Which constructing is Houston’s most iconic? Charge the very best

Think “New York,” and you picture the Empire State Building. Think “Washington,” and there’s the White House, the National Mall and all those memorials. San Francisco? The Golden Gate Bridge. St. Louis? The Arch. San Antonio? The River Walk, the Alamo. Austin? The pink-granite state Capitol.

What are our icons?

What defines us?

What do we love?

Those are surprisingly tough questions.

And they’re important. When we think about our icons — our most impressive architecture, our historic places or buildings that plain make us happy — we’re defining our city. We’re thinking both about the Houston that we are and the Houston that we’d like to be.

So: What is Houston’s favorite architecture? The Chronicle and the American Institute of Architects Houston hope that you’ll tell us.

With great difficulty, the AIA Houston has narrowed the contenders to 50 buildings. We’ve listed them below in chronological order with address, architect and a short description. The nominees include skyscrapers and schools, stadiums and museums, schools and places of worship. They’re as old as the Houston Cotton Exchange and as new as Memorial-Hermann Medical Plaza. They’re as stately as Bayou Bend and as whacked-out as the Beer Can House.

Which ones are most us?

See the buildings and vote for your favorite at chron.com/life. Let us know what you think, and we’ll let you know what everyone else does.

And the nominees are . . .

Houston Cotton Exchange (1884), 202 Travis, by Eugene Heiner. High Victorian architecture with interesting contrasts of shapes and colors on the façade.

Sweeney, Coombs & Fredericks Building (1889), 301 Main, designed by George Dickey. This three-story Victorian office building features a corner turret and arched upper-floor windows.

Harris County Courthouse (1910, now the Harris County Civil Courts Building), Courthouse Square, Lang & Witchell. The stately domed Classical building is now being restored.

James Wiley Link House (1912, now the University of St. Thomas Administration Building), 3800 Montrose, Sanguinet, Staats & Barnes. J.W. Link, who developed Montrose, built this flamboyant house to advertise his subdivision.

Rice University Administration Building (1912, now Lovett Hall), 6100 Main, Cram Goodhue & Ferguson. The first building constructed at Rice, it established the campus’s distinctive Mediterranean Revival style.

Rice Hotel (1913, now the Post-Rice Lofts), Main at Texas, Mauran, Russell & Crowell. Built by Jesse H. Jones, the hotel occupied the traditional center of Houston but was closed in 1977. Two decades later, it was revived by developer Randall Davis.

Texas Company Building (1915), 720 San Jacinto, Warren & Wetmore. This early 20th-century skyscraper features classical architectural details and arcades along the sidewalk. Columns still bear the Texaco Star.

Houston Public Library (1926, now the Julia Ideson Building), 500 McKinney. Cram & Ferguson; William Ward Watkin and Louis A. Glover. The library was planned as the first building of a new city civic center with Spanish-style buildings. Now being renovated, the Ideson will continue to house archives.

Niels Esperson Building (1927), 808 Travis, John Eberson. Italian Renaissance ornament gives this building a striking architectural identity. The crowning temple-like memorial to Mr. Esperson still dominates Houston’s skyline though it is now surrounded by much higher buildings.

Houston National Bank (1928, now the Islamic Da’wah Center), 202 Main St., Hedrick & Gottlieb. This building anchored what was the financial district on lower Main Street. Impressively solid architecture with fluted Doric columns, heavy limestone brackets and a massive double cornice.

Bayou Bend (1928), 2940 Lazy Lane, John F. Staub with Birdsall P. Briscoe. Designed for Ima Hogg, this River Oaks house-turned-museum now belongs to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

Gulf Building (1929, now J.P. Morgan Chase Building), 712 Main Street, Alfred C. Finn, Kenneth Franzheim and J.E.R. Carpenter. The tallest building in Houston for almost 35 years, this Art Deco skyscraper remains prominent in the skyline.

Merchants & Manufacturers Building (1930, now the University of Houston-Downtown), 1 North Main, Giesecke & Harris. Constructed for a giant merchandise mart, the building was a business failure after the 1929 flood and stock market crash. The University of Houston took it over in 1974. During renovations, Charles Tapley Associates created the jazzy exterior.

St. Paul’s Methodist Church (1930), 5501 Main, Alfred C. Finn. A neo-Gothic, steel-framed church with a limestone exterior.

22 Third Ward shotgun houses (1930, now Project Rowhouses), 2521 Holman, designer unknown. Project Rowhouses, an artist-based Third Ward community revitalization project, gives new life to vernacular “shotgun” buildings.

Lamar High School (1937), 3325 Westheimer, John F. Staub and Kenneth Franzheim, et al. This handsome streamline moderne school building is the result of a WPA-era project employing local architects.

Houston City Hall (1939), 901 Bagby, Joseph Finger. Typical of public buildings of its time, this moderne building features decorative plaster and is faced with Texas Cordova shell limestone.

Congregation Emanu El Temple (1949), 1500 Sunset, MacKie & Kamrath with Leonard Gabert. Emphatic horizontals reflect the influence of Frank Lloyd Wright.

Prudential Building (1952, now the University of Texas Health Science Center), 1100 Holcombe, Kenneth Franzheim. The first corporate highrise built outside of downtown Houston, this building still boasts sculptured fountains, murals, and stonework in its public spaces. It is slated for demolition.

Brown Pavilion and Cullinan Hall, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (1958 and 1974), 1001 Bissonnet. Ludwig Mies van der Rohe with Staub, Rather & Howze; and the Office of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. The Brown Pavilion and Cullinan Hall, additions to the original classical building that faces the Mecom Fountain, form the finest modern space in Houston.

University of St. Thomas main quad (1958, now Welder Strake & Jones Hall), 3812-3910 Yoakum, Philip Johnson Associates with Bolton & Barnstone. A landmark in Philip Johnson’s career, the campus mall was his first multiple-building project, and the last time he designed in the style of his mentor, Mies van der Rohe.

Tenneco Building (1963; El Paso Energy Building), 1010 Milam, Skidmore Owings & Merrill. This corporate highrise remains a benchmark among downtown buildings. Depth, shadow, and light play with the eye.

Astrodome (1965), Loop 610 and Kirby, Hermon Lloyd & W. B. Morgan; Wilson, Morris Crain & Anderson. Once called the Eighth Wonder of the World, the Astrodome is the mother of modern sports facilities in America. It provided an indoor venue for football and baseball with air conditioning and eventually AstroTurf. Now vacant, it’s considered endangered.

Jones Hall (1966), 615 Louisiana, Caudill Rowlett Scott. Conceived as a drum in a box, this elegant travertine building is both modern and classical. The sophisticated lobby and teak-lined 3,000 seat auditorium are serene and unpretentious.

Miller Outdoor Theater (1968), 100 Concert Drive in Hermann Park, Eugene Werlin & Associates. A dramatic Cor-Ten steel canopy of three triangular folded plates with 95′ spans between supports shelters a stage and house seats.

Beer Can House (1968), 222 Malone, John Milkovisch. The Orange Show Foundation recently renovated and now preserves this folk-art monument. Its creator, a retired rail-car upholsterer, claimed to have drunk from every can.

Alley Theater (1969), 615 Texas, Ulrich Franzen & Associates with MacKie & Kamrath. Houston’s greatest example of the Brutalist style, this fortress-like structure houses two theaters.

Galleria (1971, now the Galleria One), 5015 Westheimer, HOK and Neuhaus & Taylor. Developed by Gerald Hines to become the new downtown, the Galleria spawned copycat malls across the world. The mall’s most wonder-inspiring feature, a skylit ice-skating rink, is surrounded by an air-conditioned, consumption-driven version of public life.

One Shell Plaza (1971), 910 Louisiana, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill with Wilson Morris Crain & Anderson. At the time of its completion, this 50-story skyscraper was the world’s tallest concrete building.

Rothko Chapel (1971), 1409 Sul Ross, Howard Barnstone & Eugene Aubry. Commissioned by John and Dominique de Menil to house a series of paintings by abstract expressionist Mark Rothko, the chapel is a space of uncommon serenity.

Contemporary Arts Museum (1972), 5216 Montrose, Gunnar Birkerts & Associates with Charles Tapley Associates. The pointy, knife-edged corners and reflective stainless steel sheathing of this zoomy parallelogram represent the architect’s attempt to deflect this building away from Mies’s Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, building across the street.

Pennzoil Place (1976), 711 Louisiana, Johnson/Burgee Architects with S. I. Morris Associates. Pennzoil Place is actually one building conceived as two towers. A study in angles and relationships, the towers are separated by no more than ten feet.

Texas Southern University Thurgood Marshall School of Law (1976), 3601 Wheeler, John S. Chase. The combination of white precast concrete, bronze solar glass, and bronze anodized aluminum produces a satisfying high-contrast façade that is both simple and forceful.

The Orange Show (1979), 2401 Munger, Jeff McKissack. Handmade by a retired postman, the Orange Show is dedicated to his belief that the orange is a magical vessel transferring power from the sun to humankind. Part theme park, part museum, part community center, it is maintained by the Orange Show Foundation.

Texas Commerce Tower (1981, now JP Morgan Chase Tower), 600 Travis, I.M. Pei & Partners and 3D/International. Houston’s tallest building at 75 stories, this skyscraper is understated and precise in composition and detail, but aggressive in its size and site planning.

Allied Bank Plaza (1983, now Wells Fargo Bank Plaza), 1000 Louisiana, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and Lloyd Jones Brewer & Associates. This bank building, Houston’s second tallest, is clad in green,color-of-money reflective glass. In cross section, it’s shaped like a dollar sign: two quarter circles slipped off center.

RepublicBank Center (1983, now Bank of America Center), 700 Louisiana, Johnson/Burgee Architects and Kendall/Heaton Associates. The Gothic-inspired skyscraper clad in red granite with a dramatic triple-gabled roofline is prominent in the Houston skyline.

Transco Tower (1983, now Williams Tower), 2800 Post Oak Blvd., Johnson/Burgee and Morris*Aubry Architects. At 64 stories, the third tallest building in Houston stands without competition in the Galleria area. Its tapered profile is a beloved landmark.

Enron Building (1983, now 1400 Smith), 1400 Smith, Lloyd Jones Brewer & Associates. A sleek membrane of alternating bands of silver reflective glass and white aluminum spandrels cover the sensual curved surface.

University of Houston Architecture Building (1986, now Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture Building), University of Houston, Johnson/Burgee Architects and Morris*Aubry Architects. Topped with a stone temple prominent from I-45, this building was designed after an 18th-century drawing by French architect C.-N. Ledoux for a building that was never built.

George R. Brown Convention Center (1987), 1001 Convention Center Blvd., Houston Convention Center Architects & Engineers. Houston’s 11-block convention center sidles up to the freeway sporting red ductwork reminiscent of Paris’s Centre Pompidou.

Menil Collection (1987), 1515 Sul Ross, Renzo Piano and Richard Fitzgerald & Associates. Built to house the phenomenal art collection of John and Dominique de Menil, this museum has been acclaimed by critics as a triumph of modern architecture. Its ingenious roof and skylight system, interior atrium garden, and windows fill the galleries with natural light.

St. Luke’s Medical Tower (1991), 6624 Fannin, Cesar Pelli & Associates and Kendall/Heaton Associates. This medical office building is as serviceable as it is handsome. Twin octagonal towers capped with white aluminum spires offer a distinctive presence in the Texas Medical Center skyline.

Children’s Museum (1992), 1500 Binz, Venturi, Scott-Brown & Associates and Jackson & Ryan. Formed of two pre-engineered metal buildings, the Children’s Museum is contemporary and economical.

Enron Field (2000, now Minute Maid Park), 501 Crawford, HOK Sport. This baseball park, which sports a retractable roof and a grass field, was built on the old Houston train yards and boasts as its main entrance the fine old Union Station (1911, Warren & Wetmore, the same architects who designed Grand Central Station in New York).

Hobby Center (2002), 800 Bagby, Robert A. M. Stern Architects. A majestic roof supported by tubular steel columns lends drama to the performing-arts venue’s exterior.

Reliant Stadium (2002), 1 Reliant Park, HOK Sport. Host to the 2004 Super Bowl XXXVIII, the Houston football stadium has a capacity of 69,000 people in three main seating tiers. A retractable roof and other technological advances make this a state-of-the art facility.

Hilton Americas Hotel (2003) 1600 Lamar, Arquitectonica and Gensler. Houston’s largest convention center hotel is a 24-story, four-star facility with 1,200 guest rooms. Built on a reinforced concrete frame, it has won design awards for its unusual hound’s tooth façade, which inspired boldly colored geometric interiors.

Toyota Center (2003), 1510 Polk, HOK Sport with Morris Architects and John S. Chase. Housing the Houston Rockets basketball team and the Houston Aeros hockey team, this arena can seat up to 19,000 people for concerts.

Memorial-Hermann Medical Plaza (2007), 6400 Fannin, Kirksey. At the north entrance to the Medical Center, this 30-story tower sports a unique lantern, 53′ above the roof, that provides a colorful, ever-changing nighttime light show. During the day, inverted metal panels reflect sunlight.

Note: Building information provided by the American Institute of Architects Houston.

lisa.gray@chron.com

Comments are closed.