Shedding More Light on a Non-Profit’s Work Spaces


Houston Endowment’s New Headquarters on the Bayou


Southwest view Houston Endowment Headquarters – Photo Ivan Baan, courtesy Kevin Daly



Following in the footsteps of other major non-profits—The Ford Foundation and LA’s California Endowment Center in particular—the Houston Endowment’s new headquarters, located on a grassy knoll just above the Buffalo Bayou in the city’s outskirts, has also made a strong architectural statement. Similar to the California Endowment, this project was also the result of a design competition, won by the California firm, Kevin Daly Architects.

   Houston is no stranger to competitions, especially when the projects are located in close proximity to the Buffalo Bayou. Going back to 1986, the first competition dealing with the Buffalo Bayou (Sesquicentennial Park) was initiated by the Rice Design Alliance, a non-profit supported by the Rice School of Architecture. The Alliance was subsequently involved in the Hermann Park competition (1993)—also on the Bayou—and this marks the third competition bordering on that body of water. Here one had to note that Maria Nicanor, Executive Director of the Rice Design Alliance, was on the Technical Review Panel. So the Rice Design Alliance was either the initiator or closely connected with all three of these projects.


The Process
Located in a downtown highrise, the Endowment never had a pubic face; so it was only logical that the non-profit with an endowment capacity of $2.5B to draw on, would search for a location where its mission would visually establish its connection to the community and send a message of transparency. So a competition was certainly one instrument that could launch a new phase of the organization’s relationship to potential grant recipients.

To administer the competition, the endowment turned to Malcolm Reading Consultants of London, a firm with worldwide experience, from Sydney to Mumbai to Baltimore. 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 Kundig with 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. (See:


Aerial view Houston Endowment Headquarters – Photo Ivan Baan, courtesy Kevin Daly


Much has already been said about the new building, not only its welcoming aura to the outside world, but the use of the canopy supported by what may appear to some like a series of giant pickup sticks, a classical motif with a light modern touch. Some say adding the canopy even suggests a “porch” theme, so relevant to Houston. Addressing the impact of the brutal humid summers, more often than not in the 100-degree range, is not only by the shade provided by the canopy, but the use of geothermal and even fans as intended measures to provide a manageable working environment. And working in a building, where the interior was an extension of a park, rather than in an office located high atop a downtown skyscraper, was described in the following terms by one employee: “To get to the old office, you had to drive into downtown, park in the garage, and take three escalators and two elevators to get there. But now I find myself looking forward to coming into work every day. I really enjoy the sense of light and space, and it feels like the teams and our organizations all know each other much better now.”*




KDA Competition rendering (2019) ©Kevin Daly Architects


In examining the original competition entry vs. the completed project, it would seem the most notable adjustment made in design development was in the height of the building: instead of three stories, there now are two. The effect this reducthas on the front side looking out on the park appears to be negligible; but in the back, where parking exists, the building would appear smaller. Now that the project is complete, we know that the $20M estimate was pretty optimistic. The construction/design costs finally came in at $30.8M . Overruns or not, the client certainly got their money’s worth.


*The Guardian, 5 December 2022



South facade                                                               East facade


North facade


Lobby                                                   Lobby from second level

Unless otherwise noted, all above images: Houston Endowment Headquarters ©Ivan Baan, courtesy Kevin Daly

Long section (above)

1st floor plan

2nd floor plan

Above diagrams from Development phase ©Kevin Daly Architects





Unless otherwise noted, above photos: ©Elizabeth Lawrence Knox, courtesy Houston Endowment