Rail Station Design Competition
Wednesday, January 25, 2012 4:17 PM
Last night, in the beautiful Gerald D. Hines building at 811 Main, where the lobby sports tan leather sofas and dramatic white orchids, the Houston Downtown Management District hosted a competition featuring designs from five award-winning architectural firms.
The challenge: to design an iconic new Central Station - Main on Main Street between Capitol and Rusk. The station would also be the transfer point for three light-rail lines.
The five invited firms from around the country - including one Houston firm - were asked to consider into their design such factors as: openness, views of adjacent buildings, clarity of circulation, feasibility of construction and maintenance, even how the roof would look from a bird's eye view.
But the most important requirement was to design a station that would become a landmark for downtown Houston.
About 350 community leaders, architects, design students and residents showed up to hear a 15-minute presentation by each architectural firm. The firms were: SHoP Architects; Lewis, Tsurumaki, Lewis Architects; Neil M. Denari Architects; Interloop-Architecture (Houston); and Snohetta, based in Norway and New York.
Each design was assigned a number at random, which did not represent a ranking. Before the formal presentations started, the crowd walked around displays and picked their favorites. Held on the 11th floor, the event overlooked the intersection where the new rail station would be built.
"We wanted this to be an iconic station...where three lines cross each other - East End, Southeast and the North extension of the Red Line, " said Bob Eury, executive director of the Downtown District, adding that the competition was a joint project with METRO and Houston Rapid Transit (HRT), a joint venture building our light-rail lines.
Lonnie Hoogeboom, an architect who is the director of planning and design at the Downtown Management District, said he was delighted at last night's turn-out. He called the five firms innovative problem solvers, which figured out how to create within highly restrictive design constraints a landmark that was aesthetically pleasing.
SHoP Architects (entry #1) compared its soaring design to the archway of St. Louis and said it wanted to build a station that was in scale to the historic buildings around it, which included front entrances that were three stories high.
Paul Lewis (entry #2) said his team was intrigued by the platform restrictions and the yellow median strip. Its strategy was to take the restrictions and float volume over the side and provide a protective umbrella.
Neil M. Denari Architects (entry #3) pointed to existing Houston icons - the Astrodome, the Pennzoil Place designed by Phillip Johnson as inspiration for its steel-constructed station that popped with fire-engine red. An icon is an image, and Denari Architects said it wanted to bring that level of graphic quality into 3-D form - and then create forms that were scaled to the body, not to the city.
This was my favorite design, and afterwards, a young man next to me leaned over and echoed my sentiments, saying, "That was beautiful, wasn't it? I love it!"
I had to leave before hearing presentations #4 and #5 - but click here to see close-up artist renderings of all the designs, including drawings and explanations.
Then comment and vote online for your favorite design. Do you like the shape or color? Will it make your METRORail experience better? Does it represent downtown?
A jury will consider your comments when it selects the winning design.