From Covert to Overt
A Houston clinic uses stormwater detention to make a beautiful public
environment- despite resistance.
By Kim Sorvig
Understand two things about Houston: It floods, and it has no zoning.
Add those factors together, and you have a city where flood control
is ubiquitous but piecemeal, well funded but seldom beautiful.
For longtime Houston landscape architect Scott Slaney, ASLA, of
The SWA Group, one response is to play Robin Hood. At Houston's
Kelsey-Seybold Clinic, Slaney created a multifunctional landscape
by stealing from the rich (the stormwater engineering budget) and
giving, if not to the poor, to the public.
The result is a carefully crafted symbolic landscape that speaks
of healing and nature while meeting stormwater engineering requirements.
"Infrastructure," says Slaney's SWA colleague Kevin Shanley, ASLA,
"needs to be more than single purpose. Instvvb ead of a big hole
surrounded by chain link, Scott gave Kelsey-Seybold an entry space
celebrating the storage of water." The project won a 2001 ASLA Merit
For Slaney, a larger process is at work. He speaks with obvious
enthusiasm of projects that are changing Houston's thinking about
stormwater, reforestation, or downtown revitalization. "There's
been a real mood at the grassroots level," he says, "to do public
improvements that will make Houston a livable city."
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