Lynn Wyatt Square for the Performing Arts
Downtown is a growing part of Houston as residents and visitors seek a vibrant pedestrian and transit-friendly environment with proximity to jobs, amenities, and high quality open space. Within Downtown, the Theater District and its many venues create a “magnetic field” of culture that generates buzz and catalyzes investment in the surrounding neighborhoods.
The Lynn Wyatt Square for the Performing Arts, at the epicenter of the Theater District, will provide an inviting green oasis that enhances downtown life and it can flexibly accommodate a wide range of outdoor performances and special events that serve the entire region.
Discovery Green anchors the east edge of Downtown and Buffalo Bayou as a complementary resource on the west edge. Wyatt Square is a jumping off point from the city to the Bayou’s open space network. At the same time, it is a gateway to the Theater District which engages this cultural context through a series of visual, physical and programmatic relationships.
From the Downtown to the district to the human scale, the spaces for urban life at Wyatt Square are shaped by and reciprocally shape flows of urban life. We call this placemaking strategy Urban Choreography. Inspired by the movements of the performing arts, these gestures connect Wyatt Square to the city and articulate diverse spaces for gathering. These spaces will become stages for creative discovery in partnership with the institutions of the Theater District and the citizens of Houston.
This plaza will be the new gateway for Houstonians and visitors alike to experience the beauty and power of the nationally recognized performing arts that surround it.
Inclusivity and Accessibility
The site’s existing plaza was largely inaccessible and visually opaque. Large concrete walls separated pedestrians on the sidewalk from seeing activities inside the plaza. The Houston Theater District site provided an area rich in the performing arts culture, but not a destination beyond those Houstonians attending an event
in the area.
Our design strives to create a space that is all-encompassing of Downtown Houston’s future – a space that is inclusive to everyone. The plaza is accessible from all sides and cultivates the surrounding performance arts with a robust programmed calendar year-round, while still leaving room for impromptu local performances.
Climate and Resiliency
Our design at Wyatt Square creates a comfortable environment for people to live, work, and play in the Houston Theater District. To address extreme heat, the former concrete heat island is being transformed into a site-wide green roof with lawn, large live oak shade trees, and an immersive water feature. The site will offer a more comfortable outdoor space in the heart of Downtown Houston where few spaces like this exist.
In 2017, Hurricane Harvey flooded the former site. In addition to water flooding a portion of the site above grade, all 3 levels of the 700,000 sq. ft. parking structure below the site were filled with water for a month following the storm. Our resilient strategy includes reinforced flood doors, emergency gates at all points of entry into the garage and complies with the 500-year flood event elevation data in Houston.
The project’s design embraces this elevation plan, raising the elevation of the site and first floor of the building above the new flood line while creating ADA routes at each corner and making the plaza visually open.
The north and south corners of Wyatt Square from Texas Avenue and Capitol Street act as important first impressions and serve as welcoming thresholds. The top of the existing garage structure, requirements for planting depths to support large trees, and retention of significant existing retaining walls were all important considerations in the design process.
The west and east corners of Wyatt Square are configured as important areas of the park to inhabit and create spaces that are oriented both towards the surrounding streetscapes and into the park. A proscenium walk, with multifunctional media towers, frames the Center Green of Wyatt Square, and allows for diverse types of uses, performances, and activities to utilize the space at a variety of scales.
At the west corner of the site, a two-level restaurant is oriented to address both the park and the street. Composed of natural materials in textured concrete and exposed wood, the restaurant’s structural system becomes an expressive element that carries the space-shaping rhythmic gestures of Wyatt Square through the building. The textures of the park are arranged in a detailed and colorful pattern of porcelain tile that blanket the curved roof. This seamless integration of site and building keeps the attention on the park experience while attracting visitors in the District for dining or drinks.
A goal of the project was to visually integrate the restaurant harmoniously into the park. A site like Wyatt Square has no hidden faces – even the roof is highly visible from Houston’s adjacent high-rises. Thus, we used the roof as an opportunity to extend the gestures, colors, and textures of the park as a blanket over the restaurant.
The restaurant’s expressive vertical concrete shafts are tied to the garage below. A new elevator servicing both the park and restaurant fills one, a dumbwaiter fills another, and garage exhaust flows through two others.
The entire roof structure of the Type IIIB restaurant is timber construction. The primary beams and secondary purlins are glulam, and the roof deck is 2×6 T&G wood decking. The lightweight beams are effective for long spans, creating a column-free central dining space with a view of the exposed structure above.
While the roof appears complex, the construction and erection are rather straightforward. All primary glulam beams are the same continuous 65’ radius and secondary purlins are all straight and cut to the same consistent length, limiting fabrication time and material waste. The variation in roof form comes from the position in the space where each beam is resting. Like a dancer, the result is a rhythmic structural system evoking the movement of a single static armature reverberating through space. The expressive structure is an extension of the gestural language of the park.