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Much will be made in coming weeks about the infrastructure and viability of Houston real estate as RealShare Houston rolls into town on Nov. 8. For the past eight years, Richard P. Browne has been a visiting professor of research in urban design and planning at the Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture at the University of Houston. But that’s not all he is. Browne is also the design mastermind who’s imprinted his style on 16 “New Towns” worldwide, all stepping stones on his crusade to convince developers to change their way of thinking when it comes to building–whether it’s a stand-alone building or full-blown communities. His Fifth Dimension of Design concept marries three decades of research and study of the social behavioral sciences and anthropology to the design of spaces for people. From Browne’s perspective, it takes far more than bricks and mortar and office and retail tenants to create a true lifestyle center. Those Houston area projects currently on his drawing board–the $200-million-plus Gateway Med Center and the $220-million Friendswood urban center–are prime examples of how, he believes, true lifestyle complexes are to look and feel. He is also set–but not quite set enough to talk yet–about the 160-acre brownfield redevelopment on the historic Imperial Sugar site.

GlobeSt.com: What is your definition of a lifestyle center?

Browne: It’s the perfect combination of variables where you can go, shop and do everything. It’s the next wave of creative, mixed-use, urban development. It’s a place with urban residential units, commercial offices, retail shops, restaurants, entertainment venues and public places. It’s a pleasurable, uplifting environment where you can hang out. I’m tired of single-story retail that goes for miles and miles all across America. These ugly, boring strips of commercial buildings are usually monuments of visual blight.

GlobeSt.com: Doesn’t the lifestyle-center concept as you propose effectively create an isolationist society?

Browne: People are mobile in our country and are married to their automobiles. That’s never going to change. Houston, for example, should surround itself with lifestyle centers, five or 10 miles apart in pod-like developments. People will visit different ones for variety and if they want something bigger they will go Downtown or they’ll go to the beach. But, they shouldn’t be scattered without any sense of community.

GlobeSt.com: What will keep these projects sustainable?

Browne: We’ve organized the needs of life in a rational way and made it convenient to find things. They’ll be green buildings, wireless communities and energy-efficient. We’re building buildings for people. We’ve taken social behavioral sciences and anthropology and applied it to design.

GlobeSt.com: How is your concept, the Fifth Dimension of Design, different from New Urbanism, specifically developments like Seaside, FL, which is considered the template for that design concept?

Browne: Seaside is a vacation resort. You go there for two weeks, walk to the beach; it has white picket fences and wide tree-lined, sidewalks. It’s not the real world. You don’t live there fulltime. A lifestyle center is part of your world all the time. It’s designed to be more efficient with your daily time and travel. Most builders think in terms of length, width and height; accountants have added the fourth dimension, time for the changing value of money. I believe we need to add a Fifth Dimension for our pre-wired propensities for security, identity, stimulation and love. The Fifth Dimension of Design is the result of my personal inquiries into the behavior of the species and how that knowledge should drive design when we create spaces for people.

GlobeSt.com: How is that applied to the $200-million-plus Gateway Med Center development planned for Houston?

Browne: Gateway Med Center is a unique location. It’s the biggest medical center in the world, and the wealthiest people in the world come here. There’s no place for them to stay while their loved ones are being cared for. People will be buying condos here as an investment for families of patients who come for an extended stay. It will have two condo hotels with a connecting lobby and 200 units, 450,000 sf of commercial and medical office space and a central plaza with 40,000 sf of retail and restaurants. It will also have a Wall of Fame of its famous surgeons and patients. This lifestyle center is just the icing on the cake for the Medical Center. It will break ground in late 2006 and have a two-year build-out. The hotel contract will be decided next year.

GlobeSt.com: How does the Friendswood, TX project compare?

Browne: It’s 138 acres in the middle of the city, an upscale urban center on the bay midway between Houston and Galveston. It’s zoned for single-family, but I’ve created a lifestyle center with 500,000 sf of retail, 500,000 sf of office, 700 urban houses, a marina, amphitheater, hotel, spa and big-box retail. The groundbreaking hasn’t been scheduled yet, but it will be in the spring or summer of 2006. The total build-out will take about five years. The cost of the completed project is roughly $220 million.

GlobeSt.com: Why is the Fifth Dimension of Design so important?

Browne: In this century, the US population will more than double, from 270 million to 600 million. The Sunbelt alone will more than triple its population. I have a crusade to mount in the next few years. All the elements of the Fifth Dimension of Design are necessary for the success of human life, and it does well to make them paramount in the design of environments for people. Most projects today show that these issues are not well understood and are usually overlooked or violated in most developments. If we leave it up to the homebuilders and commercial developers to slap up willy-nilly then we’re missing a great opportunity to enhance the quality of life.

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