Finding comfort in the heat and hurry of Houston

Monday, June 12, 2017

Finding comfort in the heat and hurry of Houston

Michelle Martin

Two members of Standard Development traveled to Houston to present their research and explore the city's wellness community.

Earlier this month, Anja and I had the opportunity to share our research on nutrition in buildings and communities at the Keeping Our Communities Healthy Conference in Houston, TX. The conference, organized by Hunger Free Texans, is the largest conference of healthy community practitioners and researchers in the Southwestern United States. There, we enjoyed connecting with industry leaders, urban planners, and health and wellness advocates passionate about building better communities.

While conferences are a great place for sharing the WELL mission, attending them can be tiring. Almost the entire workday is spent indoors in windowless rooms, there's little walking, and constant social interaction. In these instances, it's important to be intentional about carving out the time to breathe, clear your head, and reset. After presenting our research, Anja and I needed some reinvigoration so we hit the streets to find out what the Houston wellness scene had to offer.

Our first stop was Gerald D. Hines Water Wall Park, which was a three-acre green space that included a massive sculpture of falling water. The water wall was framed by a brick archway, and as we entered the interior, we were immediately faced with a curtain of water: 11,000 gallons per minute plunged from a height of nearly 65 feet. The wall gave off a fine mist, which was a welcome respite from the sticky Houston heat. There was a main traffic thoroughfare just 100 feet away, but the only thing we could hear was the rushing of the water. We spent a few minutes there, cooling off and enjoying the unexpected sound of an urban waterfall.

Gerald D. Hines Water Wall Park

Our next stop was Rothko Chapel, a non-profit center with a deep history in human rights and wellness, named for Mark Rothko, whose works were displayed there. Though originally intended as a religious setting, Rothko Chapel was a non-denominational location where people from all walks of life were welcomed to enjoy the sacred and silent space.

Before entering , we were greeted with a sign outlining expectations for all visitors:

"Welcome, everyone, to the Rothko Chapel. This is a sacred space for all. We invite you to unplug from technology while you are here. Quiet your phone. Let your emails wait. Turn off your camera. Snack later. Allow yourself to be completely present, a few steps back from our treasured works of art. The experience is in the silence."

Inside the chapel, a central cupola provided natural illumination for the 14 murals that lined the walls (there are light fixtures, though, according to the docent, artificial light is rarely used). The thick plaster walls insulated the space against exterior noise, and the stone floors absorbed most of the sound from the footsteps of other visitors. The Chapel was the perfect place for meditation, appreciation, or just taking the time to slow down and take a few breaths. We observed that, going forward, a quiet, sparse meditation area like the Rothko Chapel could be an essential community wellness tool to offer harried employees in office buildings.

Rothko Chapel: Be in the moment

Our last stop was a visit to Rice University's campus to see James Turrell's Twilight Epiphany Skyspace. This show of natural and artificial light was best experienced in-person, as pictures were not permitted in the interior space during the twilight sequence and videos from the exterior don't do the structure justice. Another space that discourages cellphone use and talking, we spent about an hour here, enjoying the quiet and changing light as night fell over Houston. The Skyspace allowed us to reflect on the profound impact of the natural world on community well-being.

James Turrell's Twilight Epiphany Skyspace

Despite the busy start, the wellness spaces and places throughout Houston helped us end the day in calm. Houston, though rife with heat and hurry, proved to have its own, special ways of offering us comfort.