The name Gerald D. Hines carries a considerable amount of weight in Houston. Not only is there a school of architecture named after the celebrated real estate developer, but a good number of the city's architectural landmarks have evolved with the help of Hines' eponymous development firm — from Philip Johnson's monolithic Pennzoil Place to the Galleria.
For the past decade, Hines has partnered with the non-profit development organization Urban Land Institute to coordinate the Student Urban Design Competition, a nationwide contest aimed at encouraging cooperation between the various parties invested in the built environment. Architects, urban planners, business students and even psychologists work together in teams to create a hypothetical development scheme from scratch.
"In so many situations, the developer and the academic community are at odds," Hines told CultureMap at the Houston Ballet's Center for Dance on Friday, as the four final teams presented their design boards and financial plans for a site along Buffalo Bayou at the downtown Post Office building on Franklin Street.
"In so many situations, the developer and the academic community are at odds," Hines said.
"So many people we were hiring [at Hines Interests] were completely naive to the development process," Hines said. "We wanted to bring people in the universities together to interconnect with the planning community at ULI.
"We thought the competition would be a wonderful way to work with the academic world."
The final four planning schemes tap into the common ground among the financial, architectural and planning communities to achieve forward-thinking and economically-feasible projects that attract and maintain new residents and businesses.
"A lot of ideas have to be tempered with what makes sense in the marketplace," Hines said, taking note of the increased attention paid towards issues of sustainability in urban planning and clearly expressed among the participating teams in this year's student competition.
"We have a group in house we call Conceptual Construction, in which engineers look at how far we can go into the green initiative from a cost and return perspective. Many sustainable ideas don't necessarily make sense financially, but ours always pay out over a five- or even 10-year period, depending on the lease."
As Hines looks to a number of major projects — including Cesar Pelli's Transbay Tower in San Francisco and the contentious 74-story MoMA building by Jean Nouvel in New York — he said the company was particularly interested in high-performance windows as a means to better regulate interior temperatures and lower energy costs.
Turning his sights on Houston, Hines noted several forthcoming buildings.
"We have a residential project next to the Waterwall park. We expect to start that project this summer," he said. "The site became available and we thought it was ideal for residential. There's a park as well as retail and restaurants all in walking distance, which is what people want. It was a perfect fit."
Hines added that his company just revealed that it is building a 950-acre industrial park off I-45 at Beltway 8 and also is negotiating another office project in the Galleria area.