Discovery Green has achieved Gold LEED certification. The parks architectural elements include two restaurants, a park administration building, underground parking for more than 600 vehicles and numerous site features. The Oak Allee of existing mature trees served as a seminal generator for the architecture, which reinforces a strong central north/south spine with perpendicular fingers that extend out into the park. The three primary buildings on the sitethe Lake House caf, the park building and The Grove restaurantparallel the live oaks and reinforce their linear character. Each building is composed of long, thin volumes that draw activity from the major north/south promenade deep into the park on either side.
It was extremely important that Discovery Green be specifically of Houston, and the buildings be constructed with identity-defining and sustainable local materials. The design focused on making landscape-oriented buildings that would blend seamlessly with the outdoor environment and would be respectful of natural forces and phenomena. There is as much outdoor space in the buildings as indoor space. Park buildings are characterized by expansive glass faces on the north exposure, capturing natural lighting and creating contiguous indoor/outdoor relationships, while large shaded outdoor verandas on southern exposures reduce solar heat gain and encourage outdoor seating and gathering by providing shelter from Houstons characteristic hot sun and periodic downpours. Utilizing high efficiency glass, high efficiency HVAC equipment and deep roof overhangs in the design and construction of the three main buildings saved between 18-20 more energy than conventionally-designed buildings.
The Grove restaurant at the south end of the promenade provides a strong, energizing visual presence for the park on Lamar Streetan important connector between the Convention Center and associated hotel to the east and the business core of downtown to the west. Its lower floor is dominated by a long, thin dining room that nestles under the boughs of the Oak Allee. Tall glass walls toward the trees and at each end open the room generously to the park, while a richly textured brick volume housing kitchen and service functions anchors the room on the street side. The upper level, accessed by broad staircases at the east and west ends, is predominantly a shaded outdoor dining terrace 24 of which has moveable glass doors which can be opened in good weather. A planted, green roof contributes to stormwater management and helps insulate the building.
Brick is used to sheathe functions that needed to be more containedbathrooms, elevators, stairs and kitchen. Wood ceilings are used to link the interior rooms to the space under the canopy of the live oak trees outside. Especially on the upper floor, the spaces feel like a tree house dominated by wood surfaces. The whole character, indoors and out, is meant to be tactile and natural.
The administration building and the Lake House caf flanking the promenade act as both gateway and landmark. The former becomes a strong edge to the interactive fountain on the west side of the promenade, and the caf becomes a strong edge to the boat pond on the east side. Both buildings have deep, shady porches that dominate their south faces. Carefully designed to create a shield from hot south and west sun, the porch roofs pitch up to the north to achieve balanced daylight for the outdoor spaces below as well as to induce air movement, drawing warm air up and out. The south-facing roofs of the administration building and the Lake House porches support 256 photovoltaic collectors that provide 8 of the power needed for the park.
All materials were vetted for their durability and ease of maintenance in a very high-use environment. Many of the local materials, like the brick, were also chosen for their economy of transportation. In addition to using native and regionally appropriate plant materials throughout the park, a distinctive red-orange Gulf Coast brick is employed in a strongly horizontal coursing pattern to reflect the emphatic flatness of the clay geology of the region. A reflective anodized aluminum was employed for roofs and trim in order to maximize heat reflection. As few duplicative layers of materials as possible were used. An explicit steel frame with metal decking became finish materials as wellan important resource conservation measure. Creating veneers was avoided wherever possible. Certified woods are utilized for soffits, gates, screens and decks. Low volatile organic compounds VOC materials are used throughout the buildings.