The Rice Design Alliance has organized three international competitions that have resulted in built projects in Houston. One created a new park for downtown Houston and another launched a master plan that resulted in massive improvements to an over-loved public space near the Texas Medical Center. A third competition for a sustainable, affordable house, the 99K House Competition, demonstrates that affordable housing can be well-designed and energy-efficient.
In 1985 RDA organized the Sesquicentennial Design Competition to design a park along Buffalo Bayou on the north side of downtown at the Wortham Center.Central Houston Civic Improvement, Inc. was a co-sponsor and other sponsoring organizations included Buffalo Bayou Task Force, Houston/Harris County Sesquicentennial Committee, City of Houston, Harris County, and the Sesquicentennial Park Fund-Raising Committee.
The first design competition for a civic project in the city’s history, the Sesquicentennial Design Competition drew 119 contestants. A large number of out-of-state contestants helped Texans celebrate their 150th birthday. Ultimately, three young and relatively unknown Houston architects were chosen as the competition winners. Team Hou consisted of Guy Hagstette, Robert M. Liner, and John C. Lemr, with David Calkins, Lauren Griffith, and Mark Yoes.
In 1992 RDA co-sponsored the Heart of the Park Design Competition, along with the recently formed Friends of Hermann Park and the city’s parks and recreation department. The competition’s goals were “to unify and anchor the diverse elements of Hermann Park, enhance and strengthen the existing elements of the main axis, create a place to commemorate Houston, and make a relaxing, welcoming environment for all people.”
Specifically, the competition proposed improvements for a scruffy section of Hermann Park from the Sam Houston Monument to the Grand Basin, including an oak-lined reflection pool. The winning team consisted of Melton Henry/ Maurice Robison, Architects, Inc.; Peter Brown, Architects/ Planners; and Scott Slaney and Steve Harding. The competition led to the commissioning of a new master plan by noted landscape architect Laurie Olin, and the Heart of the Park improvements were completed in 2004.
In October 2007 RDA launched the 99K House Competition that called for a single-family house with up to 1,400 SF, including three bedrooms and one-and-a-half to two bathrooms, to be built for $99,000 or less. The competition challenged designers and architects to design a sustainable, affordable house, with special consideration given to affordability, longevity, energy savings benefits, and appropriateness for the hot, humid climate of Houston.
The competition objectives were to broaden awareness of green building strategies applicable to affordable housing, generate and publicize buildable examples of sustainable, affordable houses, and construct an exemplary sustainable, affordable house prototype. Five jurors representing expertise in design, sustainability, construction of affordable housing, and Houston’s Fifth Ward, selected the winner, the team of Hybrid / ORA, Seattle, Washington, including Robert Humble, Joel Egan, Ben Spencer, Owen Richards, Tom Mulica, and Kate Cudney.
The City of Houston through the Land Assemblage Redevelopment Authority (LARA) donated a site for the house at 4015 Jewel Street in Houston’s historic Fifth Ward, a residential area east of downtown. Harvey Builders offered their services as general contractor of the project in celebration of the company’s 50th anniversary. The winning house will be sold to a low-income family through the Tejano Community Center.
In conjunction with the building of the winning design by Hybrid/ ORA, the Rice Design Alliance and AIA Houston hosted a public exhibition of the Jury’s top 66 designs at the Architectural Center Houston, 315 Capitol, in September – October 2008. A catalogue from the exhibition featuring the selected designs was published and is available for sell.