Texas Medical Centers translational research campus envisioned south of Brays Bayou and the Texas Medical Center will be a new paradigm for resiliency and sustainability in Houston. Significant investment in the public realm will create a place that welcomes all Houstonians to enjoy a mixed-use urban district organized around a green necklace inspired by the double helix of DNA. The curved helix form frames 9-distinct 1+ acre gardens, and ties together spaces, community, and collaborators through a series of layered landscape strands which include vegetation, water and active mobility infrastructure. Refuge & Resilience Presently surface parking lots, the site ranges in elevation from +42’0” to +45’0” and lies within the 500-year floodplain. The plan will raise the site 2.5’ above that 500-year flood level. The project will raise the ground plane of the site’s interior – from the finished first floors of each building to the helix gardens – by as much as 8 feet. Supported by a 3.2-million-gallon subterranean cistern to manage stormwater runoff. The 11.5 acres of open space will absorb approximately 2.3 million gallons of rainwater, storing and filtering it for release in a highly controlled protocol. The central helix gardens are all to be raised to meet the elevated 50’ FFE. Beyond this larger gesture a combination of subtle grading, landform and terracing will be used to create diverse spaces and experiences. Climate Conscious Public Spaces Houston is a classified as a humid subtropical climate with tropical influences. Relative humidity typically ranges from 60 – 90%, resulting in a heat index higher than the actual temperature. In a city where the average temperature is 92 degrees, the plan accounts for keeping researchers and visitors cool on the warmest days. Shaded surfaces can be 40 degrees lower than unshaded materials, to extend comfort throughout the site, 69,4000 sf of shade canopies will be provided across the campus alongside over 400 new shade trees, 380,000 sf of cool pavement, and cooling water features. Districtwide water connectivity extends the language of Bray’s Bayou. A central water feature runs throughout the Helix Gardens providing a cooling amenity during the summer and an iconic destination for this development. This development transforms a series of hardscaped parking lots into a strategically vegetated neighborhood – a living sponge that stores, filters, and repurposes rainwater and is a public amenity for the entire watershed. The new trees will intercept 25 – 50% of the rainwater that falls on them keeping 1000 gallons of water from flowing into the municipal system per year. Rain Gardens and permeable buffer strips throughout the north/south streets slow, filter, and store stormwater in this urban environment. Furthermore, Wind turbines will also be integrated into the parcel adjacent to Old Spanish Trail to harvest energy and create a gateway identity that emphasizes renewable energy. Mobility A human-centred approach increases mobility throughout the campus with 204,796 sf of enhanced streetscapes, 827 LF 2-way permeable cycle track, 4,919 LF dedicated painted bike lanes, and 2-elevated pedestrian and cycle bridges that enhance connectivity across arterials. Raised pedestrian priority crossing shall be present at all Helix Garden crossings on the east/west streets. To ensure a cohesive district design and safe environment, guidelines for these curb-less environments have been put in place. Reaching beyond the core Helix Gardens is an enhanced network of pedestrian and cycle focused facilities encourage active mobility. The district’s complete streets offer healthy, enjoyable, low impact alternatives to a car-centric commute, connecting adjacent to Texas Medical Center campuses and the broader Houston community. Green Amenities & Community Space The Helix Gardens are designed to accommodate flexible programming and pedestrian focused experiences with central greens, active gardens, and contemplative gardens. This open space strategy draws on the dynamism inherent in DNA’s double helix strands. Emerging, expanding, and engaging the public sphere, strands of water, vegetation and circulation pathways extend the Bray’s Bayou green network, and define this new district’s public space bringing people and ideas together. Appropriate scale and programming are critical to successful public spaces. The Central Helix Plaza is designed to accommodate large gatherings, holding spill out from the adjacent TMC collaborative building and host independent events including performances, markets, and graduation ceremonies. Ground floor activity from restaurants, shops, and the Collaborative Building’s central atrium will spill out into the helix garden and the surrounding “Complete Streets,” providing much needed food amenities in this district. Amphitheaters may be used to facilitate outdoor gatherings and performances, with mounds and landform used to enhance play and park areas. Public art will be used to establish a unique identity for each of the Helix Gardens. Artwork will be focused on themes of innovation, collaboration, sustainability, and resilience. Arts interventions will span between iconic light art, water art, graphic art and murals, streetscape sculptures, and temporary installations. Strands of shade trees run throughout the helix gardens to connect each individual garden together in a sinuous path. Each planting gives a specific identity to its helix garden. Houston’s historic ego-regions drive this new district’s planting strategies. Plant communities work to create a dynamic and comfortable habitat for human and non-human visitors alike. Diverse native and adapted species shall be used to mitigate threats from disease and climatic extremes.
Our work brings health and well-being to our global environment and local neighborhoods.
As designers of restorative landscapes, we address some of the most pressing environmental and health related issues that face us today. We do this through our research-both in human cognition and in green storm water technologies. Our goal is to create bespoke experiences that improve civic health by drawing people outside and engaging the natural world.
Twenty years ago, we began with a focus on human centered design, striving to make the city healthier and more inclusive. Today, our evidence based design work engages communities and landscapes across the spectrum. From waterfronts and workplaces to public gardens and healthcare centers, we are interested in bringing restoration and wonder to the everyday experience.
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