Houston’s Downtown office district, writes Christof Spieler in the RDA’s OffCite blog, “wraps around Pavilions on two sides. It ought to be delivering swarms of office workers to restaurants and the book store. But at lunchtime on weekdays, Pavilions seems empty compared to the streets a few blocks away. Whatâ€™s wrong?”
In Cite, the blog’s paper-bound cousin, Max Page wishes all the stores in Houston Pavilions had simply faced the street, and that the apartments and condos hadn’t been cut from the project:
Like the residential component, the decision about whether to orient the project to the existing street grid, or turn away, was made in the wrong direction. [Architect Roger] Soto laments the choice. â€œWe had some compelling ideas about activating the street,â€ he told me. â€œBut in the end, the developer chose to attach retail stores to a â€˜central spine,â€™â€ perhaps because that approach created a scheme that more closely resembled the traditional covered malls [Developer William] Denton had spent years developing.
How about the action along that central spine?
Like those upstairs stores that have already come and gone, it’s a little start and stop:
The flaw in this approach is most powerfully seen as you walk down this central spine and come to one of the major avenues the project crosses. One could either climb up the crude metal staircases to the second floor (incidentally creating an inelegant, useless underside in the middle of the passageway), and then back down; walk to the real street corner and cross at the light; or make a dash for it and hope for the best. True, the circular walkways from one block to the next above the street are the most exciting architectural features of the project, but it undermines the goal of creating a lively street-level walkway.
But the slow start isn’t all Houston Pavilions’ fault, Spieler responds. It’s just that everybody else is still a little too far away:
Well, obviously, the empty storefronts (Pavilions is less than a quarter occupied) donâ€™t help. Beyond that, though, thereâ€™s a gap. The big office buildings are a block north and a block west of Pavilions, and the blocks in between have little activity. One dead block can turn off a pedestrian easily. The problem is compounded by the Pavilionsâ€™ north side, which, unlike the plaza on Main, is closed off and unwelcoming, especially from a distance. And then thereâ€™s the inconvenient truth of Downtown: much of the lunchtime activity is underground. With a tunnel connection, Pavilions could easily draw lunchtime crowds, like the food court in Park Shops (another urban mall) does. But the tunnel connection was deleted, along with Pavilionsâ€™ residential and underground parking, before construction began.
- Houston Pavilions: Mind the Gaps [OffCite]
- Downtown’s Downtown? (PDF) [Cite]
- Houston Pavilions: Lucky Strike Out, Hats Off, Shoes Back in Boxes [Swamplot]
- Houston Pavilions: Woulda Coulda Shoulda [Swamplot]
Photos: Houston Pavilions