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The Commons at Hermann Park opens in Houston


In Houston, tucked up against the eastern edge of Rice University is Hermann Park, a 445-acre greenspace that annually attracts six million visitors. The bucolic milieu designed by George E. Kessler in the 1920s is today home to the Houston Zoo, the Houston Museum of Natural Sciences, a verdant Japanese garden, and other popular amenities.

In April, a 26-acre addition to Hermann Park by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates (MVVA) opened to the public, entitled The Commons. Spread throughout The Commons are several pavilions designed by Arkansas firm Marlon Blackwell Architects.

The new addition is sited in the southwest corner of Hermann Park. (Johnny Than Photography)

These structures by Marlon Blackwell include restroom facilities, picnic pavilions, and other recreational structures. The play structures and water features were designed by Monstrum, a Danish playground design company.

The Commons provides a revitalized community area, a state-of-the-art play garden for children, gathering spaces for families, picnic areas, strolling pathways, and natural areas. (Daniel Ortiz)

The project, sited not far from the METRO Rail on Fannin Street, was a collaborative effort between MVVA, Marlon Blackwell, Hermann Park Conservancy (HPC), and the Houston Parks and Recreation Department (HPARD). One of its signature spaces is a Rococo carousel for children and those young at heart to enjoy.

HPC is a nonprofit citizen’s organization founded in 1992. Its latest contribution at The Commons is part of a $55.5 million capital campaign, entitled Play Your Park, which seeks to improve and maintain historic Hermann Park. Other amenities provided by Play Your Park include the new McWilliams Dog Park, and a renewed public art initiative.

Carousel at Hermann Park
Lott Family Carousel at The Commons remains a landmark at the park. (Daniel Ortiz)

“We set out with the Hermann Park Conservancy to transform an underutilized area of the park into a welcoming and varied environment that all Houstonians can find their place in—for play, cookouts, or finding a quiet moment,” said Jack Ohly, an associate principal at MVVA. “This project is the first major step toward implementing our 2017 master plan for Hermann Park’s transformation, and we are so happy with how it has come together.”

gorilla at playground
Play structures and water features were designed by Monstrum, a Danish company. (Daniel Ortiz)
swing at playground
A swing was made using wood (Johnny Than Photography)

Construction started on the new green area in Hermann Park’s southwest corner in spring 2022. The addition provides a revitalized community area, a state-of-the-art play garden for children, gathering spaces for families, picnic areas, strolling pathways, and natural areas.

space for gathering and concerts
The space is used for public gatherings and concerts. (Johnny Than Photography)

MVVA’s design is centered by a lawn with gentle topography and a generous two-acre play garden for children of all ages and abilities. The landscape architects took pride in the fact that the design preserved the vast majority of trees on site and improved overall soil quality. The project also planted cover crops and native grasses, adding more than 1,200 new trees and 60,000 new plantings.

The pavilions designed by Marlon Blackwell are meant to complement the landscape architecture by MVVA. They were color-matched to mesh with the nearby trees and historic Fannin Pavilion, which was recently refurbished.

picnic tables in pavilion at Hermann Park
The historic Fannin Pavilion was recently refurbished. (Johnny Than Photography)

“We particularly enjoyed designing an ensemble of structures that integrate dynamic shade to complement the Park and surrounding areas. The structures support an experience enriching a variety of accessible activities including play, dining and relaxation,” Marlon Blackwell said.

Later this summer, a cafe curated by Dak & Bop will also touch down in Hermann Park.





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