Things to do in Houston

Houston Architecture: Houston’s Top Architectural Marvels

Learn about Houston's historic skyline in this guide, with its mix of different architectural styles.

Houston stands out with its distinctive architecture, but that's just one aspect of the city's charm. Dive into the full experience and discover all the things to do in Houston, encompassing both its iconic structures and vibrant lifestyle.

Photographer: Adrian N

1. Sid Richardson Residential College

Designer: Barkow Leibinger

Step out of the Starbucks on Main Street and turn left, sipping your drink and walking gingerly over the broken pavement. Two doors down, at the UT Health building, you can turn right and dash across the street and through the screen of trees on the far side. On the campus of Rice University, across Alumni Drive, there it is, looming above you.

The Sid Richardson Residential College graces the south side of the Rice campus, and nobody who's seen it once can forget it. On one side, the brick-and-glass tower built in 1971 heaves up over the trees and into the sky like a protective older sibling to the newer lowrise we're here to visit. This lower structure of this architectural building is more recently built. However, it needed to complement the brutalist-style historic building it shares a quad with.

The design team of Barkow Leibinger split the atom with this design, producing a visually striking stepwise brick building with a prominent terrace. Broad stairs angle outward left and right, with tall exterior windows all around seeming to invite you in for a bite to eat.

That meal will be eaten in quite a space. The interior of the Sid Richardson building is a columnless dining/meeting hall with space for 300 rowdy Texas undergrads. Looking up, you're covered by a triangulated steel-and-beam roof that radiates strength from the thickness of its struts.

Touring the corridors around the base, you pass several workshops and event spaces. There's a veranda the designers meant to be a liminal space for impromptu get-togethers. In a nod to the local climate, the spaces adjoining the exterior doors have brise soleil (sun breaker panels) protecting them. They are oriented to catch the occasional puff of breeze.

2. Adaptive Reuse of Historic Houston Post Office by OMA

Designer: Jason Long

Rebirth is a miracle, of the kind only a prophet or a genius may accomplish. Old spaces and things are loved again by those who dream of a better future. This charges them with a spiritual energy and draws the breath of life back into places that were once used and then forgotten. Such is the life and resurrection of the Historic Houston Post Office by OMA.

Three atria, known as X, O, and Z, feed up through monumental staircases to the rooftop park, where families socialize and plan their next meeting. Here, you can experience the rebirth of space the way Corteo saw his own mortality in our production named for him. With music, dance, and a sincere reverence for the cycle of birth and rebirth, the production speaks especially to those who've sipped coffee together on the roof of what was once only a warehouse.

Photographer: Aiden U

3. Houston Endowment Headquarters

Designers: Kevin Daly Architects + PRODUCTORA

We don’t think of anchors as being light and airy, or the ties that bind us to a place and time as being pastel white and full of open breezeways, but that's the aesthetic reality for the Houston Endowment headquarters. The location is a revitalization project south of Houston Heights and northeast of River Oaks on the banks of Buffalo Bayou.

So much more than just an office building, this low-slung white complex looks as if it’s made from light, as a warm glow emanates from behind the forward-mounted curtain walls that form its facade. It's set back in a field of green landscaping, as if it’s an earthly model of the house you’ll live in when you get to heaven.

The whole structure seems so light it appears to levitate, especially at night when the only illumination comes from within. Inside the main entrance, an infinite corridor wraps all the way around the building core with vaulted ceilings supported by a Cordoban arcade of columns and arches. The office and shared spaces inside are open and inviting, presenting the first-time visitor with a feeling of open arms and a kind word.

4. Texas Tower

Designers: Pelli Clarke & Partners + Kendall/Heaton Associates

Low rise buildings serve a purpose, and if they’re well designed, they do it beautifully. A highrise, on the other hand, does much more. To rise high enough into the sky to be visible for miles around is a feat of engineering and design. Such is the boast of the observation deck on JPMorgan Chase Tower, the tallest building in Houston. The monuments we build to our endeavors like this must speak powerfully about who and what we are as creatures of the earth.

The Texas Tower can be seen from as far away as Sugar Land. It's a new addition to the Houston skyline, which has changed quite a bit since the late 1990s. Even at 47-stories, it still stands in the JPMorgan Chase Building’s looming shadow. The segmented top floor reminds one of a Medieval castle, all done up in steel and dark glass. The exterior facets of the structure are all excitingly chunky and present assertive boxlike extensions all the way up. This is a building that means business, and every inch of it looks the part.

Currently occupied by the flagship tenant Hines, the tower is itself an art piece with lines calling to memory the industrial exuberance of Art Deco from a century before. Part of a reinvigorated downtown, the Texas Tower may be a sign of what lies ahead for the booming business district in Houston.

Photographer: NayaDadara

5. Nancy and Rich Kinder Museum

Designers: Steven Holl Architects

As the world reeled in 2020, Houston welcomed a new treasure. The Nancy and Rich Kinder Museum is a stark and lively place in the Museum District, all angles and deliberate-looking sight lines. It's not far from the historic Rothko Chapel, which houses murals by Mark Rothko.

Stroll the elaborately landscaped grounds that surround the property, and you’ll never be out of sight of the sharp lines and overhanging wall blocks, which are braided all the way up by textured striations molded into the living concrete. The effect is excitingly patterned, and it creates a constant visual stimulation that turns the entire building into an art installation on its own.

The architectural firm of Steven Holl Architects planned out the 237,000-square-foot interior to make a neat split between the cavernous 215-seat exhibition theater that’s accessible from bunker-like underground tunnels. From here, crowds spill up and out into the screening room, then are silently directed by passive design layout into the 102,000-square-foot exhibition space. All are welcome here, and the open floor space speaks to that approach.

We try to capture this feeling in the amazing experience of KOOZA, the story of an innocent clown whose life is transformed one day by the arrival of an enigmatic messenger. A simple telegram changes Kooza’s life, as our hero enters a new and far larger world of fresh discoveries.

6. Silos at Sawyer Yards

Designers: Studio RED Architects

Go northwest from Houston City Hall and Sam Houston Park in the Downtown Houston area. Here, in a newly reinvigorated zone where you’ll find the city’s many brewhouses, is a vintage industrial-chic look and feel that cries out Sawyer Park, even to people who’ve never been to the city themselves. This distinctive place has a vibe all its own, and no place here is more vibey than Silos at Sawyer Yards, a repurposed former industrial site that lives again for trend-seeking Houstonians looking for something new in their cuisine, drinks, and social life.

The Silos are built-for-purpose shared workspaces and former industrial warehouses now home to indie coffee shops and art walks. This is a place for creative industries and design firms. It's also a promising space for young artists and tech innovators looking for something better than the cubicle life.

Corrugated steel panels wrap around the Silos, which welcomes newcomers through a crazed multicolor entryway that calls to mind the living works of Keith Haring. All pastels and disruptive lines, tilted angles, wide atria, and a fun vibe that seems to keep the air itself dancing with possibilities.

7. Houston Ismaili Centre

Designers: Farshid Moussavi

Float down Buffalo Bayou, the main waterway in Houston, and languidly trail your fingers in the water as the sun smiles down from above. All is activity on the shore, as old buildings are torn down and new places for people rise from the construction yards all around you. Here, next to the Rosemont Pedestrian Bridge, something new has arisen. Something special beckons from across the water and the neat lines of trees. It’s like nothing else in the city, and it calls to you.

The Ismaili Centre Houston, a new marriage of the conventional meeting space for a minority community with traditional mosque architecture, sports a low-stone zigzag maze of exterior corridors that creates an otherworldly effect that’s nothing like an office or industrial car park.

Look around at the white slate facade of this contemporary structure. It’s all clean lines and a fortress-like mass of interior space, rising into a glass parapet effect higher up. The fusion of old and new, of Asia and America, achieves pure praxis here, with design elements drawn from 7th-century Arabia and matured into a special place for everybody in Houston, courtesy of the local Ismaili community.

We're also for everybody, and we love the throngs of fans who come to see our shows as much as we adore the diverse appeal of the Ismaili Centre. Come and share with us the stirring experience of ice skating, acrobatics, and fresh new faces that make up Cirque du Soleil Crystal, the fusion of complementary artistic forms on ice.

8. Menil Drawing Institute in Houston

Designers: Johnston Marklee

Sometimes the loudest statements are those we make with silence. Blank facades can make more of an impact than tangled patterns. Here, in busy Houston, where everything seems to be at work and in motion, the Menil Drawing Institute puts the brakes on the bustle with a headquarters that’s a study in minimalist grace and cool, clean lines.

Artists have been working for generations to do more with less, without actually mounting a blank canvas. But here, a mere hop, skip, and jump from the Menil Collection by Renzo Piano, the effect has been achieved. It's a perfectly blank space, filled with a Zen calm. The interior classrooms train the next generation of inspired artists in Houston.

This lovely structure is white rectangles that meet at right angles. The bright white walls seem to erupt from the lush green grass all around, with nothing but a gap in shadow at one corner to signal that there’s an entrance. The astonishing nothingness of the exterior design is a statement in itself from Johnston Marklee, the design team that has finally hung the moon with this masterpiece of minimal design.

Photographer: Daria Tumanova

9. Glassell School of Art With Rooftop Garden

Designer: Steven Holl

Art merges with modern architecture at the Glassell School of Art. This steel-and-glass redevelopment replaces a 35-year-old university building with exciting sloped sides and a unique slanted roof that’s home to a community garden. There’s more than art going on inside this visually striking complex, as it also houses a conservation center and exhibition gallery for students’ work.

We really feel this design. We share the aesthetic through the exciting jumble of Mad Apple, a tribute to the urban modernity of New York City, which seems a million miles away from Houston’s art and design district here.

Photographer: Jonathan Kemper

10. OMA's Music Venue Design in Houston

Designers: Powers Brown Architecture

Lights and colors, stunning performances, and 250-score screaming fans. This is the experience when we visit the Office for Metropolitan Architecture’s music venue in Houston. Stepping into the foyer of this popping venue takes us through a colonnade under a low-slung room full of excited concertgoers. Past that, there’s an electric cool-blue lounge for pre-show socialization.

When the show starts, the lights fall and the ingenuity of the venue’s brilliant acoustics comes alive from the orchestra pit to the back row.

Houston Architecture Is More Exciting Than Ever

Houston's recent years have been marked by a booming economy and an influx of bright young professionals, complemented by a vibrant live music scene that adds to the city's dynamic atmosphere. Here, that business boom has fed a cultural renaissance that has seen the central city erupt with new designs, beautiful architecture, and ambitious sights to see. We're yet another new adventure in town, with a full raft of shows in Houston you can have a wonderful experience visiting over and over again every Houston trip, yet still come away from them without having seen all there is to see.

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