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800 Bell has been an ongoing object of fascination for photographer Leonid Furmansky. On repeat trips to Houston, he has studied its angles from many vantage points and in variable weather.
The building, designed by Welton Becket and Associates with Golemon & Rolfe Associates and George Pierce-Abel B. Pierce, was completed in 1963. It is notable for its deep shades that give it an angular profile and protect the interior offices from Houston’s sun. Formerly the Humble Building, it was then occupied by ExxonMobil, who left downtown in 2014 for a campus in Spring. For decades the tower's top two floors were home to the Petroleum Club of Houston; they relocated to the thirty-fifth floor of Total Plaza in 2015. The organization celebrated its 75th anniversary this year.
Previously, 800 Bell's original austerity proved divisive: “this is one of those buildings that trained architects love, and ordinary people scratch their heads at,” a summary on one website begins.
Plans to redevelop the building's 1,300,000 rentable square feet over forty-four floors have circulated and are shown on a dedicated website for the effort. The design, completed by Ziegler Cooper, would reskin the building in glass, adding an inverted surface along its edges and top, similar to the crown of Memorial Hermann Medical Plaza. The move introduces “unparalleled identity/branding,” according to the project’s brochure. Houston is perfect for a “2nd office or HQ relo,” and the building, fully modernized, is shown to have impressive amenities and a reworked subterranean level.
As alternatives to a glass prism, there are other examples of recladding modern buildings, notably the additions to housing projects in France done by Lacaton & Vassal, the most recent recipients of the Pritzker Prize.
At 800 Bell, no exterior work has been done since the redesign was proposed nearly nine years ago. An OffCite article in 2013 provided some additional thoughts about the scheme, including a critique by Lisa Gray originally published in the Houston Chronicle.
With his photographs, Furmansky studies an important piece of Houston’s architectural history caught between phases.
Shorenstein Properties did not respond to a recent inquiry from Cite about the status of the improvement. —Jack Murphy
Leonid Furmansky is a Texas-based photographer. He is driven to document structures that represent the way we live. Leonid's work has been published in the New York Times, Divisare, Texas Architect, Dwell, and ArchDaily. Leonid spends his free time documenting rural and overcrowded cities all while experimenting with film photography.