Sesquicentennial Park

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The state of Texas recently proclaimed a sesquicentennial year to celebrate 150 years of independence from Mexico and, in honor of that, Houston held a design competition to create a commemorative park, unique to Houston. The site, however, is hardly sentimental; the bayou goes through it and major streets and access ramps bridge it. The proposed park is made of five squares, created by extending the city grid. The first, Houston Square, is located at the corner of the downtown and is therefore an ideal place to create a marker for the park. The Tower of Houston is such a marker, as unprecedented, modern, and emphatic as the city itself. The structure rises to provide spectacular views of the downtown from a terrace, which includes a horizontal needle terminated by a lighted sphere that announces the park to local drivers. The tower becomes a scaffold for the lights, flags, and other accoutrements of public events. At its foot is a loggia and a flight of steps that can serve as a stage or seating, depending on how the park is used. The retaining walls forming the square can be embellished with inscriptions about the city’s history. The second square, Texas Square, capitalizes on a side façade of Wortham Theater using a sidewalk along it to create a balcony overlooking the square. Under the balcony is an arcade, partially enclosed by a curtain of water falling into a fountain at its foot.

Concrete columns with inscriptions about Texas history enclose the square. Cantilevering from the columns are wooden bleachers that make the square into a theater. Bayou Square is enclosed by large space-frame walls interrupted by the roads and access ramps cutting through the site. The effect is to isolate, frame, and put the bayou and roads on display. The highway experience central to Houston as a place is thus acknowledged and used to generate an architectural space. The fourth square is a serene and shaded public garden with live oaks and magnolias framing a lawn edged by the bayou. A wooden bridge takes people to grottos under the street and across to a floating dock. The final segment of the park is Theater Square, a place designed as part of the existing theater and left primarily as it is; it is simply made more regular.The Sesquicentennial Park is conceived as a public space in the scale and character of a modern city. As such, it transforms the artifacts and culture of urban life.

Year: 1986
The City of Houston
Houston, Texas

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