Houston Endowment Competition

View to winning entry ©KDA


Foundation non-profits are no strangers to good architecture. Ford Foundation’s forward-looking headquarters in New York City by Roche Dinkeloo was an early example of a non-profit using architecture as a vehicle for serving to brand it as a progressive institution. In 2001 the California Endowment went one step further, staging an invited competition for their new headquarters in Los Angeles.* In that case, competitors were asked to design with the mission of the Endowment in mind, which focused on healthcare. Won by the local firm, Rios Clementi Hale, and completed in 2005, the new building marked an interesting approach to the design of non-profit support facilities in California.

The Houston Endowment has now followed by also staging an invited competition for the design of a brand new facility, creating space for employees and activities now located in the business district and two other non-profits. The designated site, although not in the immediate city center, is located in a park-like setting, not far from the Buffalo Bayou and with great site lines to the city’s downtown.

Established in 1937, the Houston Endowment now provides grants annually in the neighborhood of $70-75M. The recipients are wide ranging, including underserved communities, environmental issues, education, healthcare, immigration, and special emphasis on the arts. The most recent grants included aid for those most affected by the recent hurricane. As for giving any directions concerning the architectural expression of the new headquarters building, one could only assume that it might take a cue from some of the best local architecture—which apparently turned out to be the case. Years ago, the Houston arts scene received international acclaim with the addition of the Menil Foundation’s new museum by Renzo Piano.


The Process

The competition was launched in February 2019 with a Request for Qualifications and attracted 121 teams comprising 343 individual firms from around the world. From those portfolios, four teams were shortlisted for a competition stage, with each team to receive $50,000 after submission of their proposals. The four teams were:

  • Deborah Berke Partners with DAVID RUBIN Land Collective and Atelier Ten
  • Kevin Daly Architects with TLS Landscape Architecture, Productora and Transsolar
  • Olson Kundigwith Surfacedesign, Inc.
  • Schaum/Shieh Architects HKS and Andrea Cochran Landscape Architecture

All of the teams, regardless of their size, were required to include a Texas-based firm as part of their team. The new building itself is to be approximately 40,000 square feet and have a construction budget of $20M.

The jury panel consisted of:

  • Joseph C. Dilg, Board Member, Houston Endowment
  • Jesse H. Jones II, Chair, Houston Endowment Board
  • Guy Hagstette, Vice President of Parks and Civic Projects, Kinder Foundation
  • Ann Stern, President and CEO, Houston Endowment
  • Tom Forney, President and CEO, Forney Construction
  • Alex Washburn, Principal, DRAW Brooklyn
  • Meejin Yoon, Dean of the College of Architecture, Art and Planning, Cornell University and Principal, Höweler and Yoon Architecture
  • Malcolm Reading, Competition Director.

There was also a technical review panel, which included:

  • Michelle Addington, Dean of Architecture, University of Texas
  • Sheryl Kolasinski, Chief Operating Officer, The Houston Zoo
  • Michael Kubo, Assistant Professor of Architectural History, Theory, and Criticism, University of Houston
  • Maria Nicanor, Executive Director, Rice Design Alliance, Rice School of Architecture.

The Selection Process

The history of the shortlisting process for many invited competitions is usually a roll out of star architects’ firms. The intention here was quite different, whereby it was stipulated that emerging firms also be considered. Here the list of finalists selected for the competition phase included three firms with substantial resumes—KDA, Olson Kundig and Deborah Burke Partners—and one “emerging” practice, Schaum/Shieh of New York. Thus, there were two firms from the east coast and two from the Pacific rim with no international component. After the designs had been submitted in the final phase and interviews had taken place, the two west coast firms prevailed, whereby Kevin Daley Architects (Winner) and Olson Kundig (Honorable Mention) received the most favorable marks.



Kevin Daly Architects with TLS Landscape Architecture, Productora and Transsolar



Read more…






Exhibitions and Conferences


No events

Recent Archive Updates

Prince Charles in the White House?

Expressway toll booth of the future ©Paul Spreiregen
(Explanation of lane designations below*)


Recent news about a new U.S. government policy concerning the design of public buildings under President Trump bears a striking resemblance to the controversy surrounding that very issue in the U.K. in the second half of the 20thcentury. It was then that Prince Charles appeared on the scene to challenge the use of modern design in architecture. Prince Charles’ career as architecture critic on the public stage began in 1984 with his criticism of Mies van der Rohe’s design for a new tower on Mansion House Square in London. Unfortunately for Britain’s architects, the voice of the crown carries some weight in British society, and the Mies tower was scrapped, replaced by a post-modern structure by James Stirling—which the Prince also did not like. According to the Prince, those modernist buildings resembled “Frankenstein monsters.” According to U.K.-based architects who had to deal with Charles’ pushback on modern design during that period, he was the “worst thing that happened to architecture here.”


Since then, Prince Charles’ influence in blocking the evolution of modern design in the U.K. has diminished considerably with the ascendance of modern architecture as a common staple—led by architects such as Norman Foster, Richard Rogers, Amanda Levete, Zaha Hadid, John McAslan, Nicholas Grimshaw, Thomas Heatherwick, and others. Although not taken seriously by his European neighbors on the continent, Prince Charles’ ideas did find fertile ground in the U.S.—both in municipalities and even in academia, where classical architecture became a staple at such programs as Notre Dame and, to a lesser extent, Yale. At the latter, I learned from a former student there that Prince Charles even surfaced on a list of “architects” one could choose from as a topic in one seminar.


Instead of peer review, federal architecture under the auspices of the General Services Administration (GSA) now will apparently be at the mercy of a “beautification” panel, which will see to it that modern architecture recedes into the background, if at all. U.S. architects may see themselves placed in the uncomfortable position German, Italian and Russian architects experienced under their totalitarian regimes in the 1930s. By embracing the primacy of classical architecture as a blueprint for public buildings, the Trump regime certainly has helped the National Civic Art Society reach its ultimate goal, at least at the federal level—requiring American architects to turn to the replication of 17thand 18thcentury-style buildings as the preferred design model. Assuming that happens, Prince Charles would be a welcome visitor in the White House.


Addressing this issue, Paul Spreiregen FAIA, architect and professional adviser for the Vietnam Memorial competition states:

“Architectural history is not a copybook. Rather It is a textbook, to be read with a deep understanding of the many principles upon which architecture comes into being. The history of architecture is not served by aping it but by building on it, addressing the programmatic needs of each new building in its own time and place, its neighbored respected, thereby reflecting and honoring the culture it serves. 
To use the “styles” of the past as a cloak for the new is a lie, a subterfuge for respectability and supposed prestige. That is the work of authoritarian governments. Stalin, Hitler and Mussolini were its more recent and notorious promoters. They produced not architecture but laughable if not tragic cartoons of architecture.

All the great works of architecture of the past were, in their own times and places, masterpieces of ancient principles seen anew. That practice has been the glory of the best of American architecture.”**

*Letters to the Editor, The Washington Post, 17 February 2020



*Lane designations

I – Express lane for National Civic Art Society members and family
II – One-horse Roman War chariots (a non carbon emitting benefit)
III – Two-horse Roman war chariots (other emissions of a non carbon nature to be monitored)
IV – Fiats
V – Ferraris
VI – Alpha Romeos
VII-IX – Other automobiles of the great unwashed
VVV…. etc (in colonnade)
Vestal virgins (scantily clad in aisles I-VI) poised in colonnade who wave red or green flags to signal receipt of toll fee
R It – Italian fast food restaurant. (order by mobile phone)
R Gr – Greek fast food restaurant.