UH Architecture Students Envision New Housing, Amenities for Houston’s Third, Fifth Wards

Houston is home to many historic communities. The city’s Third Ward and Fifth Ward are particularly relevant to the city’s story but have experienced their share of economic hardships. This semester, two groups of University of Houston architecture students have taken a second look at these neighborhoods and envisioned a range of possibilities aimed at revitalizing them.

Students led by professors Susan Rogers and Ronnie Self generated 22 architectural designs for development along the Third Ward’s Dowling Street corridor. In a separate initiative, professor Donna Kacmar guided students as they designed small houses (approximately 850 sq. feet) for areas in the Fifth Ward.

Both projects offer community members a glimpse at how new residential and business development can impact their neighborhoods.

The undergraduate students working with Rogers and Self were tasked with developing an architecture program for vacant sites along the Dowling Street corridor (between Alabama Street and Pierce Street), which was once the Third Ward’s commercial hub. Students produced 22 designs that range from small lot single-family housing to block-scaled mixed-use development. Collaborators for this project included artist and Project Row Houses founder Rick Lowe, Project Row Houses and the Emancipation Economic Development Council.

“Stakeholders in this neighborhood want to see Dowling return to what it was, the Main Street of the neighborhood,” Rogers said. “Many of the students’ designs have been driven by these stakeholders’ desires.”

Examples of the students’ designs include spaces for residential living, offices and retail outlets. The project designed by fifth-year architecture student Zerik Kendrick proposed a senior housing community at an empty lot on Francis Street (around the corner from Project Row Houses and Emancipation Park). Kendrick grew up in the Third Ward and is well aware of its senior population. His design proposes an eight-unit, one-story facility. Living spaces are close knit to promote communication among the residents.

“Sometimes, people like to remain close to their roots,” he said. “For many people in the Third Ward, their families are here and their churches are here. A space like this allows them to remain rooted in their community.”

The project also allowed students to focus their design talents on a real-world need and to consult with community stakeholders.

“It’s not the biggest project I’ve worked on, but it’s the most feasible,” he said. “It’s exciting. I’ve had great conversations with some stakeholders who live in this area. And I’m from the Third Ward, so I can relate to their feedback.”

His classmate Stephanie Crabtree developed a design for a mixed-used space in a lot at the corner of Elgin Boulevard and Dowling Street (near Emancipation Park). Her design incorporates retail, office and living spaces in a three-story unit. Crabtree, a fourth year architecture student, said that her biggest takeaway from the project was to keep the design simplified yet practical.

“I’d live here,” she said. “There’s nothing there now, so a project like this could very well be developed here.”

This week, Kendrick, Crabtree and classmates will spotlight their ideas by placing yard signs at the proposed sites for their projects. The signs will offer a rendering of these projects with the announcement “Custom Ideas Available” (a play on real estate signs’ “Land Available” wording).

Students in Kacmar’s class focused their attention on another area with much history but an equally turbulent economic infrastructure. Collaborating with the Fifth Ward Redevelopment Corporation (FWRC), Kacmar’s students developed designs for small residential houses. The proposed homes would be located on sites owned by the FWRC: 4017 Market St., 3096 Curtis St and 4018 Farmer St. They would accommodate two residents and would cost approximately $80,000 to construct.

Four designs were created by student groups and are being reviewed by members of the FWRC. One of these designs will be selected by the organization to be built in the fall.

Ian Rosenberg, president of the FWRC’s board and a UH architecture alumnus, extended an invitation to Kacmar, who authored the book “BIG little House,” to work on this project.

“Because there is a chance of their projects being built, they have to work out any kinks,” Kacmar said. “We’ve met with a structural engineer and mechanical engineer. They’re becoming engaged in the process of designing a home that can accommodate actual residents. That’s a big takeaway from this project.”

Fifth year student Saul De la Mancha was among the students who designed a prospective house for 4017 Market St. He and two group members, Omar Toriz and Sarah Yockey, submitted three designs amongst themselves, then combined the best ideas from each one. Although their proposed home design was restricted to only 866 sq. feet, they managed to include a carport, garden and office space.

“We’re trying to incorporate a new style of home into an older neighborhood,” he said. “There’s not a lot of development in this area, so we made sure to include a work space within the home. Perhaps a home like this might appeal to someone who runs their own business.”

De la Mancha is set to graduate this spring and appreciates that one of his last class projects may actually become a physical part of the city.

“It’s exciting to know that there’s the possibility that this will be built,” he said. “But it’s more exciting to know that a house like this might inspire more growth in this community.”