PaperCity Magazine

PaperCity Houston July_August 2021_rev

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artists of significance. Two Texans are on the closely guarded list, including one commissioned to create a monument to Barbara Jordan — the first and only memorial for a woman in the City of Houston. Expect elevated programming and site-specific commissions from Starkman, who's best known for bringing Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang to the MFAH to create a monumental gunpowder painting. "Our goal is to be a new type of civic space, a place for gathering and entertainment and culture and eating. Because we love to eat in Houston," said Kirby Liu as he toured us through. Two hours later — after traversing the multi-acre property from the former postal- office public building (destined to be the boutique hotel) to the bowels of the loading dock (where signage still bears the imprint of zip codes that defined Houston's ever-expanding geography) and the extraordinary skylit interior spaces punctuated by sculptural staircases — our tour concluded with a trip to the rooftop oasis. We came away with a sense of what's been missing in Houston for the past decade: the Big Idea. Liu says of the transformation, "It was this cavernous black infinite space. Who was going to lease it for anything in this sort of weird site? The entirety of our strategy has really been about how we get light into this space. How do we preserve the building and unlock the historic tax credit, which is a substantial subsidy, and how do we make it exciting and a destination." Mission accomplished. Cajoling OMA to t h e P O S T h a p p e n e d organically, Liu says, due to relationships he developed during his time at Rex. The POST's striking embrace of new materials and high industrial functionality — one of the firm's calling cards — has forged a dynamic, architecturally profound project guaranteed to attract international interest. One of the most innovative aspects owes its existence to NASA: a sci-fi-like plastic, a spinoff of research into space suits. The resulting ETFE skylight system employs plastic air- filled pillows spanning the vast atrium bays of the former postal structure. One percent the weight of glass, the pillows are more energy efficient, possess greater translucency, and offer tremendous cost savings in the structural steel that would be needed to uphold such extensive spans of fenestration. The POST debuts the space-age plastic's first large-scale use in a commercial building in Texas. Then there are edgy OMA design flourishes, perhaps most strikingly realized in the Blade Runner vibe in the Market area, where neon lights will envelop the food kiosks to evoke the streets of Tokyo or Hong Kong. Core components of POST Houston include The Terminal, Live Nation's new concert venue with a capacity of 5,000; a shopping experience, reimagined in the age of dwindling brick-and-mortar, with an attention- getting suspended X staircase in a grand atrium; workspace for lease with a cool collaborative vibe, where skylights flood the bay with daylight and a suspended Z-shaped stair serves as future perch for Gen-Zers on laptops. For the POST's next phase, a destination hotel is in the planning stages. Idea Lab for future entrepreneurs. Kirby Liu, who's taken on the POST project, is not your typical developer. He's a Dartmouth grad with a degree in comparative literature and a Fulbright scholar with Russian skills who lived in Kazakhstan before moving to China. Liu segued from finance to a field he found more fascinating, architecture, and enrolled in Harvard Graduate School of Design. He landed at Rex, an offshoot of OMA, for about a year before returning to Houston when the purchase of the post office was imminent. And then there's the art. Former Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, curator of Asian art Christine Starkman (who recently received a Fulbright for a project in Korea) has been tapped to dialogue with national and global Faye Toogood Christine Starkman, Kirby Liu, Kyle Hulcher Suspended X-staircase, in mid-construction 36

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