe Center, that of former Confederate president Jefferson Davis, was taken from the main mall and put in storage.) According to reports, the sole remaining statue on either the UT main or south mall depicts George Washington.

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Down in Austin