Walter P Moore Wins Top Engineering Excellence Award

31 March 2023
Acec 167 copy awards sat march 25th 2023


The American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC) Texas Chapter has named the Ion as their 2023 National Engineering Excellence Eminent Conceptor, as well as a Gold Award winner in the Structural Systems category. The annual meeting and awards banquet was held on March 24th & 25th in Bastrop, Texas at the Hyatt Lost Pines Resort. 

Located in Houston’s Midtown, the Sears Department Store was the city’s second and largest Sears store. Originally constructed in 1939, the art deco structure was a landmark for the generations of families who shopped there. Unfortunately, the store was shuttered in 2018 due to economic conditions that centered on online commerce.

However, through a combination of the vision of Rice University’s endowment management company that owned the property and bought out the remainder of Sears’ 99-year lease and the creativity of the design team that included Walter P Moore as structural engineer, the aging building was rebirthed as a technology innovation hub called Ion. Rice envisions the Ion as the anchor of the planned Ion District, a 16-acre mixed-use development that will include Rice’s inner-city campus.

Ion required four to six stories to support the ambitious 270,000-square-foot program. However, the existing three-story concrete building, built in 1939 and modified in the 1960s, was not designed for future vertical expansion. Walter P Moore developed structural concepts for one-, two-, and three-story vertical expansion options. The owner opted to vertically expand by two stories of steel framing, supplemented with horizontal expansion at the lower three levels that matched the character of the existing flat plate concrete structure. The vertical expansion required strengthening each existing foundation and introducing a new lateral system to withstand wind loads on the taller building.

A vital architectural goal was to introduce more daylight into the interior of the massive “concrete box” floor plates which occupy nearly a full city block. This required substantial demolition of the existing concrete exterior concrete walls and carving a 26’ x 92’ center light well opening angled through the full height of the building, which eliminated four existing columns. Walter P Moore effectively turned the building upside down by hanging the resulting cantilevered floor slabs using stainless-steel hanger rods from the overbuild framing above the existing roof level. This elegant structural solution concealed the bulky structural transfer elements while exposing lighter, architecturally sculpted elements within the occupied space.

The exposed structure created by ceiling-free spaces and the reimagined façade pays homage to the original art deco style of the 1939 structure while creating modern spaces. The refurbished historical façade on the north side reflects this, restoring the beauty of the original building. A sleek new curtainwall on the expanded south and large new window openings through the east and west concrete exterior walls flood daylight into the space. This imaginative project not only transformed the aged department store into a modern technology hub but also saved the embodied carbon costs and impacts of a new replacement structure.

The Ion will compete at the engineering industry’s top awards event in June 2023 during the National ACEC Convention held in Washington, D.C. 

Stay updated on our latest insights, news, events, advancements, and successes we’ve achieved with our clients.