Hess Tower, Houston
Hess Tower, Houston

How an Iconic Houston Park Helped Spark the Development of Downtown

Less than 30 years ago, Houston’s urban core lacked green spaces and walkability. These areas were overrun with parking lots and offered limited access to proper shade. As a result, there was a general disinterest in spending significant time in these environments. However, the city evolved as attention was dedicated to creating inviting landscapes. The creation of parks and access to the outdoors has singlehandedly changed the way downtown Houston is accessed and utilized.

Initially, the development of Discovery Green altered the way that the public viewed downtown. The outdoor park was activated with movie nights, festivals, and exercise classes, bringing Houstonians of all ages to the east side of Main Street. Following the introduction of Discovery Green, the many parking lots that previously dotted the surrounding streets were replaced with office buildings and residential towers. Hess Tower, the city’s first LEED Platinum certified project, was designed to maximize views and access to Discovery Green — an attractive selling point for potential tenants.

Additional development trends highlighted the incredible impact that the new green space, and the subsequent value placed on the outdoors, had on the surrounding community. Residential buildings were consistently leased, and mixed-use developments, like The Highlight at Houston Center, were repositioned and designed to expand upon Discovery Green, attracting crowds to the city’s urban core.

An exterior shot of a tall tower with green space outside.
Hess Tower, Houston. An exterior view from Discovery Park.

A renewed emphasis on the importance of access to the outdoors was also reflected in the design of one of the newest buildings to grace the downtown Houston skyline, Skanska’s Bank of America Tower. The LEED® 4v Platinum pre-certified and Fitwel-certified building sits at the crossroad of all major underground tunnels and features a two-level, open-air lobby that exposes the underground tunnel system, a traditionally windowless and dark environment. The property also features a connection to street level retail and dining, designed specifically to attract patrons after work hours.

In a city that is so heavily dependent on cars, the repositioning of Houston’s downtown developments also provides a great opportunity to create a 20-minute neighborhood. This idea informed Gensler Houston’s recent decision to move its office to 2 Houston Center. When employees arrive in the morning, they have access to everything they need — coffee and lunch spots, an in-building fitness center, outdoor terraces, parks, nearby bars and restaurants, a grocery store, and more. Additionally, the office is nearby the METRORail, providing those in need with public transportation to areas of Houston such as the Texas Medical Center, the Museum District, Hermann Park, and more.

As the revitalization of downtown Houston continues, a renewed emphasis will be placed on access to the outdoors and overall walkability. Prioritizing micromobility will create a more sustainable urban core, and more land can be reclaimed for parks, outdoor dining, and more. Establishing this balance will offer residents of downtown Houston the opportunity to live, work, and play in their 20-minute community — resulting in a better living experience for all.

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Maria Perez
Maria is a Regional Climate Action & Sustainability Leader for Gensler’s South Central region and a Sustainability Director, based in Gensler’s Houston office. She serves as one of the firm’s leading sustainability ambassadors, promoting resilience, wellness, performance-based design, climate action, and our Gensler GC3 goals. Contact her at .