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03-11-20 | Feature

Founders Park at the Woodlands Hills

Landscape Architecture by Clark Condon
by Clark Condon; Photos: Paul Hester (except where noted)

As its name implies, Founders Park in Woodland Hills, Texas, is the foundation of the community, serving as the hub for community events and gatherings. Designed by Clark Condon | Landscape Architecture, the development is centered on the goal of whole, healthy living, offering a variety of recreational opportunities including waterplay areas, a nature inspired playground, a dog park, tennis courts, large open green spaces, an amenity center with fitness facilities, preserved and restored wooded areas. Photo: McCurdy Media
The community can access the park through the extensive trails system throughout the community which links their greenways and the emerging park system. The park features ample programming that immerses users in nature. Through an in-depth site analysis, the key themes of nature and ecology informed the design. Some of the items taken into consideration included preservation, restoration and diversification of the existing forest, celebration of the natural landform, increasing the play value to provide recreational exploration throughout the site, the connection of the amenity center to the outdoor environment, and the creation of a large, flexible area to host community events and gatherings. Photo: McCurdy Media
A series of primary and secondary trails provide users with connectivity to all areas of the park and to the extensive trail system within the community. The multi-use trails within the park weave in and out of the forest and form a loop trail that promotes fitness, exploration and access to the recreational amenities. Photo: Mauricio Ramirez
The value of play was a key component in the design of this park. The playground is an integrated play sequence, combining elements that promote creativity, cognitive strength, dexterity, physical and emotional strength. Nestled into the wooded areas, the playground is informed by its natural surroundings.
The custom-built log jam not only mimics the nature-themed basis for the park but also provides a unique value of play. Whether you're carefully climbing the logs or making your way across the taller, more adventurous tight rope-style logs, each individual user is challenged in their own way. Curiosity, strength, agility and adventure spur the imagination to explore. The climbing net in the back right leads to a platform and ultimately a unique slide, bringing the users back to ground play level.
Elevation changes and one-of-a-kind playground elements promote climbing, spinning and unique interaction with the surrounding landscape.
An interactive sprayground area, surrounded by large boulders, sends bursts of water into the sky for a fun, playful experience. The water then migrates downstream along a custom created riverbed complete with stones to mimic a natural stream. It meanders its way past the playground and pavilion, ebbing and flowing amongst more boulders, before finally ending at the bottom in a shallow pool. The sprayground and stream are just another way the amenities are seamlessly integrated into the landscape and are carefully designed to imitate nature.
The transitory stream on site connects this watershed to Stewarts Creek and on to the San Jacinto River enhancing the distinct character of the site.

Founders Park is a signature, 16-acre site that provides a centralized green space for the Woodlands Hills community in Texas and features a distinct connection to nature. The central park space is part of a larger, 112-acre park system connected by green space, trails and bike paths. The design objective aims to preserve and enhance the existing character of the site and transform it into an exceptional amenity that celebrates the natural topography and valuable ecological habitat, while also providing multiple levels of active and passive recreation.

An ephemeral stream divides the heavily wooded site giving the park a unique character with its meandering path and exploration opportunities. The natural amenities, including the stream, forest, and topography, became the inspiration for the park design, which reflects and complements the existing forms of the site. The periphery of the stream was protected by a buffer of trees and understory plants. The new design preserves the riparian corridor with minimal disturbance through most of the site. A half-acre pond was created to slow site runoff, alleviate erosion in the stream bed, forge opportunities for passive recreation, establish an additional ecological environment within the site, and allow sedimentation to settle, which in turn improves water quality prior to entering Stewarts Creek, a tributary of the west fork of the San Jacinto River.

Preservation and enhancement of the natural landform and forest was a cornerstone of the design. Utilizing an extensive tree survey and working with an arborist, amenities were carefully sited to save the healthiest and largest of the trees. A management program was also developed for the trees to be preserved. The playground, dog park, and pool were designed to take advantage of the existing trees and enhance the natural topography of the site. In total, the park design preserved forty-five percent of the existing vegetation. An additional twenty percent of the site was reforested, including a selective diversification of plant material to promote a healthy, flourishing ecosystem. The preserved forest sites, paired with the establishment of the reforestation plantings, created areas that are regenerative and do not require the typical maintenance associated with manicured landscapes, thus reducing long-term maintenance costs.

The fully integrated playground and sprayground also take their cues from the natural topography and character of the site. The sprayground is a stream-like feature that meanders its way through the playground. The stream originates in an upper plaza surrounded by boulders that provide a play experience and seating while retaining the adjacent earth. As the stream flows downhill along an aggregate and river rock embedded stream bed, it passes by rocks that are placed to show the cause and effect of water flow down to the lower basin where the water forms a shallow pool. The playground and play structures are nestled among the existing trees. In the center, a large plateau features a pavilion that offers scenic views across the site and includes exciting play elements that take advantage of the elevation changes.

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The playground allows users to interact and play in a non-traditional, inclusive environment. Special attention was given to the design and selection of play elements as each had to answer to the question, "What is the play value," and had to encourage exploration and promote recreation among a diverse group of people of all ages. This theme is incorporated throughout the park, so regardless of age or ability, all users can play, imagine, explore and interact with nature wherever they are. As such, the play experience is elevated by inviting discovery and adventure through the woods, along the stream and the banks of the pond and into the open green spaces.

An integrated design approach with the architect and design team resulted in a family of structures that are seamlessly integrated into the landscape. The main structure is home to the amenity center which accommodates community events of varying sizes, meeting spaces and a fitness center. It features stone, Corten steel, and glass which gives the structure a material palette that complements the exterior environment and allows unfettered views of the park. Placement of the amenity center was carefully considered and is positioned to capture glimpses from the road, picturesque views of the landscape, and is aligned with the pedestrian bridge connecting the two sides of the park across the stream. Additionally, the structure was set above the 100-year flood elevation but at a height to minimize disturbance of the site. For further integration, the fitness center opens up to a yoga lawn seamlessly connecting the interior of the building to the outdoors. The yoga lawn overlooks the aquatic area that features both a leisure and lap pool. Other site amenities include tennis courts, a dog park, and open play areas.

The unparalleled development of Founders Park offers abundant outdoor recreational access to numerous activities while maintaining a harmonious balance with nature. All of the amenities, the trail system, the preservation of the ephemeral stream corridor and forest, and types of plantings have been carefully planned not only for aesthetics but to encourage the conservation of resources and wildlife and provide habitat for the numerous species that visit the area. Through careful planning and intentional design, the park has been amenitized and programmed to create a recreation destination that focuses on landform, ecology, education, and exploration that benefit the community and wildlife alike.


Team list
Owner: The Howard Hughes Corporation
Developer: The Howard Hughes Corporation
Architect: Studio RED Architects
Landscape Architect: Clark Condon
MEP: Telios
Structural: BEC Engineers & Consultants (Site),
Garza + McLain Structural Engineers (Building)
Civil: LJA Engineering
General Contractor: Millis Development and Construction

As seen in LASN magazine, March 2020.

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