Eldridge Courtyard

November 10, 2021   /   Project News

Relaxing and comfortable work environments make for happier employees and increased productivity. Nothing creates that environment quite like an office courtyard that visitors can retreat to for a break – whether to catch up on emails, enjoy a quiet moment under a tree canopy, or unwind with a little entertainment.

After Hurricane Harvey in 2017, real estate investment company Granite Properties desired a reclamation of both human and ecological habitations for their business complex at the corner of Eldridge Parkway and Memorial Drive in Houston. Their once shady courtyards needed TLC – heavy rains and subsequent flooding resulted in severely damaged spaces suffering from compacted soils, poor drainage, disfigured tree canopies, little biodiversity, and a lack of usable spaces.

In line with Granite’s mission to “inspire people to flourish through places (they) create,” the Asakura Robinson team dove into a year-long project, creating inviting outdoor areas that tastefully integrate interior and exterior spaces of the beautiful modern office spaces created by Kirksey Architecture.

The team, led by Senior Designer and Production and Field Work Manager Erin Cannon, PLA, designed each courtyard with the tenant experience in mind, giving each outdoor space its own personality and feel for various occasions. 

“This was a fun exercise in programming the spaces based on what our client wanted for the tenants,” Erin said. “We wanted to give each courtyard a separate personality; Granite representatives gave us the range of activities they wanted to incorporate, and we segregated and grouped the type of furnishings and activities into the different courtyards.”

Courtyard 1: The Entertainment Area

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Photo by TK Images
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Photo by TK Images

After Harvey, this largest courtyard became a dark and damp space: it had been flooded with nearly 3ft of water, resulting in the destruction of a majority of plant material. This was a courtyard AR designed many years ago, but with the major tenant absent the courtyard was now desolate, devoid of activity and light. Because this was the largest of the three courtyards, AR envisioned a place for visitors to gather – a place that was engaging and innovative, inspiring a sense of place and excitement.

The Entertainment Courtyard became an exercise in hardscape – detailed paving, a dropped ceiling imitating the detailed wood screens on the perimeter, bar height ADA accessible counters, plug-in ports and a massive video wall for watching sporting events while unwinding after a long day were all pieces of the puzzle.

The dropped ceiling presented unique challenges; drawings for the building dated back to the 80’s (hand-drawn!) and lacked needed data. Associate Designer Ying Liang dove into the design; in working with the Structural engineer, she developed and detailed the wood dropped ceiling. For planting, two new trees were brought in to block the view of a service yard and a mix of shade-loving ground covers complimented the trees and provided much-needed visual interest.

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Photo by TK Images

Courtyard 2: The Party Deck Area

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Photo by TK Images
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Photo by TK Images

This courtyard had been the most sunken of three, therefore having the most flooding and drainage issues. In fact, the area drain grates were situated almost 2 feet below any adjacent paving, and resulting slopes and erosion created accessibility issues. To solve this, AR designed a Party Deck concept by designing a deck to go over the challenging space, removing the grading and accessibility problems. The idea behind this courtyard was one of festivity, fun and, again, engagement.

The deck itself gives off that party aspect, with swag lights hanging from branches throughout the space. A foosball table provides visitors a way to interact, and beautiful tables and chairs invite them to sit and stay awhile. While designing this space, it was important to save as many of the beautiful oak trees as possible – AR attempted to avoid the root system entirely by setting the deck on earth anchors – helical screws that torque into ground. Ideally, these anchors dive about 3 feet into ground – but these anchors weren’t budging more than half a foot without kick back and breaking.

After reviewing aerial images from the ‘70s, it was determined that this site had been home to an apartment complex – once the complex had been demolished, some spoils were left behind, and there were pockets of concrete throughout the site, especially in this courtyard. AR worked with the construction team to reconfigure the deck footings, creating the beautiful site that it is today.

Courtyard 3 – The Passive Area

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Photo by TK Images
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Photo by TK Images

The smallest courtyard wasn’t as sunken as Courtyard 2, but it hadn’t been maintained well and most plant material had died due to flooding, leaving the place feeling really empty with nothing to activate it.

This space was designed to appeal to visitors who sought a respite from a hectic work day, who needed a spot to relax, meditate and feel inspired by natural surroundings. AR manifested this feeling through simple seating and a bright, engaging plant palette. The colors were a variety of reds and chartreuse and other complimentary colors – like one big quilt – not just shades of greens or monochromatic hues. Fun seating options, including moveable Adirondack chairs and matching side tables can be situated to watch a game of Cornhole, or re-positioned to catch a bit of sun.

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