Category Archives: Texas Study Tour

Texas Study Tour: 2-11 January

Botanical Research Institute of Texas (BRIT)

Botanical Research Institute of Texas

Location: 1700 University Dr Fort Worth, TX 76107
Description: Established in 1987, the Botanical Research Institute of Texas (BRIT) is global botanical research institute and learned center based in Fort Worth’s Cultural District. In the Spring of 2011, the BRIT moved into a new 70,000 square-foot facility  based on the campus of the Fort Worth Botanic Gardens. Designed by Hugh Hardy of H3 Hardy Collaboration Architecture, the building is certified LEED-NC Platinum by the USGBC.
Beck Construction was contracted for materials sourcing, site development, and planning.
Facility was not merely designed to meet LEED specifications, but also the needs of the BRIT itself.
Sustainable features divided into four categories: site selection/characteristics, water efficiency, energy & atmosphere, and indoor environmental quality.
More than 76% of the developed site has been restored to a native ecosystem: North Texas prairie.
Green roof, more appropriately called a “living” roof, is carpeted with plants reduces heating/cooling needs and provides a habitat for native flora/fauna.
Indigenous/xeriscape landscaping drastically reduces water consumption.
Onsite retention pond stores stormwater runoff to be used for irrigation.
Rainwater catchment cistern collects runoff from the living room, also to be used for irrigation.
Geothermal wells used to regulate temperature throughout the facility and reduce energy costs.
Photovoltaic solar array on the herbarium provides 14% of the building’s energy needs.
Low-flow fixtures and other water efficiency measures reduce consumption by 60% over EPA standards.
Sustainably harvested or renewable materials, such as wool carpet and bamboo ceilings, were used whenever possible.
Recycled materials used for over 20% of BRIT’s building materials.
Conclusion: Since moving to Fort Worth, I have always had the desire to the explore the BRIT’s facilities, admittedly for its aesthetic qualities. Many of the LEED certified spaces I’ve had the opportunity to tour have been somewhat disappointing—apparently sacrificing form for function (or efficiency). Moreover, the occupants of the building are either less than appreciative of its sustainable features, or simply indifferent. In the case of the BRIT, it is clear that the organization’s involvement in the design process has resulted in long-term awareness and stewardship of the facility itself. Indeed, it seems the operational mission of the BRIT and the principles of sustainability have integrated seamlessly, aided by an appreciation for the built environment which it now inhabits.

Hibiscus Hill Plantation (Georgia’s Grassfed Beef)

Owner's residence on Hibiscus Hill Plantation.

Location: 14182 Cochran Rd Waller, TX 77484
Description: Hibiscus Hill Plantation is an organic production and demonstration farm located in Waller, Texas, approximately 45 miles northwest of Houston. Owned by Georgia and Richard Bost, the farm specializes in pasture-fed beef and poultry, which it sells at Georgia’s Farm to Market in Houston.
Land in Waller County was purchased in 1999.
Public education and demonstration of organic farming practices was intended from the start.
Animal welfare approved.
No antibiotics used unless absolutely necessary.
Farm occupies 270 acres of land, comprised of orchards, crop fields, and grazing pastures.
Approximately 1,000 chickens are kept at any given time.
Poultry are also pasture-fed with limited corn intake.
Grassfed beef is shown to be significantly more nutritious than (now) conventional corn-fed beef.
Conclusion: As the final visit of the Central and South Texas portion of our study tour, Hibiscus Hill Plantation was equal parts refreshing and enlightening. In the sustainability discourse, much time is spent discussing ways in which we can reduce our energy and resource consumption, but it’s frequently concerned only with raw Earth minerals/materials. Food, on the other hand, is something very personal to all of us, and I believe it’s crucial for us to reacquaint ourselves with the source of our sustenance. While we’ve all heard that it’s more sustainable to purchase locally from farmer’s markets, visiting a production farm facilitates a better understanding of the logistics of our food system—fostering a lasting sense of appreciation for both farmer & animal welfare.

Houston Green Building Resource Center

Houston's Green Building Resource Center.

Location: 1002 Washington Ave Houston, TX 77002
Description: Officially launched on Earth Day of 2009, Houston’s Green Building Resource Center serves as a permanent exhibition space for green solutions, targeting homeowners, builders, and general contractors. The Center shares space with Houston’s Permitting Center, in a repurposed building on the north end of Downtown.
Studio Red Architects were responsible for the refurbishing the Center’s current space, a general warehouse originally built in 1916.
The facilities were built with adaptive reuse in mind, cognizant of the changing logistical needs of municipal government.
Building is certified USGBC LEED Gold, featuring a raised floor system (which improves air flow), recycled construction materials, and a rooftop solar array.
Large rainwater catchment system is used to reduce water consumption due to irrigation.
Exhibition spaces aims to be interactive and accessible to the general public, not merely to homebuilders.
Audio/video displays and exhibits demonstrate sustainable concepts.
Onsite classroom available for instructional sessions, which are open to all Houston residents.
All products featured in the showroom have been vetted for their compliance with the City of Houston’s building code.
Variety of free material samples and educational pamphlets are available to the public.
Conclusion: Prior to visiting Houston’s Green Building Resource Center, I was slightly surprised at the notion of the city investing public funds in a sustainability education/awareness venture. Given Houston’s overwhelmingly laissez-faire approach to zoning/building, one might expect the city to have little interest in the promotion of energy efficiency or environmentally friendly construction materials. However, two things were apparent to me: one, the Center appears to operate on a very small budget (materials and products are sponsoring by private companies); two, instead of providing an infrastructure intensive service, the emphasis is on public education & information sharing. I believe such an approach definitely has its place, and it would be easily adapted to other markets (including the Metroplex).

Discovery Green Park

Rendering of Discovery Green Park.

Location: 1500 McKinney St Houston, TX 77010
Description: Discovery Green is a 12-acre park created in 2004 by a public-private partnership between the City of Houston and the non-profit Discovery Green Conservancy. According to its website, the Discovery Green “was conceived not only as a public park, but as a landmark to attract convention revenue to the City, and as an anchor for downtown development.” The onsite facilities have been certified LEED Gold by the USGBC.
Two large parking lots, divided by a narrow green space known as the Houston Center Gardens, were originally situated on the property.
Philanthropists led by The Brown Foundation and the Kinder Foundation led the initial appeal for an urban park to be created on the land.
Mayor Bill White approved the project, advocating for a public-private partnership.
PageSoutherlandPage managed the LEED certification process for the park.
The park aims to be a living “green” education & awareness space.
Achieved Corporate Lands for Learning (CLL) certification from the American Wildlife Council for the establishment and documentation of site-based education programs through providing exemplary conservation education experiences for the community.
Has numerous energy efficiency measures, including solar arrays on each of the main park buildings, the Alkek Building and The Lake House.
20% of the materials used came from regional sources, and more than 60% of the Ipe wood used to construct the park came from sustainably-harvested forests.
Conclusion: Simply stated, Discovery Green Park is a beautiful public space in the heart of downtown Houston. Having had the opportunity to visit the park in the afternoon and at night, I can attest to its vibrant attraction to the local community. My concern, however, is that the park may have taken the concept of “urban oasis” a bit too far, as I found the numerous decorative/play fountains, misting stations, and ice-skating rink to be somewhat excessive—perhaps even wasteful. The concept and existence of the park is decidedly a good thing, but it does raise interesting questions about the malleability (or over-flexibility) of LEED’s point system.

Bayou Preservation Association

Downtown Houston and the Buffalo Bayou, taken from Sabine Street. Photo credit:

Location: 3201 Allen Pkwy Houston, TX 77019
Description: Established in 1969, the Bayou Preservation Association is one of the oldest environmental protection organizations in Texas, aiming to protect the natural beauty & integrity of Houston’s waterways. According to its website, BPA’s mission is to “protect and restore the richness and diversity of [Houston’s] waterways through activism, advocacy,collaboration and education.”
Originally formed as the Buffalo Bayou Protection Association (BBPA) in the mid-1960s, by concerned citizens of Memorial Park.
Local residents were concerned by the rapid and apparently unmonitored changes to the Bayou ecosystem, primarily due to development and construction.
By 1969, the BBPA’s scope was broadened to include all bayous in the Houston & Harris County’s watershed.
Monitors 22 creeks, bayous, and bays, that feed into the watershed.
Current projects include the development of paddling trails, with the intention of raising public awareness through recreational provisions.
Advocates for low-impact development, which poses minimal interference to aquatic ecosystems.
Public campaigns include awareness on the effects of flushing prescription drugs, improperly disposing of plastic, and failing to manage stormwater runoff.
Conclusion: The Bayou Preservation Association is another example of a very efficient and highly effective non-profit organization, whose scope has broadened significantly over the decades. Although it’s clear that BPA’s relationship with the City of Houston has been contentious at times, it apparent the both parties stand to benefit from increased collaboration—particularly as aquatic ecosystems are stressed further due to local climatic changes and ongoing drought conditions.

Momentum Bay Associates

Momentum Bay Associates of Houston

Location: 1177 W Loop S Fwy #500 Houston, TX 77027
Description: Founded by Mark Robinson in 2002, Momentum Bay Associates is an energy & sustainability management consulting firm. Under the brand “Green Power 4 Texas,” the firm acts as an energy brokerage, specializing in the procurement and sale of green power.
According to its website, Momentum Bay has two primary goals: to help organizations & ultimately households create sustainable, long-term growth resulting in less harm, no harm & even good by going green profitably & practically; and to do the right thing to the right extent at the right time for the right reasons with the right attitude.
Clients divided into three major segments: design, construction, & real estate firms; businesses pursuing sustainability initiatives from diverse industries; and faith-based nonprofits.
+ Offers sustainability training program for businesses under the names ECO [BOOT CAMP] and GREEN [BOOT CAMP].
+ One of nine firms that reviews LEED submittals for the USGBC® with experience on over 400+ green building projects, providing eco-charrettes, LEED project management & documentation, green team training, energy modeling, daylight analysis, & computational fluid dynamics (CFD)
Conclusion: Our visit to Momentum Bay was definitely memorable, largely due to the charismatic presence of founder and CEO Mark Robinson. It was fascinating to hear the story of how the company came into being, and precisely how it carved out a niche in the marketplace. I have long held ambivalence towards the very concept of a consultancy firm, particularly in the sustainability “industry.”  However, it does seem that Momentum Bay has a keen interest in seeing the tangible results of their work, which I very much appreciate.

New Hope Housing: 2424 Sakowitz

New Hope Housing: 2424 Sakowitz

Location: 2424 Sakowitz St Houston, TX 77020
Description: New Hope Housing was founded in 1993 with the purpose of developing and operating single room occupancy (SRO) efficiency apartment housing stock in the greater Houston area. 2424 Sakowitz, located in Greater Fifth Ward/Denver Harbor,  is New Hope’s fifth property; it is also the first to be LEED certified (NC-Platinum) by the USGBC.
Designed by Val Glitsch, FAIA, LEED AP, the same architect who designed New Hope’s award-winning Canal Street Apartments.
Consists 166 single room occupancy units.
+ Xeriscape landscaping, including 100 native tree plantings.
+ Water-conserving appliances and fixtures.
+ Water-conserving irrigation system including rain water tanks
+ Water retention system
+ Efficient energy use with Energy Star appliances
+ Use of recycled materials
+ Roofing, paving, and plantings that reduce Heat-Island Effect
+ HVAC system for more efficient heating/cooling distribution
Conclusion: A recurring theme for non-profit organizations who maintain facilities is the notion of achieving long-term sustainability through reduction of ongoing/maintenance costs. New Hope Housing is no exception, as they sought to design a highly efficient building that had a lasting ROI for the organization and its donors. The mission and core values of New Hope Housing align perfectly with the tenets of social, economic, and environmental sustainability, and it’s refreshing to see that the metaphor is not lost on the organization.