Sitting just north of Allen’s Landing, near the confluence of the White Oak and Buffalo bayous and bisected by two major roadways and rail lines, lies Houston’s historic Warehouse District. It’s situated close enough to downtown to be considered one of its ten districts, yet its unique location, obscured by layers of both manmade and… Read more »
Sitting just north of Allen’s Landing, near the confluence of the White Oak and Buffalo bayous and bisected by two major roadways and rail lines, lies Houston’s historic Warehouse District. It’s situated close enough to downtown to be considered one of its ten districts, yet its unique location, obscured by layers of both manmade and natural conveyances, has allowed this funky slice of Houston’s urban fabric to remain somewhat off the beaten path.
The Warehouse District has become home to an ever-increasing mix of residents and businesses—from art studios, eateries, and music venues to bail bonds brokers, cross-fit gyms, and breweries. This mash-up of eclectic inhabitants only serves to confirm Houston’s reputation for being one of the most diverse melting pots of culture and industry in the United States today. Unlike more “civilized” parts of the city, where you’ll be greeted by valet service upon arrival at the latest culinary hot spot, here you’ll find one of Houston’s most critically acclaimed restaurants, Oxheart, next door to a tattoo parlor. To say this place is understated in its external appearance is, well, definitely an understatement. There isn’t even a sign out front with the restaurant’s name on it, just a number painted on the door of what looks like an abandoned building or maybe a speakeasy. This lack of concern with putting on a pretty face to impress its visitors is a reoccurring theme seen throughout the district and goes to show that you really can’t judge a book by its cover here. Underneath this industrial skin of distressed brick, sheet metal, and peeling paint resides one of the most overlooked and vibrant enclaves of creativity within the city.
In a bold move to reflect this district’s unique character, the Houston Arts Alliance and the City of Houston Parking Management recently teamed up to spearhead what has now become the first commissioned art installment in the nation to replace the typically mundane parking meters dotting its streets. One such example looks as if it’s being blown sideways by wind, defying the laws of gravity, while another is more whimsical in nature, resembling an old gumball machine dispensing brass acorns that have spilled out onto the street below.
So what does all this have to do with landscape architecture? As one of SWA’s staff photographers I was tasked with the job of documenting this quirky urban landscape in its natural state, with the goal of helping to inform the design thinking incorporated into the master plan being developed for the district. The big idea for us at SWA was to hopefully preserve the district’s iconoclastic heritage and funky feel, while also improving its overall walkability and connectivity to the rest of the city.
Kinder Baumgardner, SWA President and Managing Principal of the Houston office, said it best while giving me a tour of the site: “It’s about how NOT to take something good and mess it up.” I’m a lover of abstraction, raw beauty, and grit in my own personal photographic work, so this assignment really resonated with my artistic sensibilities. The images I captured are mostly vertical in orientation on purpose and are meant to serve as a “portrait of a place,” so to speak. Through the careful framing of these vignettes, I hoped to not only distill the essence of what makes this district special, but also to speak of a place which was only made possible by the sum of its many diverse faces. The challenge still remains, how can we successfully redevelop this neighborhood while keepin’ the funk alive?
Watch the slideshow now.
All images are by Jonnu Singleton.