HOUSTON – (Realty News Report) – Scott Ziegler, AIA, Senior Principal at the Urban Residential Studio of Houston-based Ziegler Cooper Architects (ZCA) is an urbanist who has impacted Houston and the lives of Houstonians. Realty News Report sat down with Ziegler for an extended interview regarding Houston’s density and his new book, “Ziegler Cooper: 40 Years of Inspirational Design.”
This is Part Two of the Ziegler interview. To see Part One CLICK HERE.
Realty News Report: We’ve discussed urban densification and we wonder about what lies ahead. From your research, how do you see Houston growing in the years ahead? CBD? Suburbs? New towns like the Woodlands?
Scott Ziegler: I think what you see is a confluence of lifestyle changes, creating demand for urban living throughout the city – in the Texas Medical Center, Midtown, Galleria, River Oaks, City Center. People want to get to work quickly and then come home and go out again. They want to walk to work and to all their personal needs like supermarkets, Starbucks, and restaurants. People are also working remotely or are sharing work spaces. We’re also seeing people living closer to employment centers — even the Upper Kirby District now has residential towers and office buildings. River Oaks, too. We’re very confident about the future growth of Houston.
Realty News Report: What about the new 3 million-SF Exxon Mobil campus on 385 acres about 25 miles north of downtown Houston? Why is that important to Houston?
Scott Ziegler: A lot of companies do need such a facility — a place where they can consolidate all their offices into one location. The Exxon campus fulfilled their need for 10,000 employees in one campus location. However, it doesn’t really connect to the surrounding community. In a sense, it is an island surrounded by a moat and isolating itself from the neighborhood. Companies like Exxon are extremely security sensitive and want to build highly secure campuses around their offices. This development, however, goes against my master planning sensibilities to create high-density mixed-use and walkable communities where we are not so auto-dependent.
Realty News Report: Speaking of Exxon Mobil, what about the vacant Exxon high-rise building at 800 Bell? What’s the status of that downtown structure?
Scott Ziegler: The owners are planning to redevelop the building into to a modern workplace to effectively compete in the market. We were asked to do a complete makeover, gutting the building back to the concrete slab and adding over 100,000 square feet of NRA by giving the building a deeper bay depth. All the elevators as well as the electrical and mechanical systems are getting upgraded. These ambitious plans fell victim to the decline in oil prices and a collapse of the office market in Houston. I do think the project still has legs as we head back into a more positive oil market.
Realty News Report: What’s going to happen in the future? Will density increase in Houston?
Scott Ziegler: Absolutely. Density will increase. We’re in a changing paradigm. People are tired of their commute. They want to gain control of their lives and spend more time with the family. For those reasons, densification is a very good solution for future, where we will see more urban living, and have people who want to live in urban areas, with all the amenities urban life has to offer. Again, high land costs are making it difficult for townhouse builders to make their numbers work. Houston builder Lovett Homes, for example, has been very successful building townhouse residences for years in prime inner-city locations. But land has gotten to be so expensive that Lovett is now having look for cheaper land in more off beat locations. Ultimately, residential development is going to have to go more vertical.
Realty News Report: You have said mixed-use projects have changed. They’ve become denser and vertical and are attracting larger anchors like grocers and hotels. Why?
Scott Ziegler: It’s what I would call synergistic development — the some of the parts is greater than individual pieces. Grocers are becoming an important anchor for mixed-use. In Midtown, Morgan is building a 40,000-sf Whole Foods, with four stories of apartments on top and a two-story underground garage. Midtown now has over 15,000 residents, so it’s important to provide a neighborhood grocer. In Midway’s development at Buffalo Heights, there is a 96,000 square foot H-E-B grocery store with a 60,000 square foot of co-working component, and five stories of apartments on top of the grocer. Midway’s Buffalo Heights project is phase one of a five-phase development on 25 acres.
Realty News Report: Please tell our readers a little bit about your book, “Ziegler Cooper: 40 Years of Inspirational Design.”
Scott Ziegler: The book is a result of not having documented our work over a long period of time. It crept up on us faster than thought — 40 years goes by in a Nano second! We felt it was time to show the value of the work we created. As we worked on the book we were a little taken back on how prolific we have been! The book reinforces everything we believed in from Day 1 – that we dedicated our designs to make Houston a better place to live by designing beautiful buildings, and I think we’ve done that. Great cities in world are measured in large part by the quality of their architecture and the public realm. I find the most beautiful cities are the product of their architecture. The 1893 Chicago World’s Fair changed that city forever, especially with buildings such as the Palace of Fine Arts — one of the Fair’s most impressive remaining buildings, which now serves as the Museum of Science and Industry. Another impressive building from the World’s Fair is the Rookery, where every blueprint for the Columbian Exposition was drawn. The lobby was redesigned by Frank Lloyd Wright, and today the structure is regarded as one of Chicago’s most historically significant buildings. People began talking about the future and creating a culture and desire to elevate architecture and it has shaped how Chicagoans feel about their city ever since. One of the reasons why Rice University has such an enviable campus today, was that Edgar Odell Lovett, Rice’s first President, worked very closely with William Ward Watkin, Rice’s first Dean of the Architecture School and emphasized the need for a large open campus to take advantage of the prevailing breezes, coupled with a uniform architectural plan. Over the next 40 years, the two of them worked together forging a strong vision for the next Millennium and building a beautiful campus. At ZCA, we are committed to the idea of creating beauty wherever we can. I have always felt that beauty has intrinsic value and that each building we design becomes a part of the city, and we want to make the city a better place to live. That’s one of the reasons I got into this profession.
Realty News Report: The firm studies urbanism, density and micro-villages. Where is urbanism headed? Micro villages?
Scott Ziegler: Houston is in early stages of densification and urbanization, and we have a huge challenge ahead of us to reverse the direction of sprawl. The sprawl model has to change, and it will. People’s lifestyles are changing. They don’t want to spend an hour and 20 minutes in traffic every day. Sprawl has lost its luster and people are re-evaluating their lifestyle choices; the car that got them to the suburbs is now stuck in gridlock and the new urban lifestyle is looking more attractive than ever. I am more optimistic than ever about ZCA’s future and the opportunities we have to reshape our urban landscape.