In the heart of downtown Midland, Texas, a team of designers were engaged by Bond Partners and the City of Midland to reconceive an underutilized city block into a catalyst for urban transformation and to serve as a model for the sustainable use of natural resources in the region. As part of the design, the long-abandoned 1960s era Midland County Courthouse that flanks the west side of the plaza is being demolished and replaced by the contemporary mixed use Hotel Santa Rita. Simultaneously, the Midland Center, a well-used civic center for Midland’s residents located on the eastern edge of the plaza, is being renovated to serve the growing community. The landscape architect’s role is to activate the existing underused plaza, which sits between the two buildings, into a social hub that meets the programmatic needs of the local community, hotel guests as well as city visitors.
Originally established in 1881 as the midpoint on the Texas and Pacific Railways, the City’s industrial roots were solidified when oil was discovered in 1923. The exploration of the Santa Rita No. 1 was highly influential in the formation of natural and cultural systems in this area of Texas. Throughout the years, Midland has experienced many boom and bust cycles, yet today the Permian Basin still produces one fifth of the nation’s total petroleum and natural gas output. More recently, due to advancements in horizontal and hydraulic fracking, the City saw a significant increase in population and economy. This boom sparked an opportunity for the City to relook at the existing social and economic infrastructure of downtown, as young professionals began to move back into the downtown area, closer to employment centers. Centennial Plaza was identified as a key component that will influence the future of Midland’s downtown.
The existing plaza currently serves as the setting for large events in the City of Midland. However, it does not meet all of the needs of the local community or provide the necessary outdoor programming for the new hotel and updated Midland Center. The renovation of the plaza includes a much larger and more flexible event lawn and stage, an interactive water play feature, a collection of garden rooms, a variety of seating spaces, and a promenade for markets and annual events. The proposed programming of the plaza expands on the civic needs of the regional community associated with the Midland Center and provides a semi-private every day user experience for visitors to the new Hotel Santa Rita and for those who are simply exploring the city.
The proposed design of the plaza is characterized by a spatial system of mass versus void, open versus enclosed, garden space versus program space; which is inspired by the unique stratified landscape of the region. Further inspiration from the regional landscape can be seen in the plaza through the use of materials, forms, and programming. Local imagery of dry cracked landscapes, playas, and plateaus all serve as design precedents. The site design highlights the historic and cultural context of the region through the use of detail, art, and signage.
In Midland, an abundance of shade and lower ambient air temperatures are vital ingredients for the plaza to serve as a downtown respite. Currently, the plaza has high sun exposure during both the summer and winter solstice due to the lacking height of neighboring buildings and minimal shade from existing canopy trees. The proposed design uses the addition of large canopy trees to increase the overall shaded area of the project by 2.6 times the existing. In order to improve ecosystem services, the plaza design provides a 4.3 times increase in garden spaces, which include a diverse palette of native plant types. Rammed-earth walls are used in conjunction with tree canopy to provide breaks from extreme west Texas winds. The proposed water play feature provides a cooling environment for locals to interact with during the hot summer months. When the water is off for conservation reasons or otherwise, the sculptural stone elements of the feature can still be enjoyed as an area for adventure, play and discovery. Local materials were sourced for rammed earth walls, stone elements and benches, aligning with the site-specific design tenet of this project.
Centennial Plaza: Reimagining the Heart of Midland, Texas
Midland, Texas, USA
Design Firm | Design Workshop, Inc.
Team | Kurt Culbertson (Principal), Claire Hempel (Principal), Conners Ladner (Project Manager), Jessica Zarowitz (Project Landscape Architect)
Image Credits | Design Workshop, Inc.