How big is Houston Sprawl

Houston: Genetic City

Land speculation, urban sprawl, and industry interests are fueling Houston's growth. The resulting changing urban typologies will present the soon-to-be third-largest city in the USA with new challenges. In the project “Houston: Genetic City”, students from the University of Houston, Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture and Design and faculty members Peter Zweig, Matt Johnson and Jason Logan, in collaboration with Pritzker Prize winner Thom Mayne von Morphosis, developed urban scenarios based on different phenomena react.


No city is as ethnically diverse as the Texan industrial location. As a collage with many centers, connected to one another by highways, the largest settlement unit in the USA in terms of area is increasingly confronted with complex ecological and social challenges. The settlements are spreading unplanned on the land reserves in the greater Houston area. Non-places and residual spaces arise, which are flexibly transformed through informal appropriation processes.

The exhibition "Houston: Genetic City" of the University of Houston, Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture and Design shows ideas for the future of the city. The designation as "Genetic City" is based on the culture of ad hoc planning that exists in Houston, which is contrary to top-down planning models. In a place with little regulation, opportunities for innovative urban development can be negotiated. Students developed scenarios at urban and regional levels that respond to large-scale phenomena. These are divided into three main themes:

Vacancies
Houston's economy is shaped by the transition from an industrial to a post-industrial society. Open spaces in the center of the city are rare. The related possible developments of the central business district in the next thirty years are examined in the "Vacancies" scenario using five different phases. The challenge was to demonstrate the potential of the inner city projects from an economic, cultural, social and ecological point of view in a place that is largely supported by the demands of the market. This scenario shows an alternative path that includes density, mobility concepts, infrastructural diversity and new models for living in downtown Houston. "Vacancies" refers to a dynamic, optimistic future in which the city is currently developing faster than forecast.

Energy City
The focus is based on two prerequisites: on the one hand, new energy systems influence our forms of life; on the other hand, the structural effects of the energy transition have a significant impact on the landscape. The use of fossil fuels for transportation, manufacturing, heating or cooling had specific effects on the development of Houston and had a significant influence on the creation of the extensive infrastructure. Most of the existing infrastructure, however, is monofunctional and can be used on one side only. Currently, energy systems are increasingly being formed from a sustainability perspective. Here there is the potential to further develop infrastructural measures along hybrid and multi-layered lines of development. More recent designs show how infrastructure brings design added value through good architecture and how it can be easily integrated into the landscape.

The Unzoned City
The scenario examines Houston's unique planning conditions to create new urban structures. Houston is the largest city in the US with no zoning plan. With areas that are largely unregulated in terms of planning, Houston is an indistinct network of municipal municipal regulations and is characterized by limited capacity to act. With the help of maps and diagrams, relationships between architecture and infrastructure, land use, hot and humid climatic conditions and areas at risk of flooding can be read. A selection of sectional models shows how architecture can connect and integrate these elements. The works uncover what the "Unzoned City" promises: the potential for the development of unusual forms of city and architecture due to the lack of planning instruments.

The exhibition includes maps, diagrams, drawings, models and virtual tours, including master plans, building designs and spatial strategies.

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