• “The Lily Pad Network,” by Stantec’s Houston office.

On August 31 — the third anniversary of Hurricane Harvey’s arrival in the Bayou City — Architecture Center Houston (ArCH) launched the digital exhibition “Houston 2020 Visions.” The event marks the first-ever collaboration between the city and AIA Houston to celebrate visionary design proposals that position resiliency and sustainability as the cornerstone of future urban development. 

With migration to cities predicted to balloon by roughly 30 percent in the coming three decades, cities are challenged to accommodate increasing associated needs, such as affordable housing, transportation, and food access, in the midst of a changing climate, unpredictable weather patterns, and global health crises. 

Inspired by Houston’s own experience during Hurricane Harvey and other disasters, Houston City Council Member David W. Robinson, FAIA, led the Houston 2020 Visions competition as a creative way to address some of these challenges through the lens of urban design and planning. “Our city has been hit by three 500-year storms in the past four years,” says Robinson. “We know first-hand the devastating toll we will continue to pay if we fail to act swiftly and creatively to mitigate the effects of climate change.”

Out of dozens of submissions, a jury of architects and planners selected 26 projects for the exhibition. The design proposals cover a variety of relevant themes, including (but not limited to) prairie-to-bay ecology, green corridors, hubs, the future of buildings, and the future of the energy economy. 

The jury called out three of the proposals as visionary: “Galveston Bay Park,” by Rogers Partners Architects + Urban Designers, the Rice University SPEED Center, and Walter P Moore, proposes the construction of a new string of islands in the bay that will double as a storm surge barrier and recreational park space; “The Lily Pad Network,” by Stantec’s Houston office, describes the activation of existing neighborhood structures, such as schools, community centers, and faith institutions, as safe havens during disasters; and “High Hackers” is Gensler Houston’s transformative solution to vacancies throughout the city’s vertical fabric. 

In the fall, the digital exhibition is planned to open in a physical iteration to celebrate the relaunch of Architecture Center Houston at 902 Commerce Street, which flooded during Hurricane Harvey. An exact opening date is yet to be determined due to public safety concerns tied to the COVID-19 pandemic. The virtual exhibition can be viewed at www.Houston2020Visions.org.

Upon closing, the physical displays are slated to embark on a national tour with the hope of sharing their notions of urban resilience with other communities. AIA Houston Executive Director Rusty Bienvenue says, “As the American Institute of Architects embraces a more expansive and urgent view of environmental stewardship, we are confident these visions for a resilient Houston will be instructive not only to Houstonians, but also those in other cities facing their own environmental challenges.”

Sophie Aliece Hollis is Texas Architect’s editorial intern. 

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