New Life For Old UH Building

A University of Houston building that's gone through a number of incarnations over the past six decades, from an auto shop to a print shop to a band building, now has new life thanks to some innovative and decidedly "green" design ideas. Houston Public Radio's Jack Williams explains.

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It was simply called the "band building" until just a few years ago when the University of Houston band moved to a new facility. Scheduled to be demolished, professors at the Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture set out to save it. Now almost a decade later, the new Keeland Center will house The Graduate Design and Build Studio. In addition to huge north-facing windows that provide natural lighting, the building features the only sloped-green roof in Houston, a mixture of native plants that cover about 2,500 square feet. Noted local landscape architect and University of Houston professor Charles Tapley pushed for the green roof.

"They're growing in five inches of soil, which is very, very shallow and not a lot of root system. But invariably, the native plants will find a way to dwarf the plants and create a fine homogeneous plant material."

Because of the unusual slope, architects had to figure out a way to keep the roof in place and actually used plants that create natural barriers that keep the roof from sliding off. Tapley says ultimate goal of the roof was to save energy.

"It should help a great deal in calculating the idea of saving of energies, coupled with solar collectors. I am looking forward to seeing the time when students will really be thoroughly involved in flat roofs, sloped roofs, any kind of roofs."

The $2 million building is full of green elements, including the large windows and green materials in construction. This is University of Houston associate professor and designer of the Keeland Center Geoff Brune.

"In the way it's detailed, in the materials that are used, in the efficiency of how one makes an architecture was a very important goal. On the other hand, we did want it to be architecture and so in that sense, it's carefully articulated. Its details are well thought through. It provides a teaching tool for me to address these issues with my students."

The Keeland Center is next to the College of Architecture Building along Elgin at the University of Houston. You can see pictures of the building on our website,

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