PaperCity Magazine

PaperCity HoustonJune 2024

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residences. Dillon Kyle Architects, a favorite of River Oaks homeowners, is tackling the interiors of The Birdsall's 44 residences, while New York-based Roman and Williams (The Met British Galleries, Le Coucou, Gwyneth Paltrow's home, La Mercerie, Sea Ranch, Hotel Emma, Royalton New York) handles the interiors of the hotel itself. Michael Hsu Office of Architecture (Il Bracco, The Terminal at Katy Trail in Dallas, Hotel Ella, Balboa Surf Club) has been charged with designing the retail spaces, with House & Robertson Architects serving as architect of record for retail. Kendall/Heaton Associates is architect of record for the office component. OJB (Houston's Levy Park, Klyde Warren Park in Dallas, and the forthcoming Freedom Plaza in New York City) gets the nod as The RO's landscape architect. That roster represents a tremendous amount of architectural clout. This new village will be built by a village in many ways. For project executive Sean Suffel, what he calls "one of the most coveted sites in the city for many decades" demands nothing less. The RO site sits across from the St. John's School on the former home of ExxonMobil's upstream research campus, which the oil company had From top: The Birdsall looks out onto a green courtyard, mimicking the feel of a River Oaks estate. The RO restricts automobiles from its center, creating a walking friendly place. The Birdsall is the first Auberge Resorts Collection hotel in Houston owned since the 1940s before selling it in 2017. Having such a large site in the heart of the River Oaks area — one that has Suffel marveling at its perfect geometry — is a developer's version of finding the holy grail. To determine the best way to use this rare site, the Transwestern team studied mixed-use projects around the country and particularly in Texas, eventually landing on Pearl in San Antonio as an inspiration for its sense of placemaking. "The conclusion that we came to is Houston doesn't really have anything that feels like Houston," Suffel says. "More specifically, it really doesn't have anything that feels like the River Oaks area." To make sure that The RO does, the master plan calls for all parking to be on the periphery and underground, creating a pedestrian-only walker's paradise at the center of the development. The RO will be marked by avenues of green; people will walk on cobblestone pathways, and five or six signature oak trees already on site are being moved to prime locations. "From our perspective, that creates a really special place," Suffel says. "I'd argue that there's nothing like that in the city." To further differentiate The RO, retail spaces are being pushed out rather than embedded in the buildings' podium, which is more typical. This allows the stores and restaurants to have their own architectural identity, Suffel notes. The 75,000 square feet of retail space will include six to eight restaurants. "The idea is to bring things that are unique to Houston — to partner with the local chef community," Suffel says. The Birdsall hotel and residences pays homage to a renowned Houston figure — Birdsall Parmenas Briscoe (1876 - 1971), whose 50-year architecture career helped shape Houston. Auberge is known for hotels such as the Hotel Jerome in Aspen, but it's owned by the Houston-based Friedkin Group, whose owner and CEO, Dan Friedkin, is friends with Transwestern founder and chairman Robert Duncan, who knew of Friedkin's long- held desire to open an Auberge hotel in Houston. This special site turned out to be the perfect place, the ideal match — one where influential architects work together, creating a greater whole. IMAGES COURTESY MICHAEL HSU OFFICE OF ARCHITECTURE COURTESY TRANSWESTERN

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