Award-winning landscape architectural firm Nelson Byrd Woltz achieves beautification and excellence through ecological revitalization, indigenous design, integrity of historical intent, and stewardship of space – hallmarks the Memorial Park Conservancy prioritized for Memorial Park’s Long-Range Master Plan. It is precisely this synergy of approach and vision that made Nelson Byrd Woltz the perfect partner for planning Memorial Park’s sustainable future.
Need for a Master Design Plan for Memorial Park evolved naturally from collective concerns by the City of Houston, The Uptown Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone (TIRZ) #16, the Houston Parks and Recreation Department, along with the Memorial Park Conservancy. Issues ranged from reforestation, traffic, accessibility, and ecological decline to a need for a way to address growth, improve facilities, and achieve balance for the park as a recreational and environmental asset.
“It is very exciting to have Thomas Woltz design the blueprint for the future of Memorial Park,” said Mayor Annise D. Parker. “His vision, innovation, and influence will render a healthier, more bountiful public amenity for Houstonians near term, and provide a rich, lasting legacy for future generations. Equally as exciting, we hope every Houstonian will be engaged in the process.”
The Memorial Park Conservancy secured approval from the Houston Parks and Recreation Department in 2012 to lay the groundwork and embarked on a lengthy research and interview process for the selection of a landscape architect to develop the Long-Range Master Plan. In May 2013, the Uptown TIRZ boundary was expanded to include Memorial Park, which provided much needed financial support.
The selection of Nelson Byrd Woltz not only ensures a healthy, sustainable future for Memorial Park, but also through ecological and landscape transformation, designed with robust public input, can exponentially elevate its asset significance for generations to come.
“In 2011, as we began developing a long-term forestry management plan for Memorial Park we experienced a historic drought,” said Joe Turner, director, Houston Parks and Recreation Department. “This drought was the driving force behind the need for a new master plan for the park. We look forward to a plan that will steward one of Houston’s most beloved parks while it addresses the changing environmental conditions and the needs of the daily users.”
Already Houston’s largest urban-center park and a sentimental favorite for millions of Houstonians, Memorial Park encompasses 1,500 acres that attracts 4 million residents each year. Some 10,000 visitors use the park’s Seymour Leiberman Exer-Trail daily, the premier running facility in the city. A highly regarded 18-hole golf course, active tennis, swimming, cycling, bird watching, and fitness facilities are accentuated by the park’s wooded character, which has been devastatingly damaged by drought and human interaction.
“Nelson Byrd Woltz has the extensive experience in ecological restoration we desire,” explained Memorial Park Conservancy chair Jim Porter. “The sheer beauty of their work masterfully triggers a cascade of positive ecological benefits, where depleted landscapes are brought back to life using native plants and the resurgence of local animals. This expertise is precisely what Memorial Park needs and deserves.”
Firm owner Thomas L. Woltz is widely considered the rising star in landscape architecture. The New York School of Interior Design recently awarded him the inaugural Thomas N. Armstrong III Award in Landscape Design. In 2011, he was invested into the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) Council of Fellows, one of the highest honors achieved in the profession. Woltz creates models of biodiversity and sustainability, replete with beauty, form, and function, recognized by more than 80 national, regional, and international awards.
“This is a rare opportunity to set Memorial Park on a more resilient course; to ensure its longevity for the thousands of people using it every day; to create a rich and varied ecosystem further enhancing the experience of the park for its many users; and to envision and articulate the critical balance between intense and active use and preservation,” said Thomas L. Woltz, owner of Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects. “It is time to celebrate and embrace the unique ecology of southeast Texas and the natural and cultural history of the park. With the help of Houstonians we can create a beautiful and enduring park for tomorrow and for future generations.”
Nelson Byrd Woltz projects span 25 states and 9 countries and include the Flight 93 Memorial in Shanksville, Pa.; the Asia Trail at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C.; the restoration of the Dell at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville; Citygarden in St. Louis, Mo.; the Medlock Ames Vineyards in Sonoma, Calif.; the 10,600 acre Summit Bechtel National Scouting Reserve in Glen Jean, W.V.; and currently, the coveted Hudson Yards in New York.
In New Zealand, the firm was honored by the New Zealand Institute of Landscape Architecture as the 2013 recipient of the George Malcolm Supreme Award and the 2013 Sustainability Award of Excellence for the Orongo Station Homestead, a 3,000-acre station on the north island of New Zealand. The project includes reforestation with the planting of over 500,000 trees over a period of five years in valleys, crests of cliffs, and along wetland edges – making it the largest native planting on New Zealand’s east coast. At Orongo Station, the firm explored the narrative power of plants and earthwork to tell the history of the New Zealand landscape, which also garnered a New York ASLA Honor Award. Nelson Byrd Woltz was hired to design the Village Core and High Adventure Base Camps at the 10,600 acre Summit Bechtel Scouting Reserve, adjacent to the New River Gorge in West Virginia. This site had been logged and countermined for over 100 years. The project provided an ideal opportunity to engage in ecological restoration and connected initiatives promoting land stewardship. Nelson Byrd Woltz designed the trails, bridges, reforestation planting, wetland planting and native understory planting. Woltz was educated at the University of Virginia (UVA) in the fields of architecture, landscape architecture, fine art, and architectural history. He holds master degrees in Landscape Architecture and Architecture. His commitment to UVA is evident by his collaborative efforts in transforming 11-acres of neglected Dell valley and piped stream water into the university’s New Dell. Today, the Dell stream cascades into a precisely calibrated retention pond whose geometries reflect the order of the University grid established by founder, Thomas Jefferson. Meandering walks and contemplative sitting places surround the pond, creating a native Virginia botanical garden. The New Dell has emerged as an exemplar of innovative storm-water management.
Funding for Memorial Park’s Master Plan will come largely from the Uptown Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone (TIRZ) #16 and will be supplemented by the Memorial Park Conservancy’s own fundraising efforts. This critical funding will enable the planning process to begin towards the restoration and transformation of Memorial Park.
“Thomas Woltz is uniquely capable of understanding the ecological systems of Memorial Park and the recreation needs of our community. From his understanding, Woltz will develop a sustainable plan which perfectly balances these needs,” said John R. Breeding, president of Uptown Houston.
Extensive public and stakeholder input is planned over the coming months to offer Houstonians an active voice in the planning process. Planned public outreach platforms will include community forums; public meetings; online surveys and questionnaires.