When the 1973 P/A Awards jury met, the era of federally funded urban renewal was ending, but the dream of transforming urban downtowns remained compelling. The Myriad Gardens plan for Oklahoma City received a rarely bestowed First Award.
The scheme departed radically from renewal precedents by proposing a downtown botanical garden. Its architects, Conklin & Rossant of New York, hadn’t been asked to design a garden, but rather to propose uses for a 17-acre renewal tract. They won the commission with their concept of exposing an underground watercourse as a pond, then bridging it with a conservatory.
Architect William Conklin reports that the P/A Award gave crucial encouragement to civic leaders and donors hoping to expand on the design prestige generated by juror John Johansen’s 1970 Mummers Theater on an adjoining block. Fund-raising for the gardens suffered from the vagaries of Oklahoma’s oil-based economy. Construction of the conservatory took place from 1981 to 1985, but its tropical plantings weren’t ready for public view until 1988.
Many planned ancillary facilities such as restaurants, galleries, and cinemas were eliminated—and aren’t missed. One surviving feature is a pond-side amphitheater, site of a popular annual Shakespeare series. Ongoing renovations to the complex will soon include overdue replacement of the conservatory’s acrylic glazing.
The urban revival now apparent in Oklahoma City gathered momentum only in the 1990s, after the gardens were completed. Clearly, this unique amenity has helped to attract further investment and activity to this once-forlorn downtown.