The historic B.A. Riesner in Downtown’s Market Square district has been re-restored as the home for the Architecture Center Houston and the local branch of the American Institute of Architects. Yes, that’s right: re-restored.
Plans to move into the ground floor of the 114-year-old building—located near Allen's Landing in the original downtown section of Houston—have been underway for years. But in 2017, about a month before the design-focused groups were slated to get into their new-and-improved space, Hurricane Harvey doused the freshly renovated space with four feet of water, and the groups were forced to start over from scratch.
This week, AIA Houston finally began moving in, although the chapter has been working remotely since March.
The resulting 5,400-square-foot space was designed by Murphy Mears Architects and balances the tenets of minimalist modern design with the best flood-protection practices. Cast-in-place concrete walls, which can survive the next 100-year flood, have replaced drywall and decorative features, which were added in the first round of rehab to create a raw and open space for exhibits, lectures, and social events. A 23,000-square-foot boiler room of the neighboring Southern Pacific Railway Building will eventually link up with the main space via a walkway and will showcase a similar utilitarian style.
“It's reductivist. We reduced the space to what we really needed it to do. At the same time, they made it beautiful,” says AIA Houston Executive Director Rusty Bienvenue. “The flood forced us into a box, it made us rethink things. And the space became a little more unique than it otherwise would have been.”
To celebrate the completion of the space, AIA Houston and the Architecture Center, in conjunction with the City of Houston, are currently showcasing the highly anticipated 2020 Visions exhibit.
“Once we saw the 2020 Visions exhibit, we thought [it] was the most appropriate thing to open this center with, because it deals with flooding and resiliency in Houston,” Bienvenue says.
The 28-part exhibit, which addresses urban-design issues, from flooding and housing, is open to the public by reservation only. It’s slated to run at least through the summer, Bienvenue says, before it hits the road to other AIA chapters to provide a blueprint for resilient and sustainable design to other cities around the country.