Project: Houston Botanic Garden
The 132-acre Houston Botanic Garden is an urban oasis located on an old municipal golf course in Houston, TX. Camarata Masonry Systems, Ltd. (CMS) was responsible for the shop drawings, supply and installation of 6,100 square feet of 1” thick Calypso Coral Stone, 560 linear feet of 3” thick Calypso Coral Stone coping, 6 carved stone scuppers, 64 hand-selected Greenwall fountain blocks and over 10,000 concrete masonry units (CMU) in varying sizes, colors and textures. The project is divided into four primary areas: the Botanic Garden Entrance, the Pavilion, the Alcove Wall and the Fountain.
The 46 foot long walls at the entrance to the Houston Botanic Garden set the tone for the project with the Calypso Coral Stones’ unique and rustic appearance. The Pavilion’s stone cladding continues with the theme for a natural outdoor appearance while serving as a guide and welcome center for visitors. However, without any doubt, the focal point of the project is the adjacent massive 470 foot long Alcove Wall with its 1” thick Calypso Coral Stone cladding on one face and split face block finish on the opposite face.
The Alcove Wall required considerable planning and coordination between the masonry and stone cladding and the layout and requirements of the plant life. To add to the complexity of the layout, the stone cladding has an intricate recessed groove (2” wide x ¼” deep) in the face which interfaces with the specific location of 55 individual planter boxes that are built into the wall. These planter boxes are sized to equal one full masonry block, as such CMU installation tolerances had to be closely watched to assure the proper location and alignment with the masonry planter box opening on one face and the combined stone cladding and the recessed groove on the opposite face. The planter box opening at the stone face is 2” tall by 15” long to cover the planter box in the masonry wall but still allow ample room for the plant to grow and “feed” through and down the face of the stone cladding. The stone wall cladding with its recessed groove will ultimately serve as a trellis for the plant growth. The planter box leave-outs also required that the plant watering system be built into the block wall substrate. Additionally, the stone coping was sized to align with the ductal column coping for the canopy. The 11” deep stone coping also required very tight tolerances in order to align with the stone facing and the ductal column coping and still provide a nice appearance at the interface with the irregularities in the split face finish of the 10” CMU at the opposite face of the wall.
Once the stone installation was under way, the architect immediately noticed that the textured finish of the wall cladding was not as noticeable as preferred. In order to bring more attention to this material finish transition, it was decided to offset the flush plane of the stone cladding in selected locations. The architect provided elevations of the walls noting specific pieces that were to be recessed by ¼” of the design plane and pieces that were to be ¼” proud of the design plane. These selected pieces are intentionally located within and around the textured finish wall cladding creating the eye-catching effect that was originally intended.
The Calypso Coral Stone was quarried and fabricated in the Dominican Republic. The quarry is unlike most stone quarries in that the selected portion of the material, the Greenwall portion, is located at the top of the natural ground surface. There is very little overburden, just a few inches of sandy top soil above the Coral Stone. The proximity to the surface is what yields the unique finish with the characteristic sizable voids. This finish was the critical component needed to achieve the desired appearance and maintain the function of the Alcove Wall Fountain. Initially, attempts were made to select the blocks via photos from the quarry; which proved to be a good starting point, but ultimately it was determined that in the interest of time and assurance of the proper selection a visit to the quarry would be needed to allow for a hands-on perspective in these critical block selections. Each block was hand selected in the Dominican Republic by the architect, while taking into account their size, location within the fountain and surface area of the Greenwall finish. As each block is unique unto itself, the opportunity to see this material in person made the decision process much easier and the entire team was confident with the final selection.
The Greenwall blocks used in the Alcove Wall Fountain are unique, eye-catching and impressive. The fountain offers a rustic, natural appearance with the perfect environment for the plant life to thrive. The characteristic natural voids (depth and diameter) are ideal for the placement of the plant life. At selected and specific locations, a number of the voids had to have ½” diameter holes drilled from the back of the void through to the back side of the block for the placement of the plant water sprinkler lines. The fountain water movement comes by way of the six carved stone scuppers that are strategically positioned within the cubic Greenwall blocks creating a continuation of the desired natural appearance of the fountain.
In that the project is located on an old golf course, there was ample space for work area and storage of material. However, the site is separated by water in three areas, making access to some of the areas of the site a daunting task. Adding to the challenges, during the construction of the Alcove Wall, there was no access to running water or electricity.
The Botanic Garden is a beautiful addition to the cultural environment of the Houston area. The stone / masonry walls with the Greenwall fountain blocks are sure to be remembered features for any visitor. The material, planning, and workmanship of the masonry and stone were executed in the detail needed to achieve the architect’s envisioned design. The design of the wall cladding and fountain is as unique as the material itself. While the green wall concept can be seen in many different settings, this design and use of the Calypso Coral Stone material is one of a kind.