ByDesign

Local architects design projects to impact Houston's future

Gensler's ByDesign group dreams up innovative real estate projects that solve Houston problems — like a tower that can absorb and filter water from a flood. Courtesy of Gensler's ByDesign

When the working day is done, there's a group of young architects who, rather than closing out their design programs and hitting happy hour, continue to design and innovate projects. Only, they aren't doing it for clients or money.

Gensler's ByDesign organization, which was created about four years ago, is an extracurricular of sorts for Houston's young architects. The projects are created and presented by the architects and are impact-focused, seeking to provide a solution to a problem in Houston.

"As architects and designers we are so caught up in our work, that we forget to step back to evaluate the current conditions of our own backyard," says Jong Kim, technical designer at Gensler. "It is important to illustrate our thoughts and share them with the public to better inform others, and grow ourselves as future thinker and leaders of tomorrow."

The design studies range from buildings to smaller range projects — but all are focused on thinking critically and creatively.

"Although the ideas range from bold city redevelopments to transformations of underutilized but highly visible areas, the site selections and design solutions are a direct reflection of the personalities and passions of the design team members," says Kim.

The architects presented four projects at a ByDesign social on Tuesday, March 26.

1520

Courtesy of Gensler's ByDesign

As cities expand and populations grow, having access to locally grown produce is becoming a challenge. Currently, 15 to 20 percent of produce is grown in an urban setting. To make sure Houston maintains its access to fresh foods, Gensler architectural designers Shawn Conte and Mark Talma have designed 1520, an urban farming tower of sorts.

The modular tower would have community gardens and low-income housing on the higher levels of the tower and a farmers market on the bottom floor. The space could even host events, with the goal of connecting the community. The project also suggests using hydroponic farms, which is a method of farming produce indoors without the need for soil.

The Brutus

Courtesy of Gensler's ByDesign

Allen's Landing is the designated birthplace of Houston, but currently the space is occupied by an abandoned building right off Buffalo Bayou. A ByDesign team — with members Sasha Levine of LEVCOR; Nathan Thomas, Jason Ficht, and Alex Hill of DesignWorkshop; and Jong Kim and Ryan Marchesi of Gensler — thinks it could foster a more engaging project.

Named The Brutus — after one of the first vessels to pass through Houston's early port — the project would also be the first of its kind. The Brutus would be a multi-purpose project with a food barge, urban beach and pool, kitchen area with food carts, a terrace, and a park. The space would be built to flood, since the area was hit by several feet of flooding.

The team also pitched the project idea at the spring 2018 Rice Design Alliance Charrette.

Fil Trat

Courtesy of Gensler's ByDesign

In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, many Houstonians began to think of solutions for the next time Mother Nature struck with her full-force of flooding. Gensler designers Chelsea Bryant, Jordan Gomez, Luisa Melendez, Barbara Novoa, Benjamin Nanson, Maria Qi, and Melinda Ubera created a solution called Fil Trat. The tower can absorb, filter, and store flood waters until the bayou is ready for the water to be released — cleaner than it was before.

During Harvey, thousands of people were displaced, but Fil Trat has a solution for that too. The tower's floors would alternate between filtration floors and shelters, which could house up to 24 families per floor.

While the suggested Houston locale would be by Buffalo Bayou, the group suggests putting the tower in other coastal cities at risk of devastating flooding.

Pushover

Courtesy of Gensler's ByDesign

While some of ByDesign's projects are grandiose and yet-to-be built, one group's design is already a reality. Gensler's Aaron Bisch, Kevin Perks, Paul Li, and Steven Banovetz created Pushover — a solution to all the issues with normal benches.

The Pushover bench takes the material and aesthetic of normal bench slats and wraps the material completely around the form, which is modeled after the human shape. It's optimized for flexibility and interaction.

The bench — which the team members constructed themselves — currently resides at 8th Wonder Brewery. The team asked to borrow the chair for the ByDesign presentation, and 8th Wonder obliged — as long as the team brought it back.

Check out this video on Gensler's ByDesign group

"ByDesign Grassroots Video" by Gensler Texas on Vimeo.

Camppedia, a Houston-based startup, can help match kids to summer camps all around town. Educational First Steps/Facebook

Tudor Palaghita and his sister Ana are both parents and both busy professionals. And both used the same word when it came to finding camps to help their kids pass the long, steamy summer: painful.

"We're working parents, we're strapped on time, but we want to make sure we give our kids enriching experiences," explains Ana. "One spring, we were going through the [camp search] process, and we talked about how difficult it was. And the next spring, we said, there's something here. We feel this pain, our friends feel this pain, and no one is helping us. Why don't we solve our problem ourselves?"

And that's exactly what they did. The duo used their business and technology backgrounds — Ana has an MBA from Northwestern University and built a successful career in a major financial institution, and Tudor has his Ph.D. in aerospace engineering from Georgia Tech — to launch Camppedia.com. The site is intended to be a one-stop shop for parents looking for camps for their children.

The tool launched in March of 2019, coinciding with spring break. Currently, it offers options throughout central Houston. Parents can select camps for their children based on interests, their ZIP codes, cost or even those that offer extended hours for moms and dads with full-time jobs.

"We believe the most important aspect to building anything is to understand your users," says Tudor, who left his research and development job at a major oil and gas services company to work full-time on Camppedia. "Before we launched, we did a lot of interviews and talked to a lot of parents, and then hand sketched prototypes to better convey our idea."

The pair went one step further after that, speaking with camp providers, seeking input about not only their products, but also the issue they faced in terms of marketing or registration. Following that fact-finding mission, they built Camppedia to show as many options as possible for families who want to book activities, as well as giving users the option to build their own calendars, save favorite options and see what camps actually have spots available. When parents select a camp, they are then driven to the individual camp's website to book.

Development on Camppedia, which is a member company at Station Houston, began last September, when the duo began looking at what to include on the site and finding partners who could assist them in building it.

"We looked at a bunch of different paths from a technology perspective," says Ana, who works on the site from her home in Virginia. "Because you can build the sort of the fancy, what I'd call destination-technology architecture, or you could build something scrappier, and I think we landed on something scrappy because we are still learning. Chances are [going forward] we'll change quite a bit."

Camppedia is built on WordPress, and currently features more than 275 camps from large to small. Tudor and Ana have been making improvements ever since, but the response has been enthusiastic. Parents, the pair say, have loved having so much information in one place. And camps have actually come to them, seeking information about how to be listed. That led to the creation of a camp partnership category, where camps can pay to use certain features on Camppedia's site, such as the ability to reach out to interested parents.

Going forward, the duo look forward to further building Camppedia as a resource. They're looking at adding reviews and experiences from parents, as well as finding ways to take the concept nationwide. But they're really happy with how the site has grown and the response they've had. The business, they insist, is designed to be a service that will support parents as they try to make the best decisions they can for their children.

"While the road ahead is daunting," says Tudor. "We are super excited about the possibility of building something truly useful for working parents who nowadays are struggling with so many competing priorities and whose needs seem to be somewhat overlooked by the digital reinvention coming out of Silicon Valley."


Photos courtesy of Camppedia