Volume 49, Issue 1 :: By James Powell, AIA • Photographs by Jonnu Singleton
Landscape architecture creates a respite on the campus of St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Houston, Texas.
The Bankston Green project at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Houston, Texas, completely renovates the front yard of the original church building, designed by Alfred Finn in 1929. The result of the second phase of a long-term master plan developed by our firm, Merriman Holt Powell Architects, the project creates a new prayer garden with a large labyrinth, offering an oasis for prayer and contemplation for members and the over two million annual visitors to the city’s surrounding museum district.
St. Paul’s wanted Bankston Green (named after the church’s longest serving senior pastor, Dr. James L. Bankston) to transform the original front yard of the church, a prominent but under-utilized area of the campus, into a sacred space that would invite the public and supplement church ministry. Largely unchanged since its original construction, the site had rarely been used due to its lack of intended purpose, narrow broken sidewalks, absence of shade, and poor drainage. The design is organized on the bell tower axis, giving it a formal sense of procession from the sidewalk. Broad steps and a gently sloping sidewalk provide comfortable and accessible paths to the site. A continuous low retaining wall at the periphery of the site provides an urban edge and offers an amenity to pedestrians.
Natchez crepe myrtles provide shade over slab stone benches, and were selected to offer solar protection without overwhelming the scale of the prayer garden or blocking sight lines from the street to the historic sanctuary. African lilies and Asian jasmine provide a relaxing setting with a soft, green edge to the outdoor “room.” An existing Christus statue was relocated to the center of the prayer garden atop a new, taller stone pedestal to protect it and provide a greater sense of reverence. Black Star gravel flows between the benches and trees and around the labyrinth to provide a comfortable walking surface that is pervious to water, which significantly reduces the storm water detention requirement for the project.