A New Heart
Reviving its Heart leads to a cure for Hermann Park,
Houston’s ailing greenspace.
By Marty Carlock
Tom Fox, SWA Group
Ankle-deep in the reflecting pool, two children pluck pieces
of black gravel out of the water and with great concentration pile them neatly
on the edge. Although it was his work that put the gravel there in the first
place, Scott Slaney, ASLA, doesn’t flinch. He expects this place to be used,
and used heavily.
“Hermann Park is Houston’s Central Park,” he says of the 445-acre park.
And this is the Heart of the Park—its formal name—an
18.5-acre site that won an ASLA 2005 General Design Award of Excellence. Slaney
was part of a team that drew plans to rebuild the Heart, winning a competition
sponsored by the Rice Design Alliance in 1992.
A group called Friends of Hermann Park (now the Hermann Park
Conservancy) had formed in 1991 in hopes of improving the neglected and
run-down space. Once the 1992 design for the Heart was in hand, the group
stepped back and thought about bigger ideas, a master plan for the whole park.
“That competition was significant for bringing attention to the park,” says
Doreen Stoller, now executive director of the conservancy. A nationwide search
settled on Olin Partnership of Philadelphia in 1993 as master planners. Stoller
remembers, “There was concern at the time about choosing a Philadelphia
firm—would they pay any attention to us? But they have, and it’s been a 13-year
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