Silva Cells Offer Shady Dining and Swimming Areas in Houston’s River Oaks District

“Every instance I’ve used Silva Cells is where we want major tree canopy and tree shade, but we also want it to be an active plaza space.”

-Katie Martin Peck, Landscape Architect and Project Lead


The River Oaks district in central Houston was a vision of developer Oliver McMillan, a mixed-use community — featuring high-end retailers and restaurants alongside new luxury residential space and boutique offices — whose first amenities opened in 2015. Integrating greenery throughout the new development was one of the project’s chief priorities, brought to reality by the landscape architecture team at Hoerr Schaudt. A diverse selection of plantings was integrated throughout River Oaks’ streetscapes, providing residents and visitors alike with welcoming natural features. There were some areas of the new development, however, that presented challenges for a tree’s long-term health and vitality, primarily along the outdoor dining plaza and surrounding the apartment complex’s courtyard swimming pool. In each instance, Hoerr Schaudt designers turned to Silva Cells to support the hardscapes above while containing lightly compacted soil below — a recipe for mature tree growth.

Installation Summary

Number of Silva Cells: 550 (2x)

Amount of Soil Volume Per Tree: 500 ft3 to 900 ft3

Number of Trees: 19

Type of Project: Plaza, Streetscape

Project Designer: Hoerr Schaudt

Project Contractor: Brightview

Installation Date of Silva Cells: Early 2016

River Oaks and Silva Cells

“For all the greatness of Houston, what I thought it lacked was a place to stroll and dine and shop.” Dene Oliver, Oliver McMillan

The vision for a new multi-use River Oaks district began in 2007, when Dene Oliver — CEO at real-estate developer Oliver McMillan (since sold to Brookfield Residential) — was introduced to the neighborhood by his wife, a native Houstonian. The idea was to bring a “sophisticated urban esthetic to Houston.” This new development was to feature high-end shopping as well as luxury residences, fine dining, a modern cinema, and boutique commercial space.

Originally slated to be over two million square feet in size, the 2008 recession forced both a timeline pause and a scale-back in the design plans, which ultimately took flight in 2011 with a more modest footprint of less than a million square feet. Top-shelf retailers were an essential feature of the new River Oaks, with Cartier, Dior, Dolce & Gabbana, and Hermes among the district’s current storefronts, in addition to 270 modern apartments.

Green space was also an important feature in the design plans with the goal of “creating a pleasant environment for pedestrians.” To bring this objective to reality, developers turned to the landscape architecture team at Hoerr Schaudt. Katie Martin Peck, River Oaks project lead at Hoerr Schaudt and current associate director for campus environment at the University of Chicago, observes that the developers “wanted to create a lush, high-scale environment — and they knew that they needed to think about the landscape. It was really important to create a strong sense of there there with the landscape and the plaza.”

Throughout the district, including along the widened 15-foot sidewalks, were plantings of nearly every variety: over 23,000 perennials and nearly 5,000 annuals. Of course, trees were also an indispensable element of the $6 million landscaping effort: more than 300 trees were spread across the property, including 64 semi-mature oak trees. Many of these trees were granted generous open planting zones; however, a number of them were to be placed in active plaza areas, including along the outdoor dining terrace and around the apartment swimming pool — in each instance, Hoerr Schaudt turned to the DeepRoot Silva Cell system.

As Peck notes about her team’s specification of Silva Cells: “Every instance I’ve used Silva Cells is where we want major tree canopy and tree shade, but we also want it to be an active plaza space.” This is one of the system’s primary applications: supporting the hardscapes in the “active plaza space,” thus providing a lightly compacted soil environment for healthy root expansion. Peck also identifies the swimming pool courtyard as a particular success for Silva Cells:

“[Around the swimming pool], we needed to create more volume for the soil. So, we expanded the zone with the Silva Cell. The reason we did the Silva Cells there instead of just structural soil was needing to get as much soil volume in the small area as possible — which is more achievable with Silva Cells than with structural soil.”

In total, more than 500 (2x) Silva Cells were installed at River Oaks in support of 19 trees. Both the swimming area and the dining terrace trees are looking great, providing visitors with welcoming greenery in unique environments. River Oaks has been a triumph of “placemaking,” a destination community and one of the prides of Houstonians.

Additional Resources

For other DeepRoot projects in Houston, check out our case studies here and here.


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