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
COMMENT OF THE DAY RUNNER-UP: FEAR OF A RAISED FOUNDATION “What I’ve found to be true, anecdotally at least, is that most people who have never lived in a house with a pier and beam foundation have ZERO interest in them. They are disoriented, confused by, and even scared of them. Some of them are a little creeped out by the thought of having empty space under their floorboards. (What’s that noise? Will I have to go down there at some point?!?!?) Despite some of the most beautiful and pricey homes being built in this way, some of these people still see it as antiquated and, even, a sign of shoddy construction not designed to last.” [driftwood, commenting on How About We Don’t Sell People Homes in Areas That Keep Flooding, and Other Crazy Ideas for Houstonians To Discuss Amongst Themselves] Illustration: Lulu
COMMENT OF THE DAY: FLOATING HOMES FOR HOUSTON “I’m a ship designer with 20+ years of experience and I will say that a float-off house is absolutely feasible from a technical point of view. A quick check in the used barge market shows that you can get something house-sized (80 ft. by 30 ft.) for $65,000. Of course building something on-site would cost a lot more than construction in a shipyard. Not sure how this compares to what a foundation costs. But you’d need to add in some kind of anchoring system so that your house doesn’t float away when it floods. And permitting would be a whole other kettle of fish. I’m available for moonlighting if any architect wants to investigate this for a client!” [Orang Bodoh, commenting on Where Are Houston’s Floodwater-Ready Homes]
WHERE ARE HOUSTON’S FLOODWATER-READY HOMES? A reader asks: “Is there not a single architect in Houston who has envisioned a flood resistant home? Polished concrete floors with large area rugs instead of wood or wall-to-wall carpet? Waterproof material (instead of drywall) three or four feet up from the slab; removable of course so you can remove the wet insulation after the next flood? How much more do cabinets cost if they are made from marine grade plywood? Surely there’s a business case for a house that you can basically hose off and re-decorate after a flood, right?” Illustration: Popular Mechanics
COMMENT OF THE DAY: THE BIG THINGS YOU GET WHEN YOU LEAVE JUST A TINY SPACE BETWEEN HOUSES “The City of Houston’s codes are different for a ‘free-standing’ or ‘detached’ ‘single-family’ home, as opposed to a two- or multi-family property of some sort. Detention, lot coverage, building code, legal description, all different. So maintaining even the tiniest gap means you have a fee-simple, stand-alone property.” [dave102, commenting on Can You Beat This Townhome Gap?] Photo of 3108 Baer St., Fifth Ward: HAR
The house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright for insurance company exec William Thaxton is back on the market again as of Friday, now listed at just $2.795 million. Wright designed the triangle-and-diamond-themed home with no air-conditioning system in 1954, though Thaxton and the builder eventually snuck some ducts into the red concrete floor; the mid-century space later got a classically-inspired makeover and circled the market drain toward lot-value sale and presumed teardown. But an early 1990’s buyer saved the property from demolition and removed the pineapple-shaped finials — while adding a high-ceilinged, right-angled extension which enclosed the almost-a-parallelogram pool in more of a central courtyard. (That extension contains a living room, lofted entertainment space, bedrooms, and a kitchen, meaning the occupant doesn’t have to spend time in the angular Wright portion of the building if they don’t want to. )
The new listing (the latest in an on-again-off-again series of market stints that started in 2010 at $3.5 million) includes a few new angles on the property, which (as seen from above) sits alongside a channelized ditch draining directly south from Memorial City Mall to Buffalo Bayou. The lights around the front door and entryway are equilateral triangles:
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Mid-90s Modern in Bunker Hill
The front is up on the shipping-container-containing duplex under construction now at 3622 Lehall St. between Tierwester and Scott. The box-based structure is similar to builder Krieger Containers’s first such project (down the street at 3802 Lehall); both buildings consist of 2 separate 2-bed 2-bath units framed around 2 steel containers each. The company claims on its website that the model can beat ‘any general contractor in Houston’ on a cost-per-sq.-ft. basis.
Back in September, company founder and steel box aficionado Sean Krieger spoke with Nancy Sarnoff about plans to built dozens more container houses in the South Union neighborhood over the next few years, aiming to draw students and young professionals. Krieger now tells ABC13 that the project underway at 3622 Lehall has faced abnormal scrutiny from city inspectors and officials, recently including a heated verbal exchange on site with District D councilman Dwight Boykins (who also spoke to ABC13 about the incident after Krieger sent them a recording).
The floorplan above shows the layout of the downstairs unit of completed 3802 Lehall; the bathrooms, bedrooms, and closets fit within the footprint of the shipping containers, which flank a central living space. Here are some shots of the inside, both during and after construction:
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Checking All the Boxes
From the inside out and the outside looking in, here’s a peek through the semi-see-through mesh facade of University of Houston architecture professor Zui Ng’s Shotgun Chameleon house, located just east of the intersection of Cleveland and Gillette streets in the Freedmen’s Town National Historic District. The 2-story 3-bedroom home was named Architectural Record‘s house of the month last month, and was originally designed for a 2006 expo of building ideas for post-Katrina New Orleans. The space can be used as a duplex or a split home-office setup thanks to a set of exterior stairs leading to the upper floor.
The design’s appearance can also be adapted to blend in with different neighborhoods and urban settings. The metal mesh, which covers most of the upstairs balcony on the street-facing side of the building, could provide a scaffolding for leafy cover, or could get wooden siding tacked over it to help the structure fit in with similarly-adorned neighbors. Ng says the front could even go commercial, with the upstairs hosting a billboard for a downstairs business, or go high-tech, with options ranging from solar panel arrays to breeze-catching louver arrangements.
The Chameleon is shown above between a metal-skinned contemporary house and an older wood-sided home. Here’s a view from the back side, which is shorter due to the structure’s sloped roof:
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Blending In in Freedmen’s Town
As of yesterday, the home at 2115 Wroxton is on the market again — this time for $4.5 million, and with some zoomy new angles among the listing photos. When last we left the home in February of this year, the Southampton property had been listed (for the second time) for just under $3.5 million, and was bracing for auction with a minimum bid of $2.9 million. But the property was pulled from the market at the end of May, with no recorded sale. (The mod was first listed for $3.75 million in September 2013, but was pulled the following July.)
The new listing allows prospective buyers to peer across 1 of the 3 courtyards to Wroxton St. out front (above), and to gaze down into the pool through the solar screen (below):
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Third Time’s The Charm
COMMENT OF THE DAY: NEW HOMES HAVE BEEN GROWING BIGGER FOR LESS “The funny thing is that back in the 1930s, people actually needed more space than they do today. The average size of a household in the 30s was just over 4 people. It has shrunk to ~2.5 today (although some rich folk do breed like rabbits for some reason). In the olden days, people would have large libraries of books. Now, all that can be kept on an iPad or kindle. People used to have large record collections and “hifi” stereos that were their own pieces of furniture. Now, you can store all your music on your phone and plug it into a massive sound system that is completely built into the wall of each room. Same goes for a TV set. I remember my mom chewing me out for leaving my soda cans on top of the old RCA because it left a ring on the wood. Now, the TV hangs on the wall and is just a few inches thick. Rich folk today do like to have a closet full of clothes that look like a small version of a high end retail clothing store. But today, most people, even rich folks, dress casual all the time. Back in the 30s, 40s, 50s, etc., people would dress up to ride on a plane, men would wear suits all the time, and women would have a collection of hats in large hat boxes to fill up the closet. But houses just keep getting bigger and bigger and bigger as people have fewer reasons for living in such huge houses.” [Old School, commenting on Daily Demolition Report: Lakes Out] Illustration: Lulu
New photos posted to the listing of the dollhouse-like townhome under construction 2 blocks west of the Eastex Fwy. in Midtown appear to capture some sort of floral delivery in progress, a reader who’s been monitoring it notes. Between the arrival photo (above left) and the ready-to-go image next to it that appears to be the next in sequence, 5 new flower baskets appear on the grid masking the structure’s prominent garage forehead. The design by architect Martin James Lide morphs a shotgun house plan into a 2-story townhome configuration that manages to fit 3 bedrooms in 2,425 sq. ft.:
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“Not sure if you can see from this picture,” writes the Swamplot correspondent who sent the image at the top of this story, looking into a few of the units in the new 24-story apartment tower at 1625 Main St. from Pease St., “but it appears the ‘view’ from the bathrooms at the new SkyHouse will be excellent.” Of course you already knew that.
Bonus: The design of the SkyHouse Main going up across the street will be identical.
Photos: Swamplot inbox (view); Simpson Property Group (tower)
COMMENT OF THE DAY: WHAT YOU’VE EARNED “How do you have the time to use all the various leisure areas of a house like this? You gotta be working a lot to afford it so when do you have the free time to ski, play hoops, work out, dine in the dining room, swim in the pools, sit in one of all the outdoor sitting areas, sit in the kitchen or the bar or the living room or the den and so on . . .” [jost, commenting on Katy Home Listing Photo of the Day: Can’t Miss] Illustration: Lulu