Transforming An Urban Core: Discovery Green's Ten Year Anniversary

Ten years ago this month, the east side of downtown Houston was not considered a destination. The Four Seasons Hotel was considered the “edge” of downtown and beyond it was a 12-acre vacant lot separating it from the George R. Brown Convention Center. For safety’s sake, some convention attendees drove to the center.

Today, the same scene is an urban planner’s dream – visitors and families enjoy a LEED Gold-certified multi-use park surrounded by thriving restaurants, office buildings, hotels and multifamily residences. This part of downtown Houston has since been referred to as a “crown jewel” and is the proud winner of several prestigious awards.

The idea for the park was conceived by a group of non-profits that feared the land would simply serve as surface parking. Then-Mayor Bill White enthusiastically supported a public-private partnership to develop a green space that could serve as Houston’s “front yard”. They selected a project team led by Hargreaves Associates that included Page, which had an office literally down the street, as the designer of the built architecture.

As optimistic as the partnership was, they feared the initial planning numbers of estimated visitors was unachievable. Once the park opened, those expectations were surpassed and Discovery Green has welcomed more than a million people each year who play in its fountains, sail toy boats on its pond, browse farmers’ markets, exercise or watch movies on the lawn and enjoy meals at the two restaurants.

The park proved to be an extremely effective catalyst for redevelopment. Beyond driving convention activity, it become an anchor for approximately $1 billion in downtown development. A recent renovation of the convention center resulted in the creation of a pedestrian mall between it and Discovery Green to further promote urban walkability.

Page designed several significant architectural components, most notably the LEED Gold-certified restaurant, a café, and park administration headquarters. The firm tucked a parking garage accommodating 600 vehicles out of sight directly underneath the park itself. Other built elements include a bandstand, a children’s performance space and several shade structures.

Page Senior Principal Larry Speck, who served as lead designer for Discovery Green, cites the park as a prime example of how architecture influences lifestyle. He explained, “[A] city is defined far more by the way the streets, public spaces, buildings, offices, shops, entertainment spaces, residences, etc. work together to become an influential crucible for people’s lives.”

Discovery Green has won the Urban Land Institute Development of Distinction Award, the Business Week/Architectural Record Award of Excellence, the Society of American Registered Architects Design Award and more.

To learn more about Discovery Green, click here.

To learn more about Page’s Civic market sector, click here.

To learn more about Page’s planning practice, click here.