The Lobby of 2022: Brighter & Lighter

HOUSTON – (By Cynthia Lescalleet for Realty News Report) – Office tower lobbies downtown have become brighter, more spacious and more flexible, mixed-use spaces now that they serve as common areas rather than strictly as entryways.

Recent lobby renovations have added glass expanses,lighter finishes, wood and plant-life features, and a variety of colorful, modern-style seating. The choices help illustrate the prevailing trend of blurring hospitality design and even residential elements into office properties.

Several examples of this expanded role and use were showcased by a recent interior architecture tour sponsored by AIA Houston, the Houston chapter of American Institute of Architects.


At Heritage Plaza, a renovation project led by Kirksey Architecture for owner Brookfield Properties ditched the iconic tower’s dark and brooding ‘80s vibe. Improvements added a glass curtain wall entry to flood the interior with natural light and offer views toward the refreshed and landscaped plaza outside. An escalator and pair of extraneous interior columns were removed to further open up the entry area and sight lines across the main level. The space is ripe for more animated uses, project sources said.

Raised levels atop short, wide “social staircases” accommodate small gatherings and meetups draw the eye up and toward a long vacant space that could become a real focal point. The intriguing hidden spot is located within the 1929 Federal Land Bank building behind Heritage Plaza, though its vintage exterior wall has been part of the 1987 lobby since the post-modern tower’s initial design incorporated it.

Heritage Plaza’s Sky Lobby on the 13th floor was also rejiggered during the project. The updates replaced former office space with opened up common and conference areas and a large, covered outdoor lobby facing west, overlooking the historic buildings in neighboring Sam Houston Park.

One aside: A reminder of how things looked before the redo remains. Tucked off a secondary entrance to the building is small bank of elevators in a hallway still clad in the original dark granite.

Owned by Brookfield Properties, Heritage Plaza is one of several aging landmark properties downtown that the company has overhauled. Others include Allen Center (plus the 354-room former DoubleTree hotel, rebranded as the C. Baldwin); Total Plaza and Houston Center.


Houston’s tallest skyscraper, the 75-story J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. tower has a new footprint. Its new, dramatic glass entry added 3,000 square feet to the building’s original five story lobby. Interestingly, the pyramid of diamond glass panels hangs from two points on the façade rather than being supported at ground level.

The glassy addition adds natural light and other biophilic design qualities to the hospitality-style lobby, tour materials noted. A two-story space that once handled banking functions has been repurposed as a gallery-style conference center on the first level, with spaces easy to section into smaller configurations. The former second level of that space holds additional collaborative work and conference spaces.

Renovations also tweaked the exterior, where seating and food options now break up the plaza pavers.

The project’s renovation team included HOK with I.A. Naman and Associates, MEP. The 1981 property was designed by I.M. Pei & Partners, with 3D International.

TEXAS TOWER  – Hines’ Newest Houston Skyscraper

At Texas Tower, a new Hines building designed by Pelli Clarke & Partners with interiors led by PDR, the “grand lobby” has double-height ceilings and a large mezzanine rigged for co-working. The ground floor stands ready for its mixed-use future as restaurant and retail amenities roll out.

Texas Tower 12th floor amenity deck lobby. (Photo credit: CALpix)

Co-working spaces and a second level “health center” –its luxurious finishes paired with high-end equipment (don’t call it fitness, project team members said) – add to the building amenities.

Capped by a whimsical, artsy glass orb lighting array, the 12th level sky lobby accesses a 13,000 square foot outdoor terrace of landscaping and seating, light-filled conference rooms and training rooms. The 47-story tower, which was recently completed, will have ground-level restaurants and bars that address the street and offer evening social opportunities for theater goers and  symphony attendees.


Having more hospitable – almost residential — common areas is an established design trend in commercial space, with clients seeking add-ons once considered unavailable, said Identity Architects project and design managers at their office in the historic Bayou Lofts building, built in 1911 as Southern Pacific Railroad’s regional office.

While the firm’s open space lobby is small in comparison to the major towers nearby, it also needed a tweak so that existing space could better welcome incoming clients but provide some privacy for lobby-adjacent workers since the studio space is wide open. The solution? A custom screen pierced for light and a small seat-and-meet area with stylized wooden map of the city’s major roadways.

With the work-life balance of today’s post-lockdown workforce still skewing toward comfort and home, the design of office space and related common areas have responded to current sensibilities in the Covid era. Meanwhile, new building materials and custom printing are further helping clients achieve a more hospitable workplace for today’s Gen Z and Millennial workers. If built, clients hope, will they come (back)?

March 27, 2022 Realty News Report Copyright 2022

Photos: CALPix .. Feature Photo:J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. tower

File: The Lobby of 2022: Brighter & Lighter

LISTEN: THE RALPH BIVINS PROJECT podcast with guest architect Dean Strombom of Gensler — The Ideal Workplace Solution.

LISTEN: THE RALPH BIVINS PROJECT podcast with guest Lauri Goodman Lampson, president and CEO of PDR, a Houston-based workplace consulting, design and architecture firm. – The Delta Variant and Return to the Office.

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