Planned in the 1970s, The Woodlands Town Center is a landmark in town planning that preserves existing trees and incorporates sustainable environmental strategies on 28,000 acres 35 miles north of Houston. An iconic aspect of the town center is The Woodlands Waterway, which extends 1.4 miles and provides recreation and transport. In 2003, Sasaki was selected to reposition the automobile-oriented arrangement of office buildings and indoor mall into a new downtown. Sasaki created a Town Center Master Plan, which organizes a variety of pedestrian-oriented uses along a network of streets and new urban spaces. At the heart of the town center is Waterway Square—a small urban space along the waterway framed by restaurants, offices, a hotel, and residential units.
To transform this suburban environment to a walkable downtown, Sasaki overlaid a loose grid of streets on large parcels, which formed urban blocks that could be developed over time in response to the market. This strategy proved to be invaluable as The Woodlands grew 90% from 1990 to 2000, and 70% from 2000 to 2010 to a population of 95,000. A series of new parks, squares, greenways, and distinctly urban streets create an inviting landscape setting and enhance the real estate value of adjacent development parcels.
The distinctive, one-acre Waterway Square features a programmed fountain and has become the center for music, festivals, and other civic events. The design capitalizes on the site's unique topography by creating upper and lower terraces that connect town center streets to the waterway via Waterway Square. Each terrace is organized in a simple grid pattern that reflects the geometry of surrounding buildings.
Water features at the square include a 120-foot-long water wall, waterfalls, and cascades. Fountain, lighting, and music systems are integrated, choreographed, and programmed to create a full range of effects, day and night. An interactive water feature at the lower level with vertical jets is designed for water play in a small plaza along the waterway. Sasaki worked with an artist to integrate sculptural pieces and colorful mosaics into the interactive fountain. These mosaics of abstract animal forms and colors weave between the jets of water. Open lawn areas and groves of trees within the plaza paving are used for informal gatherings and recreation and as viewing areas for small performances and fountain displays.
Sasaki's has a continuing role as planner and landscape architect as the town evolves to support higher densities and additional residential uses. The town center planning work was initially done for General Growth Properties, and since 2011 Sasaki has worked with the current owner, The Howard Hughes Corporation. Today, the Woodlands Town Center has premium real estate values of 14% to 40% across all asset classes, including offices, residential uses, and hotels as compared to other Class A properties in the Houston market.
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