The Student Life Plaza, University of Houston
As Houston’s density increases, well-crafted and welcoming open spaces must be a component of good architecture. Successfully ordering space, gently manipulating the topography, and including a range of plant structures in the Student Life Plaza exemplifies the importance of landscape architecture as a place-making art. In 1990, architectural historian Stephen Fox described the Student Life Plaza as “a small, charming garden incorporating water, paving, and trees that evokes the contrasting colors and textures of each…it is a precious interlude in an otherwise oppressively banal landscape that denies the campus a sense of definition and identity.”
Recently, the plaza has undergone many unfortunate and drastic alterations. Much of the original design has been removed and what remains is unrecognizable from the original design. Numerous trees were removed and not replaced resulting in the loss of the original grid layout. The grid of shell infused paving squares has been altered and has been unsympathetically replaced with concrete in most places. The pump and filtration equipment, when updated, was relocated from an enclosed vault to an area clearly visible to passersby. In perhaps the most unnatural and garish alteration, the calming pool has been painted a shade of bright, swimming pool blue.
Today, the once strong sense of place and entry exists no longer.
Landscapes, as with buildings, require maintenance to survive. Unfortunately, a lack of deserved attention to this plaza has dulled the designer’s original vision. A careful reinstatement to the original plans will certainly restore this beautifully designed open space to its original charm.