POST Houston is almost ready to open its doors

The former post office is now a massive multipurpose building with a food hall, concert venue and more.

It’s been years since the downtown warehouse that was once the Barbara Jordan Post Office had a permanent resident. But the colossal shell of brutalist architecture just off I-45 is almost ready for its new era as POST Houston, a massive multipurpose complex incorporating a coworking space, arts center, food hall, rooftop garden and LiveNation venue in one. 

“The building itself is like Houston in a way,” said Kirby Liu, Lovett Commercial’s director of development and the project manager for the 550,000 square-foot project, which is opening its first phase on Nov. 13. “It has a very muted exterior, but then you discover great things inside. That’s how I feel about the city itself.”

Each atrium in POST Houston features a large skylight and eye-catching staircase.

Each atrium in POST Houston features a large skylight and eye-catching staircase.

Jessie Mann/Chron

Named in the 1980s to honor the first Black woman elected to Congress in the South, the Barbara Jordan Post Office and its attached multi-story structure were once home to Houston's headquarters for the United States Postal Service before the complex was shuttered and mail operations were moved to Midtown in 2015. Lovett Commercial acquired the property shortly after and has been working on renovation plans since. 

Designed by international architecture firm OMA, the POST Houston project doesn’t just honor the building’s history in name alone. While the building’s monolithic exterior remains largely unchanged, once inside eagle-eyed visitors will notice transformations that borrow from the remnants of the historical post office’s past. The line that once separated the public from the post office’s inner workings is now marked by a hotel lobby desk and bar. The post office’s high-security vaults will become art installations. The famous “spy tunnels” and their portholes that allowed supervisors to surveil postal workers can still be spotted throughout the building. And the original turquoise paint will continue to adorn the building’s interior columns.

“It’s basically like the biggest recycling project you’ve ever seen,” OMA partner Jason Long said. “We tried to keep everything as raw as we could so that these elements that are new, really stand out against them—but then we could take as much advantage as we could of the patina of the building.”

Turning what was once effectively a gutted mail depot into a modern gathering space posed a few challenges. But Lovett and OMA implemented modern elements, such as three distinct staircases, skylights that drench each atrium in sun without letting in Houston’s oppressive heat, minimalist Donald Judd-esque neon lighting in a food hall, which was inspired by the neo-noir classic “Blade Runner” to look like an Asian night market, Long said, and metal-clad restrooms more akin to spaceships than a spot for mirror selfies.

“We like this building to constantly surprise you,” Liu said. 

The original paint will remain on the building's interior columns. 

The original paint will remain on the building's interior columns. 

Jessie Mann/Chron

Houstonians on their lunch breaks or stopping for dinner before a concert at LiveNation’s soon-to-be-christened 713 Music Hall will have their pick of cuisines in the Post Market, including Houston’s first Norwegian restaurant, Golfstrømmen Seafood Market; a permanent location of West African pop-up ChòpnBlọk; Houston’s Flower & Cream and Rollin Phatties; and Austin’s G’Raj Mahal, East Side King, and Salt & Time Butcher Shop. Diners will be able to eat at counters or tables or grab meals and snacks to go. 

You rarely see a building of this kind of weight and heftiness in Houston, Long said, “So its sheer fortitude was something we wanted to preserve and celebrate. At the same time, we wanted to bring some light in and we wanted to come up with a way to create some identity for different parts of the whole thing.”

The 5.5-acre “Skylawn” rooftop garden is where it all comes together, with winding paths cutting through green circular gardens and the three atrium skylights, leading to a view of the Houston skyline, an urban garden and what will soon be a rooftop restaurant. 

“It’s so unique that you have the vantage point back out to downtown, where you can see the skyline really close up, where it kind of fills your frame of vision, and you can also see the bayou and the highway… it really feels like you’re at the center of Houston,” Long said.  

The Skylawn has unobstructed views of the downtown skyline. 

The Skylawn has unobstructed views of the downtown skyline. 

Jessie Mann/Chron

POST Houston has gone “through the wringer,” as Liu puts it, with the pandemic bringing unique challenges and Winter Storm Uri wreaking havoc on the incomplete building in February. Plus, Liu says there were plenty of skeptics who didn’t expect POST Houston to work. But with the building opening this fall, Liu thinks the project is indicative of the “big and kind of radical” things Houston can do. 

“It’s a very different project. I don’t think there’s anything quite like it in the U.S,” Liu said. “I think we took people’s expectations about what you can do in this city and we took a flamethrower to it.” 

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