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BRAVE / PRAXIS: Sharpstown Charrette

Sharpstown Charrette

13 July 2010, 14:12

“This is a car’s eye view of Houston – but is there any other?”

“Correctly perceived and publicized as the freeway city, mobile city, space city, strip city, and speculator city, it is being dissected by architects and urban historians as a case study in new forms and functions. It even requires a new definition of urbanity. Houston is the city of the second half of the twentieth century.”

“From the time that the Allen brothers came here from New York in 1836 and bought the featureless land at the junction of two bayous (they could not get the site they really wanted), this city has been an act of real estate, rather than an act of God or man.”
—Ada Louise Huxtable, “Deep In The Heart of Nowhere,” The New York Times, February 15, 1976

It’s 2010. Nearly 35 years have passed since Huxtable first published her impressions of Houston in The New York Times, and we are still pondering away. Our latest attempt was last week when we were invited by conceptual artist Mary Ellen Carroll to participate in a week long charrette to wrap our heads around the current state of the first ring suburbs of our beloved, unregulated Houston that Huxtable once defined as “a study in paradoxes”. Our assignment was to make a proposal—any proposal—for the 68.5 acre land that is currently occupied by the Shaprstown mall.

Inaugurated in 1961 as a “first-of-its-kind,” enclosed shopping center that altered the growth of the City and freeway location, the Sharpstown mall (currently PlazAmericas) has been left to its supposed ill-fated destiny of eventual abandonment as name-brand retail businesses search for the proverbial greener pasture. The only interference with the decay has been a modest face-lift in an attempt to re-brand the all-but-obsolete, introverted big-box-surrounded-by-a-sea-of-asphalt mall typology that once provided a social center for the community and a development model for the outer-ring suburbs that followed.

Below are some excerpts from BRAVE’s proposal where we attempted to re-establish a new social center for the existing, diverse community and re-think the mall typology as an open air, cellular development with an emphasis on smaller retailers to support the local economy. All the while of course, taking full advantage of the lax zoning regulations and the surrounding freeway landscape that makes the art of construction in Houston an adventure for architects and developers alike.

View from Highway 59 View of Retail Area View of Retail Area BRAVE / ARCHITECTURE Pomp & Circumstance Board Winning presentation from Metalab + Farostudio © BRAVE / ARCHITECTURE

Our submission was accompanied by seven other participants’ as the charrette came to a close Friday evening at the Architecture Center Houston (ArCH) downtown, marking the end of Carroll’s collaborative exhibition titled Policy. Also on hand were a distinguished group of reviewers that included Charles Renfro, partner of the renowned architecture firm Diller, Scofidio + Renfro, and George Lancaster, Vice President of Corporate Communications at Hines. A full list of participants and reviewers can be found on the invitation.

We would like to thank Mary Ellen Carroll for organizing the event as well as everyone who participated and came out to show support. We’d also like to extend a big congratulations to our good friends at Metalab who were chosen as the charrette winners for their exceptional entry together with Faro Studio.