Since opening, the McGovern Centennial Gardens has become one of Houston’s most treasured public spaces. Its eight acres were completely reimagined to fill Houston’s horticultural arts void by uniting landscapes that reflect the city’s multiculturalism.
Situated in the heart of Houston adjacent to Rice University, the 445-acre Hermann Park is one of the most significant public spaces in the city. A 1916 master plan by acclaimed landscape architect, George Kessler, helped establish a framework for the park and guide its growth over the following century. Even before Hermann Park turned 100, there were already plans underway to celebrate its centennial. Though it had been rejuvenated at times throughout its long life (including the addition of a Garden Center in 1942 and a master plan by Laurie Olin in 2005), various sections of the Park still felt forlorn and tired, neglected in certain areas, over-paved in others.
With its pivotal location between eminent cultural and medical complexes, the Houston Garden Center, a 15-acre site along the north edge of the park was in need of reframing. The complex had the potential to become a nucleus, the beating center of a garden complete with outdoor rooms, a shimmering glass pavilion, and a shaded parking lot. It was believed that once rethought, the Park in its varied lushness would gently unfurl into the Houston Museum of Natural Science and the Miller Outdoor Theatre, creating a natural prelude to some of the city’s most esteemed cultural hubs.
The interplay between the old and new was central to Hoerr Schaudt’s approach to this project. Although the design removed the existing Garden Center headquarters to open the core of the site, it honored Hermann Park’s classical lineage with a grand symmetrical gesture: a 350-foot-long axial lawn flanked by a pair of pergolas and varied series of thematic landscapes. These landscapes range from a formal Rose Garden to a rambling Woodland Walk, an Arid Garden stocked with dry-climate plants, and a Celebration Garden for weddings and other festivities. Hoerr Schaudt nestled the existing Chinese pavilion into an East Texas pine grove and organized the garden’s collection of statuary busts into a Sculpture Walk where Simón Bolívar now hobnobs happily with Robert Burns. Generations of families sharing a culinary heritage mingle amid the interactive Family Garden’s vegetables, fruits, and herbs.
The Garden Mount is the crowning jewel of the Centennial Gardens. With a design that takes cues from medieval mounds constructed as lookout points, this striking landform offers an ADA-accessible walking path to its summit while a waterfall cascades along its face conveying water to and from a reflection pool at the opposite end of the lawn. From this this vantage point, visitors can view the full beauty of both the gardens and Houston’s architecture. Its impressive height makes it a focal point within the Centennial Gardens and beyond, drawing visitors into the space. An homage to the horticultural heritage of Houston, while serving as a precedent for future designs, the McGovern Centennial Gardens at Hermann Park is commended for its celebration of culture, community, and connections.