A little more than 50 years ago, the Tennessee Building was constructed in the heart of downtown Houston, TX, to serve as the headquarters for the Tennessee Gas Transmission Co., which at that time, delivered natural gas by pipeline to defense plants in Appalachia during World War II. Three years after it was constructed, the building was renamed to the Tenneco Building when it was purchased by Tenneco Inc., a global manufacturing company. The building was known as the Tenneco building for more than 30 years, with the company’s letters outlining the top of the 32-story skyscraper on each of its four sides, until it was renamed the El Paso Energy Building after it was purchased by the El Paso Corp. in 1996.

In 2012, the building was again renamed when Kinder Morgan Inc., the largest midstream and third largest energy company in North America, purchased it with its $21 billion acquisition of the El Paso Corp. Today, the building is known as the Kinder Morgan Building. The majority of the building is occupied by Kinder Morgan, while EP Energy — originally El Paso Corp.’s exploration and production arm before it was purchased by a private equity group — currently leases the top 10 floors.

The 1 million-square-foot building underwent its first major renovation less than 10 years ago, with the biggest changes occurring on the exterior ground level, the interior first and second floors, the sub-basement and the tunnel areas. The building-wide renovation/repositioning, which took place from 2005 until 2011, was a collaborative effort between the general contractor, Gilbane Building Co. in Houston, TX; architectural team at Gensler in Houston, TX, led by John Haba; and installers Ron LaRicci and Russ Himel of Camarata Masonry Systems, Ltd. (CMS) in Houston, TX.

“The building occupies an entire city block and has a 360-degree street front presence,” said John Haba, studio director and senior associate at Gensler. “Prior to our renovation, the building had a forbidding street presence and the lobby was on the second floor with a very unwelcoming entry sequence through low portals and up a narrow set of escalators. We brought the lobby down to street level and enclosed it with a very transparent glass curtain wall. The transparency of the glass allows the interior to flow into the exterior, [and] the lobby stone and plaza stone are set at the same elevation.

“We used some beautiful white marble bordered by black granite for the lobby, [and] the black granite is also outside the curtain wall and the base of the curtain wall is buried in the stone so the outside and inside are literally separated only by a piece of glass,” Haba went on to say. “The entire interior of the building was renovated up through the tower using white marble in various locations to tie the lobby up through the building to the new executive levels, which we recaptured from former mechanical space on the top two floors.”

To complete all of this work, CMS installed almost 86,000 square feet of granite and marble, as well as 51,000 square feet of different types of tile. For the exterior ground level, 45,000 square feet of granite was used, including 13,000 square feet of flamed Sunset Red granite, 28,000 square feet of flamed Victoria White granite and 2,000 square feet of flamed Impala Black granite on the floors; and 2,000 square feet of polished Sunset Red granite, which clads the walls. For the interior first and second floors, 22,000 square feet of polished Calacatta Gold marble, 1,000 square feet of polished Impala Black granite and 100 square feet of polished Victoria White granite were employed. The sub-basement and tunnel area consist of 17,000 square feet of flamed Victoria White granite and 500 square feet of flamed Impala Black granite. The Sunset Red granite was supplied by Coldspring, while all of the other stone was supplied by Savema of Italy.

“We had a clear design intent for the marble and granite based on color and feel,” said Haba. “The final stone specification was a function of design intent, availability and cost.”

Kinder Morgan Building (formerly El Paso Energy Building)

Houston, TX

Architect: Gensler, Houston, TX

MEP Engineer: I.A Naman + Associates, Houston, TX

General Contractor: Gilbane Building Co., Houston, TX

Stone/Tile Fabricator: Camarata Masonry Systems, Ltd., Houston, TX

Stone Manufacturers: Savema, Aurelia, Italy; Coldspring, Cold Spring, MN
(Sunset Red granite); Santucci Group, Carrara, Italy (lavatory tops)

Tile Manufacturer/Supplier: Daltile, Dallas, TX

Installation Products: Laticrete, Bethany, CT; Holcim

Installing the stone and tile

CMS was also responsible for the procurement and installation of 8,000 square feet of quarry floor tile, 40,000 square feet of white glazed wall tile, 2,000 square feet of gray porcelain floor tile, 1,000 square feet of glass tile and 337 lavatory tops throughout all 32 stories and the sub-basement. The tile was supplied by Daltile and the lavatory tops were furnished by Santucci Group of Italy.

A variety of products from Laticrete and Holcim were utilized to complete the stone and tile installation. “All the stone was exterior and interior pavers [and] all were set in a dry pack setting bed using Holcim Grey Portland Cement or Royal White Portland Cement and torpedo sand,” said Ron LaRicci, vice president of CMS, who handled the stonework portion of the job. According to LaRicci, all of the stone was installed using a dry pack setting bed as per the Marble Institute of America’s (MIA) recommendations.

“[For the tile], we used Laticrete 253 Gold Thin-Set Mortar for the floor and walls, Laticrete’s SpectraLock® epoxy grout with 9235 Waterproofing Membrane, and a 3-to-1 sand/Portland mud bed,” said Russ Himel, general manager of the tile and terrazzo division at CMS, who was responsible for the tile portion of the project.

The entire installation was completed just shy of two years, from January 2009 to December 2011, with the stone installation taking seven months on its own. “Due to a compressed schedule, Camarata Masonry Systems had as many as 15 setting crews on this project,” said LaRicci.

Overcoming challenges

For the tile portion of the project, Himel said CMS typically employed six tile setters, six helpers and one full-time foreman for the duration of the project. He also mentioned how both installation teams encountered several challenges along the way, given the building’s location, size and status.

“The building is located downtown and [was] occupied during construction,” said Himel. “Four floors were under construction at one time and the rest of the building remained open. Keeping pace with all the trades while maintaining production proved to be very challenging.

“[Since] the project was located downtown, space to store materials was [also] limited,” he went on to say. “We had to store the material offsite and deliver it to the site on a floor-by-floor basis as needed. In addition to limited space, the restroom floors were depressed and required a mud bed. Although the actual installation occurred on each floor, we had to mix the mud in the basement and wheel the fresh mud via elevators to the restrooms for the entire project.”

To compensate for the limited access to certain areas of the building, the renovation was completed in sections so that an area could be fully completed and new access could be provided to the employees prior to removing the current access. This required additional planning, not only for the installation of the work but for the delivery and storage of the new construction material.

Another challenge involved the radius design of the building, specifically to the interior first and second floors. CMS had to tie in multiple areas together that were built independently without interrupting the
1/8-inch joint lines in the stone pattern. In order to complete this task, installers pulled several string lines every night to create a grid to layout the next day’s work. This was even more difficult when dealing with the limited construction access, and the ever changing tenant employee accesses and lay down areas, according to LaRicci and Himel.

“Fortunately, our Houston office is three blocks from the building, so I was onsite three times a week on average [to supervise the installation],” said Haba. “As the project was a full building renovation, there were many unforeseen surprises that needed close team work between the design team and construction team to resolve.”

Since the project’s completion three years ago, CMS and Gensler have received nothing but good reviews. The Houston Chapter of the Associated General Contractors presented CMS with the APEX 10 Interior Finishes Award for the renovations, and the project, along with CMS, also received The MIA 2012 Pinnacle Award of Merit in Interior Finishes.

According to CMS’ project description, “The end result is a visually stunning renovation to one of the most recognizable buildings in the downtown area. The new renovation will provide El Paso Energy with an innovative, more energy efficient building for their employees for multiple decades to come.”

“It has been an unqualified success in moving that section of our city toward a pedestrian-friendly environment,” said Haba.