The 75-story Texas Commerce Tower, now Chase, was commissioned in 1977 as Houston was experiencing unprecedented growth. In contrast to the multiple glass and steel high-rises that vied for distinction on the growing skyline, Pei used classic granite, the material of enduring monuments, and pioneered a new anchoring system for the 2-inch-thick cladding. The result was the tallest granite-clad building in the world, the tallest building in Houston, and the tallest building ever constructed with a composite concrete and steel frame, further breaking records for pumping concrete vertically to building’s full 1,030-foot height. The western corner of the square tower was sliced at a 45-degree angle to create a fifth side, the building’s main facade: a tour de force 85-foot column-free span of stainless steel and glass.
Just as the sliced tower responded uniquely to the skyline, it also made a significant contribution on the ground. The 3 million-square-foot building steps back on its square city block site to create a 1-acre outdoor plaza focused by Personage with Birds, a playful, brightly colored 55-foot-high sculpture by Joan Miró. The design strategy, based on Pei’s deep understanding of the city as a living organism, was a deliberate attempt to celebrate community by encouraging people to populate downtown rather than escaping to the suburbs after work and to entice them up from Houston’s underground shopping concourse to invigorate public life at street level.
In 1981, Texas Commerce Tower received the First Annual Award for Distinguished Architecture from Reliance Development Company and also the Grand Conceptor Award for Engineering Excellence from the American Consulting Engineers Council.
Design Team: I.M. Pei, Design Partner; Harold Fredenburgh, Design Architect
I.M. Pei & Partners