Daily Features

Old Buildings, New Tricks: Austin, Houston, and Oxford Reimagine Historic Structures

Three recent design competitions attempt to bring new life to aging buildings.

By Stela Razzaque, Superscript October 15, 2013

One of the few upsides to tough economic times has been renewed interest by cities and developers to engage designers, planners, and architects in reimagining existing buildings and infrastructure.

Projects like Herzog & de Meuron’s 2008 Tate Modern redesign, attracting five million visitors annually, illustrate the potential in reprogramming aging structures. Building upon the London site’s origins as a power plant, the firm transformed the oversized turbine hall into a changing gallery for large-scale exhibitions and the old oil tanks into gallery spaces. As a testament to its popularity, the same firm is currently creating a modern brick addition to unify old and new elements.

In addition to reducing building costs, the project brings about 40 percent energy savings to the museum’s operations. Seeking to capitalize on the aesthetic and environmental potential of older structures, current design competitions are hoping for similar results. Here are three to capture your imagination:

A new development project by Herzog & de Meuron incorporating a former power plant to the south of the existing Tate Modern building will transform the London museum. Recent competitions seek to reimagine historic structures with the same impact. © Hayes Davidson and Herzog & de Meuron


Existing oil tanks are reused as gallery space in the new development project by Herzog & de Meuron incorporating a former power plant to the south of the existing Tate Modern building. © Hayes Davidson and Herzog & de Meuron

Seaholm Intake Building
Austin, Texas

A rendering from Gensler Team George depicting a new use for Austin's Seaholm Intake Building

The Seaholm Intake Building in Austin once served as the pump house for the Seaholm Power Plant and has remained dormant since 1989. The City of Austin Parks and Recreation Department, in partnership with the Austin Parks Foundation, The Trail Foundation, and AIA Austin, launched a Design Ideas Competition to restore the iconic art deco structure into a thriving, mixed-use community facility. Sustainability and connectivity between the building and the parkland on which it sits will be paramount to the winning design. The vision should encourage active Austinites to visit the site and improve their quality of life overall. Three design finalists—“Link” by Gumbully“Lakehouse” by BOKA Powell + Design Workshop, and “Intake” by Gensler Team George—were announced this summer. It is yet to be seen whether any one of these visions will become a reality. 

Houston Astrodome
Houston, Texas


The Astrodome as it appeared in 2004

Once dubbed the Eighth Wonder of the World, the Houston Astrodome has descended into a state of dormancy and dilapidation. In an endeavor to resurrect the stadium to its former glory, the Harris County Sports and Convention Center has proposed the refurbishment of the dome into a mixed-use convention center. For this reason, The Architect’s Newspaper is partnering with YKK AP to invite architects and designers nationwide, to submit their concepts on how the Astrodome might be reimagined, repurposed, and reused. The top three designs will be announced on November 6, 2013. The competition aims to reignite the energy that inspired the construction of the stadium over four decades ago, and to revive what was once a prized jewel of the Houston community.

Florey Building
Oxford, UK

The Florey Building in its present state

The concrete and red-tile Florey Building sticks out at Oxford University—a campus defined by traditional architectural prototypes—and so a design competition has recently been launched by the Queens College Fellows to restore and expand the building. The two-stage competition invited “expressions of interest” until October 9; from these, a shortlist of five to seven design teams will be chosen. Despite heated controversy over its design, students love the sociable space’s views of the riverside setting that James Stirling’s modernist structure provides. It will be no easy feat to respect Stirling’s original vision while addressing the technical issues of the building. Part of the challenge also involves recreating a riverside walkway to the main entrance—a design idea of Stirling’s that was never realized due to politics and budget cuts.

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