2012 First Prize: Urban Land Institute (ULI) Gerald D. Hines, urban design competition
2012 ASLA Honor Award for Student Collaboration
Mike Albert, Alex Atherton, Anna Cawrse, Chad Murphy, Victor Perez-Amado
Bayou Commons represents downtown Houston’s first residential district celebrating cultural diversity and urban lifestyle. The proposal represents a virtual collaboration by students of landscape architecture, architecture and real estate finance from two universities located 2,000 miles apart.
From 139 submissions across 64 universities, the proposal is the Grand Prize recipient of the 2012 ULI/Gerald Hines Urban Design Competition, completed by a multi-disciplinary team representing two universities. The proposal grounds complex issues of urban design with real world financial implications, thus requiring imaginative, innovative and collaborative solutions, but most importantly, feasible. The project utilizes landscape architecture as a key mediator by bridging the disciplines of design, planning and real estate finance.
The project site, a 26 acre parcel possessing Houston’s downtown post office and regional distribution center, is situated adjacent to Buffalo Bayou and is viewed as a potential catalyst for further downtown revitalization.
The Invisible Resource: Many of our world’s greatest cities are characterized by the water body they rest upon. Whether it is an ocean, lake, river, or bayou, these natural resources have served as physiological feature of urban lifestyle by providing cultural, ecological, social and economic value to the city’s history. However, under the threat of flooding in the 1930s, many urban rivers were channelized and avoided in order to reduce risk. Today, while many of these rivers are being recognized for their historical value, many others remain relatively “invisible resources” as they pass through our nation’s downtowns. Houston’s Buffalo Bayou, which served as an influential driver for the city founding in 1836, remains one such resource.
Analysis Process: A Balanced Approach: The region is home to twenty-nine Fortune 500 companies and the Port is the fifteenth largest in the world. However, despite these statistics, only 3,000 actual residents live downtown. Thus, the proposal’s strategy seeks to address this shortcoming by redefining the way urban living and development will evolve in the city’s core.
The Physical Framework; Landscape as Infrastructure: Buffalo Bayou not only provided the physical resource to craft a plan with strong physical and visual linkage to its natural environment, but also a necessary catalyst for the project’s multi-phased approach. In four “overarching” moves – Reclaim the Bayou, Puncture Site Edges, Establish Lost Connections and Integrate Development – the proposal places its importance towards the integration of landscape and positions it to serve as a key driver for its overall framework. Thus, the bayou serves as the proposal’s physical backbone, in which all proposed development, open space and infrastructural improvements flanked off in a thoughtful manner. A portion of Franklin Street, the district’s east-west arterial, was pulled away from Buffalo Bayou, providing increased capacity for flood conveyance, offering additional recreational areas including a waterfront amphitheater and creating an active streetscape by situating development adjacent to new alignment.
Environmental Stewardship: A cross-checking of disciplines yielded a holistic, performance-based approach to the project’s level of sustainability. Referring to metrics established by the Sustainable Sites Initiative and LEED, the proposal reduces impervious surface area by over 50%, increases canopy coverage by 450% and adds a five additional acres along the corridor.
Cultural Expression: Together, the proposal’s architecture and landscape reintroduces cues indicative of Houston’s historic typologies including overhanging verandas, allees of bald cypress and amply-shaded streetscapes. Along the linear plaza, a series of abstracted live oak “canopies” offer shade, generate renewable energy and capture stormwater runoff. Positioned to serve as a new architectural icon for downtown Houston, The Cultural Center on the Bayou serves as a civic educational/performance venue dedicated to conveying the importance of Houston’s resource.