Conceived over thirty years ago by a small constituency of local Houstonians, Houston Botanic Garden will be the first new Botanic Garden in the United States in recent memory. Taking its inspiration and structure from the best qualities of its location, West 8’s Master Plan for the garden articulates a phased, experimental, and resilient plan that unfolds over decades. The first phase of the design gives forethought to the biggest environmental challenges whilst also creating a garden of discovery. A world-class, ‘only-in-Houston’ experience in the bayou city.
Located near downtown Houston within the Sims Bayou watershed, the site was previously used as a golf course. The design strategically re–sculpted the island to accommodate the anticipated fluctuations of the water line, rising sea-levels and hundreds of mature shade trees. The site required a completely balanced design which could mitigate between managing all stormwater, floodplane volumes, and soil treatment while preserving the majestic existing canopy.
The Sims Bayou and the Bayou Meander serve as framing devices that protect and enhance the experience of the bayou. With these water bodies as a site-organizers, the Garden is divided into two main precincts: the Island and the South Gardens. To tackle the entire transformation of the 132-acre site, the project included the creation of a Masterplan to oversee the development with dedicated implementation strategies for the next 20-30 years. The framework of phase one has experimentation, resiliency, and sustainability at the forefront of the design and is the backbone for the future success of the Houston Botanic Garden.
In the first phase of realization, the design team developed a mechanism to passively rehabilitate the clay soils of the bayou waterways – a series of sacrificial cover crops and experimental spore treatments. Creating robust, well-structured medium allowed the garden to support a diverse cross section of plants from all over the world.
In addition to elevating the new gardens and permanent structures out of the 100 year floodplain, the design showcases the natural landscapes of the bayou. The stormwater wetlands have been refined to create a series of ponds, capturing and rehabilitating stormwater from on-site hardscape areas. Termed ‘the coastal prairie’– a carefully sculpted pothole archipelago of mounds and depressions manages flood volumes of the larger bayou ecosystem and becomes a spectacle of seasonal cover crops.
Now open to the public, the Global Collection Garden, Culinary Garden and Family Garden lay the groundwork for the broader urban plan, providing Houstonians much needed green-space and access to nature.
The Global Collection Garden spans four acres and incorporates three climatic zones— arid, subtropical, and tropical, to serves as a living museum of plants from around the globe. Roughly 85% of the selected taxa are proven to thrive in the Texas climate, while 15% of the species remain experimental, allowing for promotions of research and learning. The Family Garden utilises the existing topography to exhibit a wild and engaging landscape for children – including carnivorous plants, water-play, nature play and a maze-like boardwalk. Lastly, the Culinary Garden features a rich, diverse selection of edible and medicinal flora. The large garden table, surrounded by intricate jade-tiled waterwalls, becomes the heart for events and educational cooking programs, showcasing the universal nature of agriculture, wellness, and cuisine.
In addition, to the series of larger gardens, West 8 designed an array of custom designed and carefully placed features to supplement character of the Garden:
The welcome fountain was conceived as a living water display at the heart of the garden the garden. Built from coralstone, a usually discarded product in the quarrying process, West 8 hand-picked the expressive material from a family-run quarry in the Dominican Republic for the deep depressions that could support an aquatic collection. Twenty-one thin shell concrete vaults line the perimeter of the main global collection garden as a colonnade, providing visitors shade from the Texan sun. Monumental steel ornamental gates in an intricate, botanical motif were hand-bend by local metalsmiths to allure visitors at both the pedestrian and vehicular entrances to the garden.
As one of the most diverse cities in the United States, Houstonians pride themselves on inclusion and multiculturalism. Throughout the design process, hundreds of voices have been incorporated in the design process as the team conducted community engagements and held interactive public meetings to ensure the vibranty, success and community value of the gardens. The opening season included dedicated weekends celebrating Latin America; Asia; Africa and the Mediterranean, inviting performances and local educational groups. This phased opening allowed Houston’s multi-cultural background to shine in the middle of the pandemic.
Architecture offices involved in the design:
Clark Condon Associates Inc. – Role: Landscape Architects, Planting & Soil Design
Overland Partners – Role: Architects – Welcome Pavilion
Walter P. Moore Engineers – Role: Civil, Structural, and Bridge Engineering
I.A. Naman + Associates Inc. – Role: Electrical Engineering
Sweeney & Associates Inc. – Role: Irrigation Design
Dykema Architects Inc. Role: Architects – Lagoon Pavilion
Greenscape Pump Services Inc. – Role: Water Feature Engineering
Olsson and Associates – Role: Soil Design Consultation
Minor Design, Role: Signage and Wayfinding
Berg-Oliver Associates, Inc. Role: Environmental Services & Land Use Consultation
Contractors: Harvey-Cleary Builders; Landscape Art Inc.; B&D Contractors Inc.; SiteWorks; Site Masters Play Code
Alcoves Fabrication: Fine Concrete, Virginia
Alcoves Structural Engineering: Silman Engineers, Walter P. Moore Engineers
Ornamental Gates Fabricators: Renfrow + Co. Metalsmiths
Welcome Fountain Fabricators: Camarata Masonry Systems
Waterwall tiles: Koninklijke Tichelaar Makkum
Project location: 1 Botanic Lane, Houston, TX 77017, United States
Design year: 2015 – 2021 (ongoing)
Year Built: 2019 – 2021