Once flooded by Harvey, the new home of AIA Houston and the Architecture Center


For seven years now, Rusty Bienvenue has been steeped in issues of construction, engineering, raw materials, fund raising, insurance and grant applications. He never imagined he’d have to seek advice on flood mitigation, navigate intricate insurance channels or search for the best acoustician he could find.

Late in the summer of 2017, Bienvenue, executive director of both the Architecture Center Houston and the Houston chapter of the American Institute of Architects, and his staff were just a few weeks away from moving into their new home in the historical B.A. Reasoner Building after a lengthy and intricate buildout.

Like much of downtown, the building was flooded by Hurricane Harvey’s relentless rain that left 4½ feet of water in what was to be the center’s new home at 900 Commerce. Originally known as the B.A. Reasoner Building, it went up in 1906, just a block from the historical marker that recognizes Allen’s Landing, where the Allen brothers founded the city of Houston.

AIA Houston and the Architecture Center are separate organizations but are intricately linked, as AIA Houston makes its home in the center. For a decade, they had saved money from programs and galas to pay for their $1.3 million building and its initial $950,000 renovation.

Hurricane Harvey sent them back to the drawing board, having to start over and incorporate more flood mitigation, all of which cost $1.6 million. Though they had flood insurance, their settlement with FEMA was a mere $248,000, leaving them on the hunt for grants — including some from the Brown and Elkins Foundations and the Downtown Management District — and other donations.

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AIA Houston had its own competition to determine which local architecture firm would reimagine the space, and Murphy Mears Architects won; Cardno and Walter P Moore handled engineering.

Bienvenue and his staff will move in at the end of October, and on Nov. 9 the 5,400-square-foot center will debut its first exhibit — by reservation only and in very small groups — Houston 2020 Visions, an exhibit about flooding, resiliency and the city’s future. Already it is online at Houston2020Visions.org.

“We own it and feel like it could be a model of resilience strategy for how you live in a floodplain,” Bienvenue said of the new Architecture Center Houston. “We think it’s unethical and immoral to abandon old buildings if you can figure out how to save them.”

On Oct. 24, the group’s annual home tour will be conducted virtually online at AIAHoustonhometour.org. The tour is one of the…

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