Houston’s flourishing arts and culture firmament stands to gain another leg-up, with master plans for the first Houston Botanic Garden underway. The non-profit organization has designated landscape architecture practice West 8 to helm plans for a new garden on the site of the 120-acre Glenbrook Park Golf Course, located between downtown and Hobby Airport. Houston Botanic Garden will take control of the site, which is currently leased to it by the City of Houston, if it can raise $20 million by the end of 2017.
West 8, which was commissioned on April 1 following a national search process, is in the midst of site analysis and input from local stakeholders regarding a vision for the cultural institution. “The arts community is very strong in Houston, so this botanic garden is kind of a high-level vision of what we hope to achieve,” said Jamie Maslyn Larson, principal-in-charge of West 8’s American projects.
Bisected by the Sims Bayou, the Glenbrook site hosts multiple wet and dry ecosystems and is integrated with a flood-proof channel. Meanwhile, the 18-hole golf course’s undulating topography offers both challenges and perks, said Larson. “Fortunately, there are a lot of great shade trees and the potential to shape and sculpt the land in a way that’s already providing views and vistas, and we would like to expand the vocabulary that’s already there,” she said.
Given Houston’s heat and humidity, providing adequate shade, air circulation, and flood prevention will be a necessity for the design. “Anything you design in Houston has to honor the hydraulic conditions. It would be our plan to capture rainwater and reuse it as much as possible,” said Jeff Ross, president and CEO of Houston Botanic Garden.
The Glenbrook site is surrounded by two residential areas, rendering it “less commercial” than the other considered site, the Gus Wortham Golf Course north of Idylwood. The Botanic Garden lost a bid in January to the Houston Golf Association for that plot of land.
Larson explained that the designers are fine with the site they ended up with, swampy terrain and all. “We’re thrilled that there’s water on the [Glenbrook] site. On two levels: There’s the meandering channel, which makes part of the garden like an island because you have to cross bridges to get there…it’s definitely something that we think has potential to make a more visceral experience in the garden,” she said, adding that the Sims Bayou will be a linchpin for education, conservation, and research within the garden. “Part of Houston Botanical Garden’s goal is to really get integrated with the science community and with children so the garden can really be the go-to-place for Houstonians to get real hands-on experience in the garden and learn concepts that are more tactile.”