Launch Slideshow

The Grove in Discovery Green, Houston

Page Southerland Page's The Grove restaurant brings well-executed Modernism to a downtown Houston park.

The Grove in Discovery Green, Houston

Page Southerland Page's The Grove restaurant brings well-executed Modernism to a downtown Houston park.

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    Eric Laignel

    A second brick staircase gives second-floor access on the south side of the building. Together, the two staircases also serve to separate front-ofhouse functions—including the main dining room, restrooms, and bar —from back-of-house operations like the kitchen and loading dock. In contrast to the transparent glazing of the dining rooms, the volume housing the kitchen is clad in dark wood siding with few windows.

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    The two-story restaurant’s north façade is dominated by floor-toceiling glazing on the first level that offers ample views into and out of the main dining space. A broad brick staircase leads to a terrace on the second story that extends over the first floor with a cantilevered balcony.

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    The bar at The Grove is clad in glowing panels that mimic a rich material like alabaster. The effect is achieved by using 3form resin panels back-lit by fiber-optic strands that give the panels a gentle glow. Those perched on a bar stool enjoying one of the restaurant’s signature drinks also have a frontrow view of artist Margo Sawyer’s wall of color blocks, a feature that fits well with Discovery Green’s commitment to public art.

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    Eric Laignel

    The main dining room uses a wood floor and ceiling, similar to the second-floor dining space. Expanses of glazing allow diners to enjoy views of the new downtown park while feasting on American fare ranging from salad and sandwiches to local seafood. Beyond the interior glass wall are two smaller dining spaces (denoted by the Louis Poulsen artichoke lighting fixtures) that can be closed off for private parties. The interiors were designed by a team from Schiller Del Grande Restaurant Group, the company that runs The Grove, in an effort to give the restaurant the same feel as the company’s other properties.

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    Eric Laignel

    The flexible indoor/outdoor seating area on the second floor is clad on the floor, walls, and ceilings in wood planking that extends outdoors as the decking of the cantilevered balcony. Glass doors allow the seating area to extend out onto the balcony when Houston’s hot, humid climate permits.

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    On the second-floor deck, patrons have a view of the Houston skyline—a reminder that despite the bucolic setting of the ground floor, the restaurant is in the heart of downtown. Plastic chairs and metal tables can withstand the region’s summer thunderstorms, and the view of Discovery Green is maintained by a minimal custom handrail that features stainless steel wire cables threaded through painted steel pipe.

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    Eric Laignel

    The new Grove restaurant by Larry Page of Page Southerland Page is part of the Discovery Green development in Houston, a new, 12-acre downtown park that feautures a lake, dog parks, playground, public art, and an amphitheatre.

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Discovery Green is that rarest of Houston phenomena: a lively, successful downtown park that people actually seem to enjoy. Its planners, Project for Public Spaces, a nonprofit inspired by noted sociologist William H. Whyte, eschewed a grand, formal scheme for a jigsaw puzzle of good parts that they call “the backyard of Houston.”

The planners facilitated extensive community workshops to find out what people wanted in the park, which is built over a 630-space underground parking garage. Participants called for a large, diverse program that ultimately includes playgrounds, ponds, a bandstand, jogging trails, fountains, a lake, gardens, and two restaurants—all crammed into 12 acres of what was formerly a no-man’s land between the George R. Brown Convention Center and the central business district. As if to signal the significance of the endeavor, Jean Dubuffet’s “Monument au Fantôme,” a favorite Houston public art piece, was moved from a corner of a downtown high-rise block to the park’s eastern entrance, across from the convention center.

The Grove is the more upscale of the park’s two eateries, both of which are operated by the Schiller Del Grande Restaurant Group. Architect Larry Speck, a principal in the Austin office of Page Southerland Page, designed the 10,000-square-foot building to meet a goal of LEED Gold certification, as set by the Discovery Green Conservancy, the nonprofit responsible for the park’s development and maintenance. The restaurateurs initially were unenthusiastic about a modern building, according to Speck, because they thought it wouldn’t do for the kind of gracious dining experience they had in mind. But the architect convinced them that modern construction would better connect with the park and with the goals of sustainable design.

The building is modern in all the right ways—less a polemical statement than a mature example of place-making. Organized with diagrammatic clarity, as a series of slipped, parallel bars of one and two stories, it uses the real phenomena of site and program to compose a building without architectural excesses. The architecture is reposed and deferential, most prominently in the ground-floor main dining room, a thin space between two active long edges: a window wall with views out to a tree-lined promenade on the north, and an open kitchen on the south.

While the structure is predominantly crisp, lightweight steel and glass, local brick clads the long box of serving spaces—the kitchen, bathrooms, the elevator core, and two broad exterior stairs. The brick mass buffers the dining room from a busy adjacent street and the torrid Houston sun. Customers entering from valet parking on the south and from a deck on the west arrive at a bar centered in the entry space.

The exposed steel frame conveys the building’s structural rationale and gives a background syncopation to the spaces. Detailing is crisp and precise. Wood ceilings formed by installing cedar planks in the bottom flanges of the spanning members bring warmth to the dining space. Wooden floors extend into surrounding outdoor decks, and beams terminate in supporting brackets for the roof overhang, drawing inside and outside into continuity. Low-level interior lighting allows for outside views to be prominent, day or night.

Above the restaurant proper, on the second floor, is a sizable terrace, dubbed the Tree House, and an indoor dining room. There is also an herb and vegetable garden. Solar panels that Speck intended for the roof, sadly, were not installed, and on the terrace itself, large umbrellas don’t compensate for the lack of a shade roof.

The Houston you get depends on which way you look, and the view from the terrace is no exception. To the north, the building sidles into the upper reaches of a good-looking grove of high-rises; to the south rises the palisades of the Hilton convention hotel. The view toward downtown is a bit more disheveled, a work in progress as holding properties earn their keep as surface parking and await higher uses. Construction is a big part of the Houston genius loci, and the terrace provides an excellent front-row seat for watching new buildings go up, while sipping a frozen margarita.

Project Credits
Project:
 The Grove, Houston 
Client: Discovery Green Conservatory 
Architect: Page Southerland Page, Austin, Texas—Larry Speck (lead designer); Jeff Bricker (principal in charge); Robert Owens (project manager); Aaron Jones (project architect); Marcus Martinez (designer)
Interior Designer Schiller Del Grande Restaurant Group—Candice Schiller
Restaurant Planning Milton Architects
Landscape Architects Hargreaves Associates; Lauren Griffith Associates 
Structural Engineer Henderson + Rogers
M/E/P Engineer Page Southerland Oage
Civil Engineer TSC Engineering
Contractor Miner-Dederick Construction
Lighting Bos Lighting Design
Artist Margo Sawyer
Size:17,180 square feet


TOOLBOX

White Oak Wide-Plank Flooring
Allegheny Mountain Hardwood Flooring
hickmanwoods.com
The family-owned firm is an FSC-certified member of the Rainforest Alliance and specializes in rift and quartersawn red and white oak solid-wood flooring. Wide-plank white oak flooring is featured in the main dining room on the first level.

Cedar Plank Ceilings
9Wood
9wood.com
Fiberglass panels back the wood face of 9Wood’s ceiling system to improve acoustical performance. The company also is FSC certified.

Ceramic Glazed Brick
Elgin Butler Co.
elginbutler.com
Used on the kitchen walls, these extruded clay bricks are glazed with an impervious surface that complies with health department code requirements for kitchens. Elgin Butler uses a “no waste, no discharge” manufacturing process.

Ecoresin
3form
3-form.com
Postindustrial recycled materials were used to make the Ecoresin countertops—the product is made with a minimum of 40% recycled materials. Available in several colors and patterns, the countertops were installed using low-VOC adhesives and sealants.