Downtown Houston has exploded over the past few years with development targeted specifically toward attracting citizens into its downtown center beyond work hours. Some of these efforts have been a huge success; others have yet to justify themselves. But none so far have reached the architectural caliber that Houston’s latest competition has. The current light rail system in Houston is looking to expand rapidly in the near future to keep up with growing downtown attractions, most notably of which being the new and much anticipated Houston Dynamo Stadium by Populous.
The original scheme called for two new separate stations on Main Street – one at the 600 block, and one at the 800 block. The resolution was then made to create a larger, combined light rail hub in between the two at the 700 block of Main Street, and hold a competition led by Dean Patricia Oliver of the University of Houston Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture and Dean Sarah Whiting of the Rice University School of Architecture. A short list was created composed of internationally renowned architecture firms, and the competition winner is to be announced in the upcoming weeks. More to come once the finalist is announced.
“Interloop—Architecture is a Houston-based design office established in 2001 by principals Dawn Finley and Mark Wamble. Their practice focuses on innovative technologies, inventive forms, functional plans, and precise finishes. Project types range from the design of custom furniture and fixtures, to private residences, to research complexes and cultural institutions. Some of Interloop—Architecture’s clients include BP, Rice University, the Nasher Sculpture Center in Texas, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Washington D.C., and the Netherlands Architecture Institute in Rotterdam. The design team at Interloop—Architecture works closely with each client. Priority is given to the development of a clear and compelling approach, addressing the distinct requirements of each project. Interloop—Architecture provides a full range of architectural services, and collaborates with a wide range of engineers, contractors and fabricators sourced locally and abroad.
Open Transfer introduces three elements in response to site constraints.
The first, a revised circulation path, relocates the crosswalk at Main and Rusk toward the south end of the platform, directing movement across the street from a single point. This allows riders to disembark and flow in one direction along the platform, and reduces the negative effect of slower counter flow traffic on the platform during peak hours.
The second feature of Open Transfer is the space of the platform itself. All structural supports for the canopy, except one, are cleared from the platform and relocated curbside along with ticket vending machines, most validators, selected signage, maps and ads. All platform activity related to safe and timely boarding and disembarking remains on the platform. Elements related to meeting friends or locating downtown destinations are redistributed out to a new perimeter edge along the sidewalk. This provides greater visibility inside the platform and expands the horizontal space of the platform to the full width of the street.
Finally, Open Transfer proposes a new formal threshold for Central Station; the “spider” column. All movement through the site – vehicular and otherwise – shares the transfer zone as all modes travel through the spider column. Characterized by the spider’s legs at the southern end of the platform canopy, the inverted column allows egress from the platform to occur unobstructed. Together these design elements expand the space of the platform to allow for free and open circulation, inverting the conventional platform diagram to identify the station as a central transit zone for Houston.”
“Founded in 1997 by Paul Lewis, Marc Tsurumaki, and David J. Lewis, Lewis.Tsurumaki.Lewis (LTL Architects) is an architecture partnership that explores the opportunistic overlaps between form, program and materiality. The New York-based firm has completed academic, institutional, residential and hospitality projects throughout the United States, including Arthouse, a contemporary art center in Austin, Texas, an Administrative Campus Center for the Claremont University Consortium in Claremont, Calif., the College of Wooster’s Bornhuetter Hall in Ohio, and Fluff, Tides and Xing restaurants in New York City. LTL Architects has received numerous awards, including the 2007 Cooper-Hewitt National Design Award for Interior Design. The firm’s work is part of several museum collections and has been exhibited widely at venues including the Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Walker Art Center, Carnegie Museum of Art and the U.S. Pavilion at the 2004 Venice Architecture Biennale. LTL Architects are the authors of Opportunistic Architecture (2008) and Situation Normal, Pamphlet Architecture #21 (1998). Paul Lewis is an assistant professor at Princeton University, Marc Tsurumaki is an adjunct professor at Columbia University, and David Lewis is an associate professor at Parsons The New School for Design.
The project responds to the principal challenge of the brief: to transform a platform limited to the footprint of a median strip into an iconic central station, with sufficient spatial presence to galvanize the site and flows of people in and out of the station. The proportions of the site platform are taken as the point of departure for the project. This proposal develops a volume of space floating immediately above the platform, forming a protective and legible umbrella.
The volume is lifted up at two corners. This opens up the space toward the direction of the oncoming trains, making physical the act of anticipating and waiting for the trains. In addition to being a legible, distinct marker, the volume is itself used as the signage. The torqued corners on the ends of the volume reveal station identification on both the inside and outside, serving as wayfinding within the transfer zone to the station. On the interior, the two ends are labeled Capitol and Rusk to assist wayfinding from within the station itself.
The difference between interior and exterior is enhanced through materials. Where the exterior is clad in four types of matt finished 9” wide vertical stainless steel which extends around the top and under the lip of the volume, the interior is clad in opal polycarbonate, evenly back lit with LEDs to form a luminous lantern at night. The skins are attached to a metal framed structure made from standard steel tubes and channels. This structure is held in place by an array of 2” steel rods, which tether the volume to central columns. The columns themselves do not directly touch the volume but rather at the top of each column is a glass oculus providing changing illumination during the day. The signage, benches, and tickets are arranged down the center of the platform connecting to a single stainless steel ribbon that marks the difference between the two directions served by the platform.”
Neil M. Denari Architects
“Neil M. Denari Architects (NMDA) is a Los Angeles-based office dedicated to exploring the worlds of architecture, design, urbanism, and global cultural phenomenon. Since 1988, NMDA has been working across multiple continents, designing at all scales for a variety of clients and conditions. NMDA seeks out projects that demand new and innovative solutions to the complex issues facing the world today. Whether in a piece of furniture or an urban design plan, NMDA’s ambitions are to materialize these questions in a powerful, evocative, and functional way. Today, NMDA continues to develop through new projects and design possibilities. NMDA’s commitment to design innovation and construction excellence has been demonstrated in award-winning projects sited in the U.S., Europe, and Asia including their latest building, HL23, a 14-story condominium tower on the High Line in New York.
NMDA’s intention with steel, color and with the design itself has been to capture and combine the values inherent in Miesian rigor and the figural engineering of Calder. Like Chicago, Detroit, and Toronto — cities with combinations of black steel work by Mies and Red Stabiles by Calder — Houston’s Modernist identity is linked to the portability of ideas. By the 1960s, art and architecture was already a global economy and typography had risen to the level of urban sculpture.
The basic column and beam structure of the canopy is like a Calder-Mies merger, a collaboration between graphic profile, line thickness, and the hardcore structural properties of a hollow section and extruded steel boxes. The structural section operating as a thick line is consistently extruded along profiles that build up along the axis of the station. These coiling and bundling lines generate the continuity between the horizontal (the long span and cantilevered portions) and the vertical (forms that incorporate seating, signage, and lighting) allowing the eye and the body to engage in a set of consistent yet multidirectional lines. Here, NMDA has attempted to make the station engaging, not only at the level of the body, but also at the level of the optical through its graphic vitality. This ambition is a key element in the equation of iconicity as it brings the rider and passerby into a relational experience with the station.
To enter the realm of urban graphics, NMDA has extracted formal elements from the station to use as miniature icons, lights, signs, and benches in the transfer zone. The elements include the typeface used on the ceiling of the canopy (CS-M for Central Station – Main). Alternatively made from precast concrete and painted steel, each of the icons help mark the transfer zone as a unique node within the Houston rail system.”
“Located in Lower Manhattan, SHoP was founded in 1996 by five principals: Christopher Sharples, Coren Sharples, William Sharples, Kimberly Holden and Gregg Pasquarelli. The practice has grown over the past fourteen years to an office of sixty. SHoP’s educational and professional experience encompasses architecture, fine arts, structural engineering, finance, and business management. With the exception of single family residences, SHoP works on many project types, from multi-story housing to academic buildings to master plans and is currently working on numerous projects totaling $2 billion around the world. SHoP has won numerous awards, including the 2009 National Design Award for Architecture Design by Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum. SHoP’s work has been published and exhibited internationally and is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art.
Soaring stone and cast iron vaults have been a hallmark of many great railway stations used everywhere from historic train sheds in Europe to New York City’s Grand Central Station. Their iconic form captures the energy, the dynamic movement of people as they gather, arrive, depart and arrive again in the 24-hour life of the city. The design seeks to capture some of this same energy while addressing the climate particularities unique to the city of Houston.
For the design of Houston’s Central Station, the columns once used to support these great vaulted hall stations have been inverted to form a series of elegant towers. No longer programmed to support the load of a ceiling, the columns now perform environmentally. Through stack effect, their form has been optimized to promote a natural cooling of the pedestrian platform. By natural convection, the hot and humid air hovering over the train platform is pulled up through these solar chimneys high into the air.
Arching steel tubes covered in Kevlar and tensioned by a series of steel cables will ease both assembly and construction, creating a smooth blend between form and function, column and canopy, and will provide structure as well as shelter from the sun and rain. Desiccant or phase change material has been incorporated into the column structure supporting the canopy to aid further in absorbing humidity from surrounding air while large high-volume-low-speed fans assist in providing additional comfort for waiting passengers. Rising from the canopy, the three solar chimneys stretch nearly one hundred feet in the air creating an iconic presence as one crosses and approaches along Main Street. At night, platform lighting reflects through the Kevlar fabric, turning the station into a six-story beacon, visible from blocks around.”
“Formed in 1989 and led by principals Craig Dykers and Kjetil Thorsen, SNØHETTA is an award-winning international architecture, landscape architecture, and interior design firm with offices in Oslo, Norway, and New York City. As of 2010, the firm, which is named after one of Norway’s highest mountain peaks, has approximately 100 staff members working on projects in Europe, Asia, and the Americas. The practice is centered on a trans-disciplinary approach where multiple professions work together to explore differing perspectives on the conditions for each project. A respect for diverse backgrounds and cultures is a key feature of the practice; reflecting this value, SNØHETTA is composed of designers and professionals from around the world. The firm has completed a number of critically acclaimed cultural projects, including the Bibliotheca Alexandria in Egypt, the new National Opera and Ballet in Oslo, Norway, the new James B. Hunt, Jr. Library in Raleigh, N.C., the expansion of the SFMOMA in San Francisco, and the redesign of Times Square in New York City.
When it rains it pours, especially in Houston. Getting caught in a sudden downpour is a common experience in this city, as is having one’s inverted umbrella get carried off by forceful gusts. The cantilevered canopy expresses both the urgency of the Houston climate by appearing to lift off the ground, as well as the funnel action that rain water takes as it is collected and directed into the storm drain system.
Where does the water go? Through stalactites and funnel columns into the platform level grate. This is not only efficient but also wonderful to watch. Water has never moved so beautifully. These details provide interest to those waiting on the platform as water falls and light is allowed to pass through.
The minimal ground supports for the canopy preserve the street views of the historic Gulf Building as well as the overall ground level streetscape. The structure can frame views rather than being an obstruction to them. The delicate footprint allows for maximum circulation.
From above, office workers and residents look down on what is not so much a roof as it is an inverted topography, the funnel shapes catching water during rains. At night, skim lights will illuminate this topography casting complex shadows and color patterns across its surface.
Benches and signage are solid elements and appear to be a part of the platform ground plain, which emphasizes the delicacy of the canopy supports. Stainless steel signage is cast into the pavers and ticketing information and speakers are integrated into a free standing glass panel, L-shaped for stability and functional efficiency.
The canopy is lit through natural and artificial lighting. When the sun hits the roof it reflects down the “wet columns” and onto the platform. At night, the recessed uplights in the platform illuminate the canopy from below and cable mounted spotlights graze the surface. They highlight the sculptural forms both on the roof and at the pedestrian level for all to experience. As water passes through the canopy, the recessed spotlights reflect the patterns of the flowing water onto the concrete shell.”