Rendering of Architecture Center Houston design prior to Hurricane Harvey.
Murphy Mears Architects Rendering of Architecture Center Houston design prior to Hurricane Harvey.

Construction on the new Architecture Center Houston was roughly three weeks from completion when Hurricane Harvey hit the city in late August, causing flooding beyond even what the resiliency-minded center was designed to withstand—if it was finished. Now, the project is delayed for months.

"The idea for an architecture center is that you want it to be a demonstration space for everything architectural," says Rusty Bienvenue, the executive director of AIA Houston. "We knew this was in a flood zone, but we wanted to tell the story—you can design in a flood zone. We were leading those conversations here in Houston with symposiums and things like over the last year or so in the city. So we thought, put our money where our mouth is, let’s move into this building—a really great, historic building in the flood zone—and design it to withstand water."

Located in the the B.A. Riesner building, originally built in 1906, the center was designed for flood mitigation up to the 500-year flood levels, but flooding from Hurricane Harvey exceeded those levels.

"We designed the flood mitigation to be a foot higher than what we were told was the highest the water would ever get in that neighborhood based on flood maps, which are now being redrawn all over Houston," Bienvenue says. "The water overshot that elevation by another foot. So had we completed the building, we would have had significant flood mitigation devices there, but we may have still had some infiltration—we just don’t know how much."

In response to offers of help post-hurricane, Bienvenue created a GoFundMe campaign for $250,000—the amount of the deductible on the builder's risk insurance for the project. Many state and local AIA chapters across the United States have made contributions to the fund. "The builder's risk will cover much of the cost to rebuild, but comes with a $250,000 deductible and won't cover products and services that were donated the first time around," Bienvenue says. "The estimate from the contractor for the coverage from the builder's risk policy is just north of $850,000. The previously donated products and services are likely to push this cost close to $1m."

AIA Houston's lease was up in their old space, so the chapter is now temporarily working out of HOK's Houston office. Bienvenue says the contractor estimates that the rebuild will take 16 weeks.

Houston firm Murphy Mears Architects is revising the center's design in response to the recent flood. "Quite frankly, I’m kind of excited about it," Bienvenue says. "This may be something that comes out of this, what they’ve designed for a new flood mitigation add-on is pretty elegant, and I think we’re still going to be able to tell the story that we’ve always wanted to tell."