Skanska Partners with Architect Michael Hsu to Create Understory, a Dynamic Community Hub and Culinary Market at Capitol Tower

Press release 8/6/2018 8:00 AM EST

Skanska today unveiled the plans for the expansive two-story atrium at Capitol Tower, the 35-story Class-A office development currently under construction in Houston’s Central Business District. The developer has partnered with Michael Hsu Office of Architecture to create Understory, a dynamic experience-based destination that will bring the community together through culture, commerce, and cuisine.

Capitol Tower

A native Houstonian, award-winning architect Michael Hsu is well-known for creating iconic hospitality brands and livable, neighborhood-oriented urban spaces and is adept at place-making and activating communities. His robust portfolio ranges from mixed-use developments to custom interior installations, with notable projects including Heights Mercantile, Uchi, and Local Foods.

Named for the lively space between the forest canopy and the underbrush, Understory will be a vibrant, open community space in Downtown Houston that will redefine the tunnel experience in a way not seen before in the network’s near 90-year history. Located at 800 Capitol Street, on a prime block in the Central Business District that includes five points of tunnel access, Understory will feature over 35,000 square feet of engaging community space that will include a full-service restaurant and a 9,000-square-foot culinary market with seven diverse chef-driven concepts and a cocktail bar. A central feature of Understory is the connection of the street and tunnel levels, facilitated by the “Great Steps,” a 30-foot-wide monumental staircase and gathering place that will create the first true street level gateway to the tunnel network. The naturally lit space will also include a large hanging art installation that will be visible from three streets.

“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. “Understory’s mix of culinary options, destination retail and community connection will create a dynamic hub where Houstonians can explore diverse flavors and gather with colleagues and friends in a setting that merges the street and tunnel levels in a truly distinctive way.”

Damborsky added that Understory’s central location - near cultural landmarks such as Houston City Hall, Jones Hall for the Performing Arts, the Alley Theatre, Revention Music Center, Market Square Park and Wortham Theater – and range of thoughtful amenities ideally position the space to become part of downtown’s vibrant cultural life. 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 also offer the community to access high-speed Wi-Fi, mobile device charging stations, engaging art, games and thoughtful furniture arrangements, as well as a state-of-the-art fitness center for the exclusive use of building tenants.

With a unique contemporary design that was inspired by the craft of food, Understory will feature approachable, open cooking concepts with high-end finishes to create an inviting space with sweeping views of the street, tunnel entries and market hall. Kitchens will have a warm, handcrafted look, with artist murals, copper clad kitchen hoods, wood butcher block counter tops and white marble. A wide variety of soft furnishings will create a cohesive, yet layered, experience.

“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. 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,” said Michael Hsu, principal at Michael Hsu Office of Architecture.

When Capitol Tower rises in Houston’s skyline in 2019, it will be the most sustainable office tower in Houston, using 25 percent less energy than typical baseline facilities. Pre-certified under LEED v4 Platinum, one of only four core-and-shell projects nation-wide, the 754,000-square-foot sustainable office development will feature a number of green amenities, including the SkyPark, the first and largest green roof in Downtown Houston to be open to all building tenants.

Skanska has also developed the LEED Platinum West Memorial Place campus in the heart of the Energy Corridor, which offers direct access to the Terry Hershey Park hike and bike trails.