To create a unified, welcoming campus on this 3.5 acre site, Hoerr Schaudt knitted together architecture, plaza, and park with sculpted landforms that evoke the varying topography of Oklahoma, define spaces, and frame views.
In Oklahoma City, open space has its downside for city dwellers. With the extreme temperatures, relentless wind, and frequent tornadoes, people habitually fear being blown away, and thus seek refuge away from the unpredictable and often harsh weather.
SandRidge Energy, however, was not willing to succumb so easily to the climate. The oil and natural gas company had recently relocated their headquarters downtown to a site situated on a full city block at the center of an ongoing downtown revival. With their civic-minded management having ruled out a conventional, hermetically-sealed skyscraper and corporate plaza, they instead chose to adaptively reuse two important historic structures: the 1923 Braniff Building and a 1967 tower by architect Pietro Belluschi. The project included repositioning the ground between the buildings as a new, verdant open space offering multiseasonal enjoyment to the public as well as to SandRidge employees.
Despite the strong winds that were channeled down the streets and open spaces of the downtown, SandRidge was committed to creating a lively outdoor space as part of the redevelopment. To accommodate this, Hoerr Schaudt conducted a thorough analysis of weather patterns that included a wind-tunnel model, to determine the best ways to ameliorate climatic exposure within the 3.5 acre site. Fortuitously, this research also yielded an efficient and attractive strategy proven by generations of Oklahoma farmers: “shelterbelts,” bands of trees planted as windbreaks, which dated back to the Dust Bowl era of the 1930s. As part of the solution the landscape design buffered the vulnerable southern edge of the plaza with an innovative windbreak composed of alternating rows of evergreens and deciduous trees across a steep, man-made berm.
The diagonal entrance path that leads past the working landscape of the shelterbelt not only allows an accessible way to ascend a steep grade, but helps to bisect and create more human-scaled gathering spaces within the large block sizes typical of downtown Oklahoma City.
primary gathering space is a tilted plane of turf and flexible seating
sheltered by a wind/shade canopy designed by the architect. As a constructed
landscape in an urban environment, the intent of the landscape design is not to
re-create nature but rather to allow the materials, landscape typologies, and
topography of the region to influence and inspire the design. Jagged, abstract
landforms were thus designed to blossom with indigenous blanketflower,
black-eyed Susan, and meadow sage, as a variety of native grasses, shrubs, and
woodland plantings dominate the site.