The Rest of the Best: Houston's Top 10 Downtown Buildings (the Skyscraper Edition)

The Rest of the Best: Houston's Top 10 Downtown Buildings (the Skyscraper Edition)
Photo by Andy Heatwole

Houston's downtown area is filled with spectacular skyscrapers and several of the tallest buildings in Texas are in the city's skyline. There's a real diversity to the architectural style used, from the gray box known as Texas Commerce Tower in United Energy Plaza to the ornate neo-1920s skyscraper originally known as RepublicBank Center to the futuristic Enron-then-Cheveron building (see above). Here are our favorites.

10. Macy's 1100 Main, Kenneth Franzheim

The building at 1100 Main was originally Foley's department store (it eventually became Macy's when there was a brand change). It was built in 1947. Wait, go back and read that. 19-freaking-47. It was a postwar miracle. Kenneth Franzheim encased nine stories of shopping, restaurants and offices in a sleek, chic box that became the last of the great downtown department stores in the country.

9. Chevron Building 1400 Smith, Lloyd Jones Brewer & Associates

Chevron bought the former Four Allen Center-turned-Enron building in 2011 for a whopping $380 million. That was big money in the post-Enron scandal frenzy. Architect Lloyd Jones Brewer designed a bright, shiny tower of silver reflective glass and white aluminum. A circular sky-bridge connects the 1400 Smith skyscraper with adjoining office buildings and parking structures.

8. Exxon Building 800 Bell, Welton Becket & Associates

We once heard some Exxon employees refer to the building that houses their headquarters as a "radiator." Jackasses. The 1963 structure designed by Welton Becket associate Louis Naidorf was a spectacular step forward in office building design. It made the 44-story tower (then the Humble Building) into a giant sculpture.

7. One Shell Plaza 910 Louisiana, Skidmore, Owings & Merril and Wilson, Morris, Crain & Anderson

The spare, economical design by Bruce J. Graham and Fazlur R. Khan was meant to be a testament to the modern corporation and an anchor to Houston's energy capital of the world status. It's an appropriately neutral partner to the early-20th century design of City Hall and the Houston Public Library's Julia Idelson Building which sit across from it.


6. Chase Tower 600 Travis, I.M. Pei & Partners and 3D/International

At 75-stories high, the Chase Tower is a spectacular gray granite box (see right). We often change our minds about the Tower. Sometimes we think the I.M. Pei design is an outstanding testament to the idea that "everything is bigger in Texas." Sometimes we think it's great, big hurricane shelter. We vacillate between calling its design "clean" and labeling it "sterile." Either way, it is big and imposing, two things late-20th century skyscrapers were supposed to be and its plaza is home to one of our favorite sculptures, Joan Miro's Personage and Birds. We love the way the top of the tower seems to disappear into the clouds on stormy days.

5. 1100 Louisiana Building 1100 Louisiana, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and 3D/International

The 1100 Louisiana Building seriously needs a new (and hopefully imaginative) name, but the pink granite-and-glass tower is one of the warmer hued skyscrapers downtown and has a wonderful geometric design. UPDATE: A reader informs us that the building is now known as Enterprise Plaza (still not very imaginative but better than just the address).

4. Wells Fargo Plaza 1000 Louisiana, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and Lloyd Jones Brewer & Associates

We can't resist the dollar bill-green color of the Wells Fargo Plaza (formerly First Interstate Bank Plaza and then Allied Bank Plaza). Reflecting fun house mirror images of the buildings that surround it, the Wells Fargo Plaza building is 71 stories of curved glass that seems like a jewel dropped in the middle of a concrete corridor.  

3. Pennzoil Place 711 Louisiana, Johnson/Burgee Architects and S. I. Morris Associates

We admit that there was a bit of sentimentality involved in naming Pennzoil Place to our number three spot. Completed in 1976 and designed by Philip Johnson and John Burgee, the 36-story twin towers of the building make is seem like two buildings separated by a 10-foot wide slot, but both towers connect to one base. The eye-catching roofs of the towers slop at a 45-degree angle and are reportedly Johnson and Burgee's attempt to seemingly defy engineering logic.

2. Bank of America 700 Louisiana, Johnson/Burgee architects and Kendall/Heaton Associates

Originally called the RepublicBank Center, now called Bank of America and completed in 1983, the building's ornate Romantic Classical design by Philip Johnson and John Burgee was reportedly meant to counteract the city's then trend toward tall steel and glass boxes.

1. Heritage Plaza 1111 Bagby, M. Nasr & Partners

Our choice for the number one spot is Heritage Plaza, a towering expression of the city's then wealth and supposedly grand future. Completed in the late 1980s, Heritage Plaza reflects a postmodern sensibility. Architect Mohammed Nasr's travels in the Yucatan influenced both the building's cap (a granite, stepped pyramid inspired by Mayan constructions) and interior lobby (which shows more Mexican influences).

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