Donated to the City of Austin in 1875 by Texas Governor Elisha M. Pease, the 84-acre Pease Park is Austin’s oldest civic green space outside of the downtown public squares laid out in the city’s original plan, and next month the facility will debut its most significant upgrade since the park’s first major improvements nearly a century ago.
Known as Kingsbury Commons, the project imagined by local design firm Ten Eyck Landscape Architecture creates a $15 million all-ages recreational area at the park’s southern entrance at Kingsbury Street, including new play areas, an amphitheater, great lawn, water feature, and renovations converting the site’s historic 1920s-era “Tudor Cottage” public restroom building into an event venue and adjacent patio designed by local preservation-minded architects Clayton Korte.
It’s only the first phase of the much larger Pease Park Vision Plan imagined by stewardship organization the Pease Park Conservancy, which will assume operations and maintenance responsibilities for these and other anticipated improvements via public-private partnership with the City of Austin. This is all fantastic news, but we’re really here to talk about one addition at the heart of this project — its official name is the Treehouse, but I can’t help calling it the Orb. It looks like this:
Designed by local studio Mell Lawrence Architects, the Orb — sorry, the Treehouse — is an installation apparently meant to resemble a seed pod resting on the forest floor. A net stretched across its second level allows park-goers to sit or lie suspended among the surrounding canopy of trees, providing a perspective closer to nature and an all-around good time in a high-design package, serving as the Kingsbury project’s major focal point due to its sharp, Crichton novel-esque looks.
The Treehouse raises the bar for Austin’s big-ticket public investments in much the same way as the recent Alliance Children’s Garden or new Central Library. It’s hard to explain, but these designs have a distinctive “big city” feeling about them — they are civic spaces commensurate in scale and vision to the growth of Austin itself, a city all too inclined toward various levels of denial regarding its increasing national prominence despite all evidence to the contrary. With construction kicking off here in March last year around the same time as the pandemic, Kingsbury Commons’ grand opening currently scheduled for mid-June will arrive at just about the perfect time for all of us to get busy rediscovering our love of communal outdoor recreation.