Saturday, October 29, 2011

What If You Built a High Rise in Houston– and Nobody Complained?

It’s all about the site – The Ashby High Rise and the BBVA-Compass Building


I can see a construction site from my office window. It’s for the BBVA-Compass building, a 22 story high rise going up at 2200 Post Oak Boulevard. The building is similar in height and even bigger than the Ashby High Rise. But nobody’s complaining about it. The BBVA-Compass building’s neighbors are other high-rises and strip centers. Post Oak Boulevard is a major thoroughfare that can easily accommodate more traffic. It’s in the heart of Uptown, which is home to our City’s third-tallest building (The Williams Tower.) Simply put, Post Oak Boulevard is the right place to build a 22 story tower.

The Ashby High Rise is a better building than the BBVA Compass Building. It’s certainly got better massing. The BBVA-Compass building is an articulated box, with a parking garage to one side. The Ashby High Rise has a series of carefully designed setbacks that add visual interest. The BBVA-Compass building has no street-fa├žade to speak of. The Ashby High Rise offers a wide sidewalk, and shops at ground level.

Nonetheless, the Ashby High Rise is a point of contention citywide, and that’s thanks to its site at 1717 Bissonnet. The building will loom above single-family houses on quiet residential streets. Bissonnet is only two lanes at that location; Ashby Street is even narrower. They cannot accommodate more traffic. The shops at ground level will exist as an island; because there are few other stores in the area. The site at the corner of Bissonnet and Ashby could not be a worse place for a 23 story building.

They could solve these problems by choosing a different site for the Ashby High Rise. There’s a big, empty field on the northeast corner of Greenbriar and Highway 59; bisected by Lexington Street. At that location, the building would loom above a few small businesses and the highway. There are already tall buildings on the other side of Greenbriar, so it’s not a big stretch to add another. Access to Highway 59 would alleviate many of the traffic concerns. The neighborhood has a great restaurant scene, with Star Pizza, a 59 Diner, Freebird’s, and other eateries within blocks of each other. The site is close enough to 1717 Bissonnet that they could still go after the same clientele.

I should close by stating that I don’t know the owners of the site at Greenbriar and 59. I’m certainly not working for them. There might be more that meets the eye about that site. I’m just an architect, dreaming as architects do. But this could be a win-win-win for the developers, the neighbors, and the City at large. The developers can build their building. The neighbors can protect their homes. The City can grow in population and density Inside the Loop. The best part: it would put a residential high-rise on a site that seems to be screaming “build it here!”