Conceptual rendering of University Drive courtesy University of Houston designLAB
Conceptual rendering of University Drive courtesy University of Houston designLAB

University of Houston unveils Centennial landscape project

In preparation for its centennial celebration in 2027, the University of Houston selected landscape and urban design firm OJB to transform several prominent areas of campus. The goal is to enhance the student and pedestrian experience, ultimately creating a stronger first impression of the University as well as enduring memories.

The $35 million investment project includes a new multi-purpose gathering space – Centennial Plaza – in the historic core of campus, the reimagination of University Drive and the addition of monument gateways at several University entrances. Sustainable landscaping and storm water management will also be added across campus. The design process is currently underway with construction expected to commence next summer.

Founded in 1927, the University of Houston is the largest public research university in Houston and the third largest university in Texas. In 2020, President Renu Khator convened a centennial master plan committee to develop a plan for campus improvements to commemorate this special milestone and propel UH toward its goal of becoming a Top 50 public university in the nation.

“Our centennial plan is a transformative project,” said Khator. “The University of Houston is a crucial part of the fourth largest city in the country, and having a welcoming campus that everyone can be proud of is paramount. This reimagination will create a sense of place, community and learning, while also promoting health and well-being not only for our students, but for all Houstonians.”

OJB’s award-winning work weaves together ecology and play, celebrates discovery and delight in the landscape, and allows people to connect to the natural world in new ways. The firm has been recognized with more than 100 design awards for projects, including three Urban Land Institute Open Space Awards and many global, national and state awards from the American Society of Landscape Architects. The firm designed the popular Klyde Warren Park in Dallas, Aggie Park at Texas A&M University, as well as many campus improvement projects at Harvard, Stanford, Baylor, Rice and Texas Tech universities, to name just a few.

“So much of the student and campus experience is found in the spaces in between buildings: its landscape and open spaces,” noted Chip Trageser, partner in charge for OJB. “We know that spending time outdoors is beneficial for social connection, as well as improved mental and physical health. Creating inclusive spaces for people to come together is at the core of innovation. The Centennial Plan strengthens these experiences, not only from a physical point of view, but also as an expression of the University of Houston’s values and mission.”

The planned Centennial Plaza will be an awe-inspiring ceremonial, game day and student gathering space to be constructed in the original quad of campus. The area will include shade trees and inviting seating areas, designed to encourage communal gatherings and foster a sense of camaraderie and connectivity. An emphasis on sustainability and beauty will be evident in the use of native trees and low maintenance planting at surrounding buildings, elevating the aesthetic appeal.

“Our goal is to create a more walkable and collaborative campus by connecting people, places and disciplines across the University,” said David Oliver, senior associate vice president for facilities and construction management. “We are thrilled to work with OJB and other University stakeholders to reimagine these key places on campus that our entire Cougar community will be proud of.”

The University’s entrance on University Drive will be redefined to create a memorable arrival experience and includes the addition of a new gateway monument at Spur 5. A continuous line of trees will form a shaded central pathway from the gateway to Cullen Performance Hall.

“We envision University Drive as a pedestrian-first environment complete with outdoor ‘rooms’ anchored by public art and dining spaces. It’s a compelling concept that will truly make our campus more welcoming and inviting,” said University Architect Jim Taylor.

Strategically targeted for landscaping improvements are Lynn Eusan Park, Cougar Woods, Butler Plaza and the campus woodland from the Science and Research 1 building to the Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture and Design.

“It’s important that we restore and enhance our woodlands and increase canopy coverage, because everyone can use more shade in Houston. The landscaping will be more resilient and diverse, with a major focus on sustainability,” said Edward Mader, senior construction project manager, adding that sidewalks, lighting and irrigation will also be updated.

The campus enhancements are scheduled to be completed by the end of 2026.