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Skanska, Architect Michael Hsu to Create Understory, a Houston Community Hub and Culinary Market

Planned Capitol Tower Space to Integrate Street-Level with Tunnels
August 8, 2018
Skanska's soon-to-deliver skyscraper Capitol Tower in Houston is set to include a two-story dynamic community hub and culinary market known as Understory.

Designed by Michael Hsu, the award-winning architect behind projects like Heights Mercantile, the 35,000-square-foot space is to include a full-service restaurant and a 9,000-square-foot culinary market with seven diverse chef-driven concepts and a cocktail bar.

The space will integrate into downtown Houston’s unique tunnel system that connects 95 city blocks 20 feet below street level. Capitol Tower’s connection to the tunnels will be facilitated by the "Great Steps," a 30-foot-wide staircase and gathering place that will create the first true street-level gateway to the tunnel network, as other entrances to the network are within office buildings.

Upon its opening in 2019, the community space will be the first in the tunnel network to be programmed seven days a week, from morning to night, with a wide variety of culinary, retail and cultural offerings. Understory will feature approachable, open cooking concepts with high-end finishes. It will also offer the community access to high-speed Wi-Fi, mobile device charging stations, engaging art, games and thoughtful furniture arrangements.

"Understory is the unique opportunity to combine energy from the downtown streets with the bustling intersection of the city’s tunnels into a vibrant urban hub," said Hsu, principal of Michael Hsu Office of Architecture, in announcing the project. "Appropriately moving between dynamic and intimate spaces, the design showcases the hospitality, theater and craft of food with a variety of ways to meet, collaborate and linger."

Understory could provide an above-ground boost needed for a strained retail market created by a recent increase in residential units downtown. The tunnel system has proved useful for the thousands of workers in the office buildings it serves, acting as a valuable amenity drawing business to the central business district. But the tunnel system shuts down at 7 p.m., so access to shops isn't available in the evening or on weekends.

"We are excited to partner with Michael Hsu to create a fresh, compelling destination that represents downtown Houston’s shift to a more vibrant 24/7 community," said Matt Damborsky, executive vice president for Skanska USA Commercial Development in Houston.

Kyle Hagerty, Houston Reporter  CoStar Group   
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