Exploring Houston, you would be forgiven for thinking that the city’s architectural identity is all over the map. The third-largest skyline in the USA is a hotbed of diverse, varied, and innovative designs. Houston has used its architecture to inspire innovation and encourage new building designs. Here, massive skyscrapers designed by famous architects are mixed with historic buildings and a few quirky gems.
Texas’s Tallest Skyscraper
I.M. Pei is most famous for designing the Louvre in Paris. He is also the architect responsible for the tallest building in Texas: the JPMorgan Chase Tower in downtown Houston. The skyscraper clocks in at 75-stories tall and also boasts the distinction of being the tallest five-sided building in the entire world. The modern art sculpture outside the building is also thanks to I.M. Pei - he convinced the bank to acquire it.
Houston’s Theater District
Houston’s Theater District occupies 17-blocks in downtown Houston and has an entertainment house for every type of art. Check out Jones Hall for the Performing Arts, which is home to the Houston Symphony Orchestra. The symphony hall takes up an entire city block and features an exterior made of white Italian marble.
Nearby, the Alley Theatre is designed in the brutalist style that was popular in the 1950s but is unique in that it contains no right angles. The architect, Ulrich Franzen, designed it to “sing from any viewpoint.” The building was constructed intentionally to accommodate stage productions and is considered one of the best places to view a show in the United States.
Houston’s Historic Buildings
In 1890, Houston Heights was founded as one of Texas’s earliest planned communities. Today, 19th Street is a funky place where eclectic shops provide endless entertainment for shoppers. Stroll around the residential section of the neighborhood and check out the cottages and bungalows built at the turn of the 19th century.
In Sam Houston Park, fans of architectural history will find some of the oldest residential homes in all of Houston. View a log cabin from 1823, the oldest building in Houston, and houses from the 19th century that have been preserved within the park. The Heritage Society at Sam Houston Park offers walking tours that allow visitors to explore inside these old buildings.
Houston’s Offbeat Architecture
Head to 222 Malone Street in Rice Military to see the Beer Can House, a late 1960s home that has been covered with flattened beer cans and bottle caps. It was created by John Milkovisch, who started the project as a way to cover his lawn to avoid mowing it. The Beer Can House is one of the most recognizable pieces of folk art in the Houston area. Today, the Orange Show Center For Visionary Art, which promotes individual artistic expression in the Houston area, operates it. The Beer Can House is open for tours on weekends with advanced ticket purchases.
On the campus of the University of St. Thomas in Houston sits the Chapel of St Basil. This modern building was designed to feature the three basic geometric shapes: a cube, a sphere, and a plane. Built in 1997, the church is one of the most distinctive locations on campus. Inside, the Chapel was designed to be lit entirely by natural light. Reflective and bright surfaces maximize the sunlight that shines into the building. Outside, find a labyrinth prayer garden made of bushes.
Finally, on the west side of Houston sits the Chong Hua Sheng Mu Holy Palace, an abandoned structure topped with a 40-foot golden orb. It was built in the late 1990s and intended to be a Taoist compound that fell into disarray when the movement leader died. Today, the palace sits unfinished. Though you can’t tour the inside, it’s still a popular architectural oddity loved by locals.