Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Icon for Houston?

Brian Shelly recently made this request in the comments of another post:
Not to sidetrack this thread, but could I make a request to have a discussion or brainstorming session on building some sort of Icon for Houston, a la Golden Gate Bridge, Statue of Liberty, etc...? (Preferably privately financed, of course :) )

Also, does anyone know anything new about the Houston Pavilions project?
Here's the Houston Pavilions site, and here's a discussion of it. I don't know much other than what I've seen in the Chronicle about it. They did get the tax breaks and nearby city infrastructure investments they requested.

Believe it or not, I've done some thinking on a monument/icon for Houston. One idea I haven't fleshed out much would be a giant version of the 3D Lone Star on top of the San Jacinto monument - like a building or enclosed space. It could certainly make for an iconic building if it could be built. Ideally it would look like a 5-pointed star both from on the ground and in the air, which I don't believe this one does (it only has four sides, so the top view must be only a four-pointed star).

The other idea I have would similar in concept to the Eiffel Tower, but instead a composite-material latticework structure of the four legs of a giant pyramid over downtown, with no center support. It potentially could be the tallest freestanding structure in the world (CN Tower in Toronto would be the competitor). The legs would have to be assembled on the ground along two crossing streets (looking like a gigantic plus + sign from the air), and then raised into the pyramid configuration. The legs might hold a ski-lift-type transport that could take people up or down any leg to zip around downtown with a very cool view along the way. And the top point of the pyramid would hold not only an observation deck, but also a high-dollar restaurant and events facility (weddings, corporate parties, etc.) with the perfect name: "The Top of Texas". Based on the fees CN Tower charge and the revenues they make, it's possible the venture could be self-funding and possibly even wildly profitable. I saw a PBS special on the Eiffel Tower last night: it paid for itself within just a few years of construction and everything after that made Eiffel a very wealthy man.

So those are my two ideas. Additional concepts are welcome in the comments.


At 10:32 PM, December 14, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've always thought an icon would be a neat thing to have. Personally, I've always been partial to arches, such as Paris' Triomphe or Berlin's Brandenburg Gate.

Here's the problem. Unless these icons are dedicated to some historic event, they will always be seen as cheezy boosterism. In this day of mad competitions amongst US cities to be known as "world class", the icon would be Houston's embarrassment, as opposed to Houston's pride.

We already have a monument, though off the beaten path. And it does honor an historic event. It may be considered more of a Texas monument than Houston, but San Jacinto is ours nonetheless.

Perhaps we could start planning early for a monument to Houston's bi-centennial in 2036, or Texas', in 2045. But, to just build an icon because we are a "can-do city", like every other US city, makes me cringe.

In the meantime, why don't we celebrate Houston's historic reliance on water by building more fountains?

At 10:47 PM, December 14, 2005, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

I don't think it would be that bad. Has the CN Tower made Toronto look cheesy? Or the Space Needle in Seattle? The Eiffel tower had no purpose other than to be cool for the World Exposition. Besides, we can fall back on the simple, well-known maxim, "Everything's bigger in Texas."

I second the fountains motion. Not an icon, but nice nonetheless. The downtown Cotswold project has added quite a few, but more would be good.

At 8:24 AM, December 15, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Space Needle was built for the World's Fair, while the Eiffel Tower was built for the Exposition. As such, they had "reasons" to exist. CN Tower, not so much, as it was built to showcase the strength of Canadian industry.

The times and cities were different. If Houston were to host an Olympics, for instance, I would think an icon to celebrate that feat would be great. But, the bigger in Texas line is frankly, a bit worn out.

Along my arch theory, I thought a "Gateway to Latin America" arch would create a lot of goodwill and draw attention to Houston's unique position as a portal to South America by land, air, sea, and of course, oil. It would be especially interesting, given its proximity to the San Jacinto Monument. But, hey, that's just my opinion.

Glad you like my fountain proposal though. :)

At 8:57 AM, December 15, 2005, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

A "Gateway to Latin America" arch over the ship channel could be interesting, although they would probably insist on calling it a "Gateway to the World" because so much of the traffic is not from Latin America. It would need to be sufficiently differentiated from St. Louis' arch though, or it would look too copycat. Maybe the arch could be in the shape of a giant Lone Star, although that will require some tricky structural engineering. "Gateway to Texas"?

At 10:22 AM, December 15, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The gateway idea has been taken. Personally I don't see the need for anything iconic. I like flying below the radar.

At 10:33 AM, December 15, 2005, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

The Gateway to Texas Lone Star: even better would be putting it over the Bolivar gap to Galveston Bay. Then every ship would pass through it no matter which particular port or dock they're going too. Ahh, but the challenge of hurricane-proofing it...

At 12:43 PM, December 15, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

OK, screw the icon. How about we build something into the bridge from Bolivar to Galveston? That way, the bridge itself is the icon, and hurrican proofing is easier with bridge design.

Does that work for everyone?

At 1:38 PM, December 15, 2005, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Yes. Make the bottom of the star a two lane road over to Bolivar, maybe with support cables going up to the rest of the star's upper structure. It will have to be a helluva big star though for the bottom part to have clearance for the biggest ships (unless the bottom of the star is like a drawbridge that can open).

At 2:03 PM, December 15, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What if the star formed the supports for a suspension bridge? The roadbed would travel through the star. The bottom two points would be the structural supports angling inward to the top point. The side points would be parallel to the road bed, though not supporting anything.

Getting better?

At 2:42 PM, December 15, 2005, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Yes, that could work. At this point, I realize the limits of my expertise and say leave the details to an architect or suspension bridge design firm. Just so long as the overall structure is a distinctive Texas Lone Star. Maybe even have a design competition within the broad theme.

At 8:34 PM, December 16, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Since I requested this thread I guess I should perform some input. The thing I don't like about a tower is that it's been done. San Antonio and Dallas have towers that are now worthless relics of a different era.

The idea that I had was to have one or two white horses, realistic or abstract, rared up and unbridled. Name them something like "Freedom", but maybe not that cheesy. No more than say 70-80 feet, on par with the Arc de Triomphe but lit up at night so they can be seen from a good distance, but not dominate the sky line. Good for blimp shots, condo tower views, and Monday Night Football back drops.

The wild horse(s) conjure images of Texas history, culture, strength, and our wildness.

I hate when other cities build things that don't match their culture, their current architecture, and don't use any indeginous building materials or styles.

At 4:23 PM, December 18, 2005, Blogger Matt Bramanti said...

Let's just put the economic realities of the Eiffel Tower idea aside (things like, who would supply the land), and look at the engineering realities.

The Eiffel Tower is 984 feet high, and 410 feet wide. That's a 2.4:1 height-to-width ratio.

Even if you could build the legs on intersecting streets -- which you couldn't because the angle of the tower wouldn't be 90 degrees -- we're talking about a stupidly, unfeasibly large structure.

Going on the same dimensions of the Eiffel Tower, a "Houston Tower" over downtown (say a 12x12 block area, to be conservative) would be 9,500 feet high.

At 4:51 PM, December 18, 2005, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

I think the math went wrong in there somewhere. I was looking at a 4-legged pyramid between 1,000 and 2,000 feet high. Assuming 45 degree legs, their length would be the square root of 2 times the height.

To imagine building it: take two pieces of stiff wire and make a + sign with them. That's what it looks like assembled on the ground along intersecting streets. Then, to visualize raising it, lift the pyramid point (the crossing center of the +) off the ground while keeping the ends of the 4 points on the ground (they slide towards the center).

I kind of imagine it built in sections somewhere else, then close the needed streets for a week or so over a holiday period, assemble them on rails, then use steel cables and a serious set of winches to raise it by pulling the opposing legs closer together (which naturally pushes up the point). The height limit is based on how far the straight streets go downtown until they curve or go under an elevated freeway.

At 11:15 PM, December 24, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I want a statue of Sam Houston on a horse.

Visible from space.


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