Posting up

Houston to be home to one of the world's largest rooftop gardens after downtown post office's renovations

Post Houston will be site of one of the world's largest rooftop gardens. Photo courtesy of Lovett Commercial

Downtown Houston will soon have one of the largest rooftop gardens and farms in the world, thanks to the innovative reimagining of a forgotten structure. The Barbara Jordan Post Office, the massive government building nestled in the Theater District, will be transformed into a bustling, dynamic, mixed-use complex that's meant to become the city's new urban ecosystem.

At an official groundbreaking, Lovett Commercial revealed the plans for the more than 550,000-square-foot building, which was formerly the epicenter of the city's mail system from 1936 to 2014. The post office will fittingly become Post Houston and will house a concert venue, retail and office concepts, restaurants, bars, an international market hall, and a flexible co-working space.

What's sure to be a buzzworthy draw are the Buffalo Bayou and downtown views from Skylawn, the sprawling five-acre rooftop park and sustainable organic farm that calls to mind downtown rooftop green spaces in New York City. The park is designed by Hoerr Schaudt, the landscape architects behind McGovern Centennial Park in the Museum District.

Foodies, take note: The rooftop farms offer a chance for in-house restaurants to source ingredients and create a farm-to-table experience.

Photo courtesy of Lovett Commercial

The roof promises striking downtown views.


Design-minded guests will delight in the three new atriums; the building will be surgically punctured to create the spaces to draw in existing light utilizing an ETFE roof system — the first in Houston. Each atrium will feature with a unique monumental staircase that will mark the space as coworking, culinary, or retail.

As a nod to Houston's booming arts and cultural scene, the building will house installations and exhibits by local and international artists and will host events, according to a release.

The complex is designed by the world-renowned architecture firm OMA along with partner Jason Long in collaboration with Houston-based Powers Brown Architecture. Diversity is a key theme, with myriad design elements and purposes — and it's apropos that the building is named for Barbara Jordan, Houston's beloved first African American modern-day state senator.

Other than the Day for Night festival, the site has been of interest to architecture and design circles, but has largely been an afterthought. But now, the shuttered post office could become one of Houston's most vibrant destinations with its ideal strategic location.

"This forward-thinking development is breaking away from the traditional model by creating a cultural epicenter that brings local and international cuisine, retail, art, music and innovation to our theatre district," said Mayor Sylvester Turner, in a statement.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

The Rice Management Company has broken ground on the renovation of the historic Midtown Sears building, which will become The Ion. Natalie Harms/InnovationMap

The Ion — a to-be entrepreneurial hub for startups, universities, tech companies, and more — is, in a way, the lemonade created from the lemons dealt to the city by a snub from Amazon.

In 2018, Amazon narrowed its options for a second headquarters to 20 cities, and Houston didn't make the shortlist.

"That disappointment lead to a sense of urgency, commitment, and imagination and out of that has come something better than we ever could have imagined," David Leebron, president of Rice University, says to a crowd gathered for The Ion's groundbreaking on July 19.

However disappointing the snub from Amazon was, it was a wake-up call for so many of the Houston innovation ecosystem players. The Ion, which is being constructed within the bones of the historic Midtown Sears building, is a part of a new era for the city.

"Houston's on a new course to a new destination," says Mayor Sylvester Turner.

Here are some other overheard quotes from the groundbreaking ceremony. The 270,000-square-foot building is expected to be completed in 18 months.


The historic Sears building in Midtown will transform into The Ion, a Rice University-backed hub for innovation. Courtesy of Rice University


The Sears opened in 1939. Natalie Harms/InnovationMap

“We have the capacity — if we work together — not only to make this a great innovation hub, but to do something that truly represents the Houston can-do, collaborative spirit.”

— David Leebron, president of Rice University. Leebron stressed the unique accomplishment the Ion has made to bring all the universities of Houston together for this project. "When we tell people the collaboration that has been brought together around this project, they are amazed," he says.

“The nation is seeing what we already know in the city of Houston. That this city has the greatest and most creative minds. We are a model for inclusion among people and cultures from everywhere. We are a city that taps the potential of every resident, dares them to dream big, and we provide the tools to make those dreams come true.”

— Mayor Sylvester Turner, who says he remembers shopping in the former Sears building as a kid, but notes how Houston's goals have changed, as has the world.

“When this store opened in 1939, it showcased a couple of innovations even back then: The first escalator in Texas, the first air conditioned department store in Houston, the first windowless department store in the country.”

— Senator Rodney Ellis, who adds the request that The Ion have windows.

“Many people ask us, ‘why not just tear down the old building and start new?’ We actually see this as a very unique opportunity for companies and entrepreneurs to be located within a historic building, while benefiting from an enhanced structure, state-of-the-art technology, and Class A tenant comforts.”

— Allison Thacker, president of the Rice Management Company. She describes the environment of being a beehive of activity.

“[As program partner for The Ion,] our mission is to build the innovation economy of Houston one entrepreneur at a time.”

— Gabriella Rowe, CEO of Station Houston. Rowe describes Station's role as a connector between startups, venture capital firms, major corporations, and more.