Houston Endowment, one of the oldest foundations funding Houston’s arts, education, and nonprofits supporting the diverse needs of the community, has just opened a new, $30 million headquarters near Heights, Montrose, and Buffalo Bayou that perfectly aligns with its philanthropic mission.
The 40,000 square-foot building, which sits opposite Spotts Park and relocates the Endowment’s private office space from the JPMorgan Chase Tower downtown, was designed by an architectural team whose members share a love of Houston and won the Endowment’s 2019 international design competition. “This project was an opportunity to bring more great architecture to Houston, as well as contribute to the vibrancy and diversity of our city while prioritizing sustainability,” says President and CEO of Houston Endowment, Ann Stern.
Rice-trained Kevin Daly and Mexico-based Productora (four international architects with Rice and A&M teaching credits) envisioned the building’s “airy, elegant superstructure” with TLS Landscape Architecture and Transsolar, a German engineering company specializing in energy-efficient architecture.
“The design communicates transparency and clarity,” says Stern. “From the openness of the space to the simple and spare structural system with exposed beams.” Productora’s Wonne Ickx says, “the building has strong connections to traditional vernacular Houston architecture, with the porch and colonnade,” and cites the Menil, Rice, and historic ice houses as local inspiration. “They all make a covered, shady outdoor space.”
Inspiration was also taken from Houston’s natural landscape—past and present. “The canopy of trees is what makes the streets in Houston so beautiful,” says Ickx. Spotts Park was once “a completely forested area. We developed a design defining a dense area of trees around the perimeter of Spotts Park, with a central meadow, and our building [as] a part of that ring of trees.”
“What we worked very hard on and are very excited about are the spatial qualities,” says Ickx. “Everywhere you stand, you have views from different directions. Light comes in from east, west; through the roof, the sides.” To complement the “light, airy” interior, diverse artworks from local artists hang throughout, giving employees and business partners another peek into Houston’s vibrant arts scene, when they’re not admiring Spotts Park from the windows or balconies. The building “has a really beautiful relationship with Spotts Park,” Ickx says. “The way it overlooks [it], we’re almost like shepherds of the park.”
Transsolar helped construct the “almost net zero” building, with its shaded canopy—80 percent covered in solar panels—allowing more natural light to enter the patio while powering the building with natural energy. “We were very interested in creating a building that would be innovative and exemplary in this region,” says Ickx. “We’re in a period of transition between a less sustainable mindset, and building around energy efficiency and sustainability.”
The building also features a unique geothermal HVAC system—another form of sustainable energy to keep the office going through Houston’s fluctuating weather. Interior fans placed throughout the building offer a “very simple trick to lower the need for air conditioning,” says Ickx. “A whole set of elements, from high to low tech, all come together to make the building energy-efficient.”
Both the Endowment and the architecture team hope the innovative building will inspire more sustainable architecture in Houston. “Houston Endowment has a very large outreach,” says Ickx. “One of the reasons they wanted to have a space more accessible to people, [was that] nobody knew what they looked like. They were in an old lawyer’s office in a penthouse. They understood that the space was not representative of their values.” To keep its mission to maintain energy efficiency in the heart of “the city of fossil fuels,” Houston Advanced Research Center is also working with the Endowment on a “sustainable facility operations plan” which places the building’s eco-conscious nature at its forefront.
The new building better reflects the Endowment’s mission in its design, structure, and meaning. “It’s a building sheltered by this canopy, almost like a scaffolding structure in which lots of things are possible,” says Ickx. “That represents the idea of Houston Endowment as a supportive system that allows other things to thrive and happen.”
Houston Endowment was founded in 1937 by Jesse H. and Mary Gibbs Jones. Throughout the 1940s and '50s, they gave over $200,000 in yearly grants to fund college education, benefitting female and Black students at universities like Rice and Texas A&M Prairie View. They also helped fund development of Texas Medical Center, now home to hundreds of hospitals and research labs, and Jones Hall, home of Houston Symphony and Performing Arts Houston.
Today, Houston Endowment gives over $100 million in grants per year to local organizations to support their causes.
“Our team is very mission driven and committed to advancing the vibrancy and equity of opportunity throughout Greater Houston,” says Stern. “Our long-term commitment to the city is reflected in the permanence of this building, which will drive our work into the future.”