Houston is built on the coastal plain of the Gulf of Mexico. It has three natural datums: water, land, and tree canopy (sky). The level of water is established in the extended network of slow-moving waterways known as bayous. Over time, they have carved their own landscape though the heart of the city and its surrounding neighborhoods. The slow-moving waterways can suddenly rise as much as eight meters in a few hours of heavy rain. After decades of trying to contain the bayous, Houstonians are beginning to appreciate this unique topography and ecosystem. Bayou waterways are being transformed into urban parks and connectors, linking neighborhoods and providing a meaningful interface between the constructed and natural systems that comprise central Houston.
The Houston pavilion is bounded by an embossed concrete wall that refers to the long Chinese tradition of walled gardens; the wall is inflected to allow entry and to retain an earthen hill that is intended to reference the topography of a Houston bayou. Visitors move along a path guided by a water course that winds between the perimeter wall and the hillside. The path is further defined by a trellised canopy to provide shade and to refer to the natural tree canopy of a typical bayou landscape. The trellised canopy is made up of plasma-cut plate steel, welded and painted white, covered by a perforated steel layer that will produce intricate patterns of shadows along the path. The hill is planted densely with indigenous grasses and wildflowers.
An orthogonal stone “bayou” guides visitors through the space, anchored by large steel cisterns that serve as the source and basin. The basin is flanked by limestone walks and steps, and surrounded by a tall grass and meadow flower prairie. At the top of the hill, visitors will exit down a stair attached to the bounding wall and return to the original grade.
The Houston garden is intended to speak to the ecology and climate of the city; a modern industrial city which is defined in large part by its dense tree canopy and its capacity to domesticate the heat and humidity of coastal Texas.
The Houston Pavilion at the 8th China International Garden Expo opened on November 18 in Chongqing, China.