Architecture Gone Awry: Houston's 8 Ugliest Buildings

Categories: Spaced City

hisd-richmond.jpg
Photo courtesy of Swamplot
The HISD Central Services building, a.k.a. the Taj Mahal
The old HISD Central Services building on Richmond -- called the Taj Mahal by HISD employees, both for its massive size and the massive budget that went into building it -- was torn down in 2007. One of the few examples of Brutalist architecture in Houston -- the Alley Theater being another notable, if more well-designed, example -- it was either loved or hated by residents, most of whom did not even remotely appreciate the stark, prison-like exterior or the cold concrete with which it had been built.

But ever since the polarizing building was demolished to make room for an equally ugly Costco, the city has had a void to fill. It was easily considered the ugliest building in Houston by most who laid eyes on it. Which building will take its place?

For your consideration, we present -- in no particular order -- eight of the ugliest buildings in Houston. Leave your choice in the comments section below. And if we missed an even uglier building, be sure to let us know.

Federal Reserve Bank

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Photo by imelda
Our personal choice for the ugliest building in the city, this monstrosity looks as though it was built from a giant child's box of refuse Lego blocks. Our Twitter followers agreed, as @Fealty37 put it: "OMG! Finally, someone hit the eyesore on the fracking head." @theoshu agreed: "I was driving down Memorial today thinking that exact thing. Horrible Lego architecture."

Although the building's aesthetics have been somewhat improved by the removal of the giant "DALLAS" on the front (yes, it's technically the Houston branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas), it is simply a universal truth that teal clashes with...everything. And should never be used in great quantity in any architecture, ever.

Memorial Hermann Hospital, Gessner and I-10

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Photo by baldheretic
Nicknamed the Decepticon by members of the Houston Architecture Info Forum, the only time the hospital tower's completely divergent architectural styles don't clash with one another is at night, when you can't see it for the blinding blue lights that are projected off of its "crown" like the Deadlights of Steven King's fabled It. Even better, the futuristic crown itself is bizarrely off-center on top of the boring, Perry Homes-style stucco base. Completing the trifecta of ugliness is the languishing, seemingly never-to-be-completed directly hotel next door.

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37 comments
Jennifer
Jennifer

I think the Alley Theatre needs to be on this list.

Karey
Karey

I think you're talking about Heritage Plaza, Emil. Funny, though, since I really like that building. It has an interesting, eye-catching postmodern design. To each his own, I guess. Haha.

Emil
Emil

I've always hated that concrete building bursting out of a glass building downtown. You can see it as you approach on Allen Pkwy. It is, and has always been, hideous.

Emil

Mack
Mack

Thanks for sharing. There are many structures in the world that can be stated as the most ugliest structures. some of them are Ryogyong Hotel, Royal Ontario Musuem, Petrobras Headquarters, Markel Building, Zizkov Television Tower, Beehive, National Library of Pristina, Center Georges Pompidou, Federation Square, Morris A. Mechanic Theater for more details on this structure visit Top 10 World�s Ugliest Structures

Kitty
Kitty

Wow! Haven't driven the Katy Frwy in a while, so I've missed seeing the Memorial Hermann Hospital. What was that tower with the eye in the Lord of the Rings movies? That is all that is missing from that building...bet it is really impressive during a thunderstorm. If lighting struck it, would it set off a shower of sparks, or would it just ABSORB the energy and shoot it back? I'd love to know...

PCL
PCL

I would call most of these buildings silly rather than truly ugly. Maybe if I got a close look at the Memorial Hermann Hospital or "La Luz del Mundo" and found that one of them was actually made of Styrofoam I could call it ugly with some conviction. But after seeing the acres of vinyl clad poor man's "colonials" with staple-on 2 dimensional plastic windows that have gone up in my area over the last 20 years, or the 1000 unit vinyl draped apartment complexes, each waiting to become the worlds biggest trash fire, buildings like this just don't elicit much of a reaction from me. Maybe if Frank Gehry is building something in Houston, you'll have a truly spectacular example of ugliness for next year's list.

G
G

I agree with the many who have said the Federal Reserve building near downtown does not deserve to be in a "top 8 ugliest buildings of Houston" list.

And I agree with the few who have said the Co-Cathedral doesn't merit inclusion as well (to me, the inside is overly tall, but the outside is like a 21st century version of Istanbul/Constantinople/Byzantium-esque architecture).

But I'll be the only one to say that nor does the new Memorial City hospital building. The lower/mid bulk of the hospital itself is uninspired, but while its haters quibble about whether the top looks more like a crown, a landing pad for UFOs, or a phallus, I'll just think of it as a neon Miami-style air traffic control tower as I drive by on the Katy Freeway. That is, after all, what its penthouse most looks like--and personally, it always makes me look up and smile. I like buildings that aren't afraid to be different, I just wish that architect had designed the entire thing that way, not just the top few floors.

P.S. As a taste disclaimer, my fave Houston buildings in order are: Texas Heritage Plaza, Bank of America Center, Transco Tower, Phoenix Tower, and First City Tower. YMMV.

Don Mcswain
Don Mcswain

Im surprised the Chase Tower (formerly Texas Commerce tower) did'nt make this list. Although it looks a little better up close than it does from a distance, its way too gray and box-like for my taste. Sadly, it owns the distinction of tallest building in Houston. I hope something more appealing is built downtown in my lifetime to take over the tallest Houston building crown.

Clint
Clint

The new FBI Building

Don
Don

I too believe the Co-Cathedral deserves to be on the list. It is one of the most uninviting churches in the entire City.

Devon K.
Devon K.

What about the Crowne Plaza Hotel on 59 between Kirby and Buffalo Speedway? It is godawful, from its Thai-food poop color to it prison-like windows. It should at least get an honorable mention.

Anonymous
Anonymous

"nate" is correct the AT&T "building" is a giant equipment cabinet. It is an engineered enclosure for electronic switch gear and computers, not an architectural structure.

I'll second the motion to add the Mickey Leleand Federal Building and Brown Convention Center.

Jeff Share
Jeff Share

I agree with most of these comments though I don't think the Fed Reserve in all that bad, just a bit gaudy and way too large. How about that hideous beanpole 30-story condo at Sage & Richmond? If that isn't the ugliest building in the city (except maybe for ATT) then I don't know what it is. I've hated it ever since it was built.

jim sherman
jim sherman

An Urban Animal friend of mine nailed the SS George Brown years ago when he described it as "The box Texas Commerce Bank came in." And the Fed Reserve is known to some as "The First Church of Money." Surprised that more of the mega-churches didn't make the list - they always remind me of that great Garrison Keller line about the Lutheran who had invented an aphrodesiac for Baptists, but destroyed the formula after hearing about the church in Houston that had 10 thousand members. The church was called "Six Flags Over Jesus."

UncleLijah
UncleLijah

The St Joseph cross pisses me off too--this ain't Dallas!

autumn
autumn

my granny, who has lived in spring branch for 60 years, became so irritated with the construction of that memorial hospital on I10 that she finally stopped and went in and asked what the hell the top of the building was. she was told that it is where the executive offices are. nice.

she also comments on how 'phallic' the building looks every time we drive by it. i love my granny.

@dino2gnt
@dino2gnt

Full Disclosure: I worked in the HCC building for several years, and thus I have a well developed hate for it in all forms and fashions.

John
John

I love the Federal Reserve Bldg; so glad it doesn't look like most federal buildings with Corinthian columns and all that pseudo greco-roman crap. Don't mind the cathedral at all; again because it actually looks like it was built in this century instead of some faux historical style- like god-awful Minute Maid Park. The FBI building is totally cool. Hats off to the feds again for recognizing what century they are in. The worst building, ugliest, dumbest by far is the Memorial City Methodist Tower. It's size and mass, you can't miss it, make it even more obnoxious. Maybe the architect really hated the client?

Mary
Mary

Hahahaha! Sure looks like it.

youshouldnthaveasked
youshouldnthaveasked

Mary, it's an alieport (a docking station for flying saucers). Trust me on this one.

d
d

yes, the michael graves building is truly awful. the greek-ish church off of i45 is actually pretty good in a gauche way. (the hospital tower in memorial...isn't that router-bit thingy at the top where they plan to hoist dick chaney up during a thunderstorm to re-start his heart?) ...in a city filled with ugle buildings there are, alas, so many to choose from. has anyone considered that awful building just south past the corner of ost and fannin?

d
d

yes, the michael graves building is truly awful. the greek-ish church off of i45 is actually pretty good in a gauche way. (the hospital tower in memorial...isn't that router-bit thingy at the top where they plan to hoist dick chaney up during a thunderstorm to re-start his heart?) ...in a city filled with ugle buildings there are, alas, so many to choose from. has anyone considered that awful building just south past the corner of ost and fannin?

Garrett F.
Garrett F.

What about the big ass ugly cross on the St. Joseph admin building? It's a pissing contest for piety.

Turner Wright
Turner Wright

I can't believe no one has listed the new FBI building on 290 & 43rd! It is by far the ugliest waste of space and building materials I have ever seen! It doesn't even look competed, and what is with the "+" sign?

I have to agree with others about the George R. Brown, the prison like Co-Cathedral, and, has anyone complained about Chase Tower downtown?

Mary
Mary

So, does anyone know what goes on in the crown of the Memorial Hospial system building? We live within view of the damn thing and it drives me crazy, when driving about. Their web site doesn't say what offices/mechanical/lab or other activities are housed there.

Dolores
Dolores

Most of the condominiums that have gone up in the past few years qualify, especially the ones eating more and more of Montrose.

Really? Seriously?
Really? Seriously?

The KBR building is awful, and there are several buildings around the abandoned St. Joseph Building including 2601 Main St. The Fed Reserve and Co-Cathedrals don't belong on this list.Epic FAIL!

flaggler Jenson
flaggler Jenson

oops, sorry, you nailed that galleria spot, "tooth-pick like", yes!

Flaggler Jenson
Flaggler Jenson

Would agree with what you've chosen for the most part. My son was born in the hospital you list on Katy Freeway, and we always joke that it's now the HQ for Osterizer or Cuisinart or some such blender manufacturer.

There is also a scary building that I see almost daily. Not sure what it is, but I think it's on Travis/Main, yet could be set in pre-wall-fall East Berlin without an augenblick! Small squarish windows set in a sheet of blase concrete sans any adornment whatsoever.

Another definite qualifier is a high-rise residential unit in the Galleria area, pale yellowish, far more wall than fenestration, and no balconies or exterior flourishes. It strikes you like a tall penal facility or cheaply done dorm. I feel sadness for the resident inmates.

Then again, I must also vote for those ghastly fascist-inspired, Albert Speer residential masterpieces by what's his name? One gargoyle-populated lovely on West Gray near the post office, another unit on the Shepherd curve, with megalomaniacal pilasters and classical elements all out of proportion that scream Euro-bondage. Yikes!

nate
nate

The AT&T building on Wesleyan houses mostly equipment, not people. No sure if the few inside have cubicles or offices, but at least most of the space is taken up by hardware...

J.R.
J.R.

I'm surprised no one has mentioned the federal courthouse.

MG
MG

No George R. Brown Convention Center, really? I LOATHE driving by that ugly pile of Centre Pompidou-wannabe garbage. Awful, outdated, straight-up tacky.

Charles Kuffner
Charles Kuffner

Is it wrong to admit that I actually like the Fed Reserve building? I can't argue with the Lego description, but I think that's kinda cool. I wouldn't want every building to look like that - hell, one is enough - but I'm happy that we do have one building like that.

Eric  Kayne
Eric Kayne

I've always had a strange urge to explore the inside of the Holiday Inn on St. Joseph Parkway. I'd love to photograph the inside of each room and roam its creepy hallways. The outside has such a rough patina, I can only imagine what the inside looks like.

Ginger
Ginger

I'm surprised the BARC dome didn't make the list. And yes that stupid Memorial Building with it's off-center crown. The "off centery-ness" of it brings out a little bit of OCD in me and drives me nuts every time I see it in all it's glowing lack of oddly crowned glory.

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