The coronavirus pandemic doesn’t seem to have slowed construction in Houston, as concrete trucks traverse the freeways and cranes add layers to the Jengalike structures that ultimately become midrise and high-rise buildings.
There’s one underway now on Fannin Street next to the Mann Eye Institute at the point where Midtown gives way to the Museum District. Dr. Mike Mann goes to work each day and keeps track of the building — his latest project — by looking out his window.
From a conference room in his medical office building, Mann talks about his dream for a three-building complex that will include a new medical office building — the 10-story Museo, which broke ground earlier this year and has an anticipated price tag of $77 million — and, someday, a five-star hotel and then a residential high-rise, all centered around a parklike setting.
The three-story main office for his ophthalmology practice was built in 1979 and was likely thought of as sleek and stylish back then. But architecture has been taken up a notch in recent years, with modern design gaining traction in residential, commercial and hospitality sectors.
Marko Dasigenis, who once worked with architect Philip Johnson in New York and also worked in what is now the PJMD architecture offices in Houston, is the lead designer for Mann’s trio of buildings.
Mann sees Museo — and potentially the whole complex — as creating a beautiful new gateway to what lies beyond: Houston’s Museum of Fine Arts, Asia Society, Holocaust Museum and other cultural sites within walking distance. Newish modern residential buildings, the 24-story Southmore and the 8-story Mond, both are nearby as well.
On the surface, Museo’s architecture is strictly modern, with panels of blue-green glass for the exterior and, for the interior, slabs of pure white marble that Mann, Dasigenis and architectural colorist Carl Black flew to Macedonia in Greece to personally select. On the environmental side, the building will be Class A LEED certified.
“I love to restore vision, it is a passion. But I have always had a thing for real estate … and I like art,” said Mann, who started his medical practice 43 years ago. “My life has been wonderful, that I can practice ophthalmology and build the practice and now have a place where other people can practice medicine.”
The Mann Eye Institute will occupy the 10th floor of Museo, and the remaining space will be leased to other medical practices. Mann envisions the first floor as having a variety of uses intended to draw in the public.
Dasigenis said that the beauty of designing and constructing a medical office building now is that they’re able to accommodate the new, high-tech future that lies ahead. The formula of a building with 25,000 square feet per floor and a boxy exterior are a thing of the past.
Although Museo is the first of Mann’s ideas to be built, Dasigenis actually first designed the potential residential high-rise and established its design vocabulary based on analytical cubism, a style with fragmented planes and squares that reach back to the avant garde work of painters Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso.
So Museo and the future hotel will share the same vocabulary and style, which Dasigenis compared to architecture of the 1920s and 1930s, with spires and setbacks.
Black’s contribution was the coloring, insisting on pure white marble that virtually glows in the sun and slices of glass in healing shades of lighter blue-green to a deeper blue, a nod to the Aegean Sea and Apollo, the god of medicine in Greek mythology.
“Medicine has two sides to it. One is negative as it relates to pain and suffering, but the other is the ability to heal. Our goal is to emphasize the healing qualities of medicine through the use of the color blue,” Dasigenis said.
Museo is expected to finish in the fall of 2021 and Mann and his staff will move in. Sometime after, his current building will be demolished to make way for the hotel. Land across from that — currently a parking lot — is where the residential tower could be. The section of Palm Street that runs between Main and Fannin is where Mann hopes to create a green space that will bring a sense of community to his master plan.