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Thread: SoHo-Inspired Lofts With Views of Houston

  1. #1

    Default SoHo-Inspired Lofts With Views of Houston

    August 9, 2003

    SoHo-Inspired Lofts With Views of Houston


    Developers in Houston are building loft complexes that are intended to look like older buildings in New York City. This one, which is called the Manhattan, is in the high-end Galleria shopping district.

    HOUSTON, Aug. 8 — Weathered red brick exterior? Check. Concrete floors? Check. Nineteen-foot-high ceilings? Check. Throw in some gargoyles and voilą, a "faux loft."

    Developers here are tearing down perfectly good buildings or acquiring empty lots to make room for what look like century-old factories. Inside are loft-style apartments that try to mimic the faded mystique of Manhattan neighborhoods like SoHo or TriBeCa.

    The trend is taking root in several cities without much of a loft tradition, including Las Vegas, Atlanta and Washington. But its most active and creative proponents are here in Houston, the nation's fourth-largest city, where migration from the suburbs to areas closer to downtown has become increasingly fashionable in recent years.

    All the activity has produced red-brick developments like the Manhattan, a new building in the high-end Galleria shopping district. Described by its creators as "reminiscent of the historic buildings that flanked New York City's Fifth and Park Avenues in the late 19th and early 20th centuries," it has 63 loft-style residences and 22 different floor plans.

    The lofts in the Manhattan building have their own evocative names, like the Met, Brooklyn and Times Square. (One of the largest and most expensive is Astoria.) They come with features like terraces and whirlpool tubs and have buildingwide amenities like a concierge, resort-style pool and wine cellar.

    The Manhattan and other buildings like it, with names like Gotham, Metropolis and Renoir, have caught on mainly with young professionals and retiring baby boomers seeking more of an urban lifestyle and quicker commutes. The trend has also touched off a lively discussion among urban planners and architecture critics here.

    "I think the faux lofts are atrocious," said Stephen Fox, a professor of architectural history at Rice University. "They're an expedient, unimaginative and opportunistic way to capitalize on the desire for the urban experience. They're also in keeping with the Houstonian ethos of borrowing styles from everywhere."

    Houston, of course, has long been home to an amalgam of styles, like the intricate play between the unassuming Menil Collection museum, designed by Renzo Piano, and the simple gray bungalow houses surrounding it; or the ornate Mediterranean campus of Rice University, an oasis tucked away within the city's seemingly endless collection of low-slung, nondescript neighborhoods. Just a handful of historic buildings from the 19th and early 20th centuries remain.

    Some residents of the old neighborhoods in which faux loft developments are being built, like the traditionally black Third Ward area south of downtown, view the new apartments with skepticism and even disdain. Madgelean Bush, a longtime resident of the Third Ward and executive director of the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center, said the faux lofts were an example of how Houston does not believe in rehabilitating what it already has.

    "I view it as a takeover where the poor are pushed out to make room for rich folks who want to live a kind of fantasy life," Ms. Bush said.

    Genuine loft projects have been developed here since the early 1990's, with investors renovating old hotels and warehouses in and around Houston's futuristic downtown. One prominent real estate developer, the Randall Davis Company, branched out into faux lofts after converting an Art Deco building that once housed the Armor Automobile Company into a loft-style community called Hogg Palace.

    The developer's first faux loft building was Metropolis, with large balconies, sweeping views of downtown and five rooftop gargoyle guardians staring down at passers-by. Next came an inspirational shift with Renoir, an edifice with 82 one- and two-bedroom loft apartments intended to evoke Baron Haussmann's 19th-century Paris on the exterior. The Renoir has a resort-style pool, reached through a stepped travertine terrace.

    Most of the faux lofts are not cheap, whether sold as condominiums, or rented. Apartments in the Renoir, for example, were priced from $200,000 to more than $800,000, and have nearly sold out. Randall Davis, owner of the development firm of the same name, said "an attention to detail when building from scratch allows you to take it to a higher level."

    "Anyone can expose an air-conditioning duct and call it a loft," Mr. Davis said. "People like something luxurious on the inside that looks on the outside like it's been there a while."

    There are many reasons faux lofts are catching on here. Houston, the center of a metropolitan region of more than four million people, remains the only major city in the United States without significant zoning regulations, making it easier for developers to build in any style wherever they please. Houston has few taboos about tearing down old buildings to make way for new structures — even faux lofts built to look old.

    "There's an impulse to reconstruct the past to suit the city's needs," said Stephen Klineberg, a professor of sociology at Rice University.

    An aversion to zoning also enabled Houston in recent years to grow in several directions at once, begetting the sprawl that now defines the city. Motorists here drive more miles per capita each day than residents in any other American city, according to a study released last month by the Surface Transportation Policy Project in Washington. The study said each Houstonian drives an average of 37.6 miles a day, a 53 percent increase from the early 1990's.

    With more people in Houston seeking to live closer to where they work, apartment construction has recently skyrocketed. Houston led the nation in apartment building in January, with the number of units under construction climbing 73 percent, to 10,436, from 6,043 in the month last year, according to MP/F Research, a real estate analysis company.

    "I don't think the faux lofts would go over well in a place with a lot of historical buildings," said Paul Sternberg, a lawyer and native of New Orleans who moved to a loft in the Renoir building after leasing his home to an energy company executive. "But here it just seems natural to want something that feels a little old. The high ceilings are also a plus."

    Most faux lofts come with details like separate bedrooms, granite countertops, high arched windows, hardwood floors and Romeo and Juliet balconies. Some are as large as 4,200 square feet and even include Corinthian-style columns and on-site health clubs. Few ever appear as barren as genuine lofts.

    The appeal of faux lofts has begun to extend beyond urban areas near downtown, with one faux loft project in the Woodlands, a large suburban enclave on Houston's northern fringe, under development by Threshold Interests, a company that had already converted two downtown buildings into lofts.

    Coming amid a broad building boom, this burst of loft-building has added to concern that Houston may be on the cusp of an apartment glut if the economy remains soft. Even some of the faux lofts have started offering special deals to lure tenants, like a month's free rent on a 12-month lease. Some faux lofts already throw in extras like a cafe on premises with free fast Internet connections and espresso or cooking lessons with a gourmet chef.

    The faux lofts have generally been able to keep charging relatively high rents for Houston, although they still may not approach the prices of lofts in Manhattan. Sabine Street Lofts, a new building on the edge of downtown that looks like an old factory, charges about $1,700 for a one-bedroom unit and roughly $2,450 for a two-bedroom loft. The average rent for an apartment in Houston is $611 a month, according to Apartment Data Services, a company that tracks rental rates.

    It is hard to quantify exactly how many faux loft buildings have been built across the country, because they form a relatively new category. But traditional loft projects are growing in popularity. Sharon Park, who runs a National Park Service program providing tax credits to companies for rehabilitating historic buildings, said the number of projects approved by her office had grown 5 to 10 percent a year since the late 1990's. Nearly half of the projects involved some form of housing, including lofts, she said.

    Though the arbiters of taste may frown on the faux lofts, urban theorists are mostly welcoming them as a healthy example of repopulating an urban center that had been left to decay. One such believer is David Crossley, president of the Gulf Coast Institute, a Houston group encouraging greater use of public transportation and improved air quality.

    "I don't care about the style of the things," Mr. Crossley said. "If it helps us feel like we're living in a city again, then I'm all for it."

    The apartments in the newly constructed Manhattan building in Houston are intended to evoke the feel of lofts in New York City.

    Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company
    Last edited by Kris; October 4th, 2009 at 12:38 PM.

  2. #2

    Default SoHo-Inspired Lofts With Views of Houston

    You can put your boots in the oven, but that don't make 'em biscuits.

    We are talking Yew-ston here, not House-ston, right?

  3. #3

    Default SoHo-Inspired Lofts With Views of Houston

    If it was lower-income housing nobody would be complaining about the architecture. *Any non-modernist, and some referential modernist and post-modernist architecture involves some degree of imitation. *Manhattan is teeming with imitation Greek Temples, Tuscan Villas, Venetian Pallazos, Georgian townhouses, you name it. * *Only Ayn Rand would happy with a cityscape that had no referential architecture. *

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