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.

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Building Houston

 
 

5G could be taking over Texas — and Houston is leading the way. Photo via Getty Images

Based on one key measure, Houston sits at the forefront of a telecom revolution that could spark a regional economic impact of more than $30 billion.

Data published recently by the Texas Comptroller's Office points out that as of last November and December, Houston led all cities in Texas for the number of so-called "small cells." Small cells are a key component in the rollout of ultra-high-speed 5G wireless communication throughout the Houston area and the country.

As the Texas Comptroller's Office explains, small cells are low-powered antennas that communicate wirelessly via radio waves. They're usually installed on existing public infrastructure like street signs or utility poles, instead of the big communication towers that transmit 4G signals.

The comptroller's tally shows Houston had approved 5,455 small-cell sites as of the November-December timeframe. That dwarfs the total number of sites (1,948) for the state's second-ranked city, Dallas.

"Houston is in the vanguard of small cell permitting in Texas, and not just because it's the state's largest city; advocates have lauded its proactive approach to 5G. Other cities, particularly smaller ones, are lagging well behind," the Comptroller's Office notes.

According to CTIA, a trade group for the wireless communications industry, 5G holds the promise to deliver an economic impact of $30.3 billion in the Houston area and create 93,700 jobs. The group says industries such as health care, energy, transportation, e-commerce, and logistics stand to benefit from the emergence of 5G.

"Maintaining world-class communications infrastructure is a requirement for success in a rapidly changing global economy. Small cells and fiber technology are the key foundational components for network densification and robust 5G. Cities like Houston that have embraced the need for this infrastructure will see the benefits of 5G faster than others," Mandy Derr, government affairs director at Houston-based communications infrastructure REIT Crown Castle International Corp. and a member of the Texas 5G Alliance, tells InnovationMap.

Derr says leaders in Houston have embraced the importance of small-cell technology through "reasonable and effective" regulations and processes aimed at boosting 5G capabilities. Three major providers of wireless service — AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon — offer 5G to customers in the Houston area.

"More small cells and fiber provide greater and faster access for the masses, enabling the connectivity that is essential to our businesses today — whether it's accepting payments on a mobile card reader, completing a sale on the go, or reliably reaching consumers where they are," Derr says.

In a blog post, Netrality Data Centers, which operates a data center in Houston, proclaims that Houston is shaping up to be a hub of 5G innovation.

"Houston has always been on the frontline," Mayor Sylvester Turner said during a 5G roundtable discussion in 2019. "It is who we are. It is in our DNA. We are a leading city. We didn't wait for somebody else to go to the moon. Or to be the energy capital of the world. Or the largest medical center in the world. But you don't stay at the front if you don't continue to lead."

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