Discovery Green Achieves LEED Gold Certification

October 12, 2009
by Claudia Morlan

Discovery Green has achieved LEED Gold Certification, making it the first completed LEED Gold project for new construction in downtown Houston. LEED Gold Certification – the second highest rating and still quite rare – places Discovery Green in a category with other environmentally responsible projects around the country. LEED certification is awarded solely by the U.S. Green Building Council to projects that adhere to universally accepted criteria such as energy efficiency, material conservation, water efficiency and indoor environmental quality. See a slide show of the Architecture of Discovery Green.

The park project was initiated by Houston Mayor Bill White, who supported the development of the park through a public-private partnership between the city and the Discovery Green Conservancy, a non-profit organization that led the fundraising, design, building, construction and operations of the park.

“Making Houston the sustainable energy capital of the nation has been our goal, and having Houston's front lawn, Discovery Green, help lead the way is inspiring," said Mayor White. "We're very proud to wave the green flag over this beautiful showplace.”

The pursuit of LEED certification for the park and its architecture has been a priority since early in the design process, but the support of BP as Discovery Green’s Sustainability Sponsor made LEED Gold certification possible.  Discovery Green President Guy Hagstette went on to say, “Because of the support of Mayor White, BP and now the entire community, Discovery Green has by far exceeded our expectations. This achievement of LEED Gold Certification is the result of the efforts of our entire team to develop and now operate a park that is a model of environmental sustainability for Houston.”

Hargreaves Associates of San Francisco were the park's prime landscape architects and planners, along with Houston landscape architect Lauren Griffith. PageSoutherlandPage of Houston designed the park’s architecture and led the LEED certification process with the Discovery Green Conservancy. Miner Dederick Construction served as general contractor and was responsible for many of the LEED requirements.

The scope of the certification includes both the twelve-acre park site and the three above-ground buildings: The Grove, the Alkek Building and The Lake House building. The key features recognized in the Gold certification include:

Converting 12 acres of land in a dense urban center well-served by mass transit into an active civic amenity by moving surface level asphalt parking space underground, thereby reducing the overall temperature. Furthermore, groundwater from the underground garage sent to the pond mitigates the effects of evaporation, eliminating the need for the city to remove groundwater from site.

Generating eight percent of the park's total energy with 256 solar panels located on the roofs of the Alkek Building and The Lake House Building in order to heat water and to generate electricity on-site.  The Conservancy also was recognized for its use of 100% renewable energy for the remainder of its electrical power.

Utilizing high efficiency glass, high efficiency HVAC equipment and deep roof overhangs in the design and construction of The Grove, the Alkek Building and The Lake House Building, saved between 18-20 percent more energy than conventionally-designed buildings. In addition, The Grove features a “green roof,” which assists in insulation and the reduction of stormwater run off.

Preserving an allee of 15 century-old live oak trees, enhancing it by relocating 4 large live oaks, and extending it with another 9 trees was a driving force in the design. This allee shades and defines the Brown Foundation Promenade, running alongside the southern edge of the Jones Lawn and adjacent to The Grove.

Discovery Green, which opened in downtown Houston in April 2008, features a one-acre lake; a children’s playground area; interactive water features; a multi-use amphitheater stage and sloping lawn; dog runs; various public art works; a Houston Public Library Express office; spacious gardens; destination restaurant The Grove and casual café The Lake House.

Since opening, the park has welcomed more than one million visitors and hosted 800+ public and private events.

The project, located on the east side of downtown Houston, has also spurred residential and commercial developments around the area including One Park Place (nearing completion), and the Hess Building (also known as Discovery Tower) and the Embassy Suites (both now under construction). It has also expanded opportunities for the George R. Brown Convention Center by offering outdoor space for convention planners.

Discovery Green has been highly successful in its commitment to sustainable design and operation and has been recognized as a model for parks around the country. It has received recognition in the Wall Street Journal, Southern Living Magazine, The New York Times and the Boston Globe, and is the recipient of several awards including the Central Houston Inc. 2008 Allen Award for Civic Engagement; Business Week/Architectural Record “Good Design is Good Business”; ULI-Houston Development of Distinction Award; USGBC-Houston Outstanding Environmental Project; Texas Construction’s Best of 2008 Award, and several others.