With thousands of its trees decimated by Texas' ongoing drought, Memorial Park is set to get a major boost from one of landscape architecture's biggest rising stars.
Celebrated designer Thomas Woltz has kicked off a series of monthly public meetings aimed not only at devising a sustainable future for the ravaged park, but at forging a new understanding between city dwellers and their public green space.
"But city parks like this have deep layers of cultural histories on top of these complex ecological systems. With the design, we want put it into the minds of Houstonians that this is a precious area with social and environmental value. It's a valuable space worth protecting."
"We're attempting to reveal the land's voice, rather than just creating a master plan and laying it down on top of Memorial Park."
The landscape architect and his award-winning firm Nelson Byrd Woltz, which was selected to revamp the park in September, seek a design that unlocks Houston's cultural history and southeast Texas' perpetually overlooked topography. In the end, the design will belong to Memorial Park and Memorial Park only.
"We're attempting to reveal the land's voice, rather than just creating a master plan and laying it down on top of Memorial Park," Woltz says, adding that the firm will look at factors ranging from the park's use as a World War I camp to the area's different eco-systems.
For a window into Houston's original ecology, the design team trekked to nearby Deer Park to explore a recently-saved tract of virgin prairie known for its "mima mounds" — naturally-occurring circular mounds of earth (reminiscent of ski moguls) that dotted the region before agriculture and development flattened the landscape. Lost topographies like this have been essential points of inspiration during the firm's pre-design phase.
"Memorial Park has the potential to become a truly Houston space, one with an emphasis on the local ecology that makes this area of the country so unique," explains Woltz, who envisions Memorial as a counterpoint to the European-style Hermann Park and its reflecting basins, fountains and allées of trees.
Before making any preliminary drawings, Nelson Byrd Woltz will arrange a series of public meeting sessions throughout the winter. Visit the Memorial Park Conservancy website for details and dates.
Meanwhile, those interested in making any master plan suggestions can post comments on the newly-launched Memorial Park Tomorrow site.