Part garden and part monument, DIRTY-WORK creates a participatory landscape for visitors of the Houston Botanic Gardens to learn how the built environment affects Houston’s indigenous and often invisible ecologies. 


Constructed from materials common to domestic architecture and landscape practice —including stud-frame walls, garden mesh netting, landscape fabric, soil, foam block, and industrial light fixtures—the proposal creates what appears to be a simple architectural frame sitting atop a mound of earth. Within the structure and silhouetted against white garden mesh, the lush greenery of a hidden garden creates an unfamiliar tableau. The structure encloses a curated ecology of flora, fungi, and soil indigenous to Houston: monumentalizing, memorializing, and reconstituting the displaced landscapes of the Gulf Coast Prairie ecosystem. 


Embedded in this mound of soil, the framed structure and surrounding material fragments produce a strange archaeology: a landscape to explore, observe, and contemplate the memory of Houston’s lost environments. Through its uncanny scale and ghostly presence, DIRTY-WORK defamiliarizes the garden towards the creation of new botanical worlds and landscapes of care.  The project asks: how can architecture play a critical role in revealing the tensions between our forms of development and the ecosystems we inhabit, displace, and co-produce? 

Lawndale + Houston Botanic Garden Competition, 2021

Project Leads: Daniel Jacobs, Brittany Utting

Design Team: Jane Van Velden