The Houston chapter of the Urban Land Institute is dolling out the accolades Tuesday night for its annual Development of Distinction Awards, honoring nine projects not only for innovations in design and construction, but for balancing real-life challenges like economic viability and environmental sustainability.
Taking place in the Crystal Ballroom at the Rice Lofts, the sold-out 2012 awards event will celebrate both newly-built efforts like the Tellepsen Family YMCA and the CityCentre complex as well as the fresh takes on historical sites like the revamped Market Square Park and the mid-century Gulfgate Shopping Center.
"It's interesting to see how zoning can be a part of planning, or, as in Houston's case, sometimes not," said Yale urban planning professor Alexander Garvin.
"This award honors developments that make a positive impact on their surroundings and their larger communities," ULI Houston officer Greg Erwin, head of the real estate development for Winstead Attorneys, said in a statement. "Our aim is to encourage more developers to imitate these best practices.”
To select the nominees, ULI Houston assembled a panel of area real estate and architectural experts, including City of Houston housing and community development director James Noteware and Patricia Oliver, dean of the UH's architecture program.
Here are the nominees in their four respective categories, complete with links to brief video descriptions from ULI Houston.
- CityCentre — thriving mixed-use development on the west end
- Gulfgate Center — renovated 1950s shopping center
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- Mandolin Gardens — mosquito-infested retention pond converted into an eco-friendly park
- Market Square Park —19th century Downtown landmark reimagined for the 21st
- Tellepsen Family YMCA — ultra-modern architecture serving growing populations in Downtown and Midtown
- Harris County Courthouse — civic icon restored back to its original 1910 design
- Wortham Theater Center — the building project that launched the theater district in the late 1980s
- Lee & Joe Jamail Skatepark — world-class facility free and open to the public
- Houston Permitting Center — 1920s rice warehouse revamped into a low-energy city building
Late last year, a small team of judges from across the country traveled to Houston to tour the nominated sites and vet the final winners. The panel decides how many awards will be given and in which categories.
"These are all exemplars of successful planning in Houston," judge Alexander Garvin told CultureMap in an interview at La Carafe following his tour of Market Square. "It's interesting to see how zoning can be a part of planning, or, as in Houston's case, sometimes not."
"It's surprising to see how much the projects differs from one another," said Garvin, who is an adjunct professor of urban planning at Yale University and president of the design firm AGA Public Realm Strategists. "Nevertheless, each site alters the urban landscape for the better, transforming the area in its own unique way."