Snøhetta’s new Houston Central Station has a concrete, 'floating' umbrella, connecting the canopy to the passengers below
When it rains it pours, especially in Houston. Getting caught in a sudden downpour is a common experience in this city, as is having one's inverted umbrella get carried off by forceful wind gusts.
Snohetta's cantilevered canopy expresses both the urgency of the Houston climate by appearing to lift off the ground as well as the funnel action that rain water takes as it is collected and directed into storm drains. Where does the water go? Through stalactites and funnel columns into the slotted platform. This is not only efficient but wonderful to watch.
Striated texture on the top surface channels water across the roof into the funnels and down the columns. Strategic column openings appear to peel open the surface, allowing riders to watch water playfully descend to the ground. Recessed lights reflect patterns of the flowing water onto the concrete shell.
Inversely, when sunlight hits the roof it reflects through the column openings and perforated canopy edges transferring natural light to the platform below. From above office workers and residents look down on what is not so much a roof as a topography of valleys and gorges collecting water during rains. At night grazing lights illuminate this topography casting complex shadows and color patterns across the surface.
The canopy is a folded plate reinforced concrete structure. Catenary arches utilize folds and billows in the surface to reduce deflections and stresses in the shell. Utilizing a hybrid fabrication technique of precast concrete, steel reinforcing and field-applied concrete the shell thickness can be reduced to roughly 10cm.
The delicate footprint allows for maximum circulation while framing views of the historic Gulf building and surrounding streetscape. While contextual materials and geometric components may blend visually with the surrounding area the sculptural form will stand prominent as the landmark Central Station of Houston.