Historic Emancipation Park

Houston, Texas
Connecting People, Space, and Memory

The newly redesigned Historic Emancipation Park is an interwoven tapestry of buildings and landscape encompassing 10 acres in Houston’s Third Ward. For many decades, it was the only public park in Houston open to African Americans.  Before its renewal, the park had fallen into disrepair following years of underfunding and neglect.  Today, people of all ages and backgrounds flock to the park and cherish its renewed role as a community hub.

The project includes refurbished landscapes and playgrounds, renovation of two historic buildings, and the addition of a new building and plaza. Through community engagement, visual listening, and a neighborhood-centered design vision, we created a destination that enhances the health and well-being of the surrounding population and the broader Houston community.


Established in 1872 by four formerly enslaved individuals, it is the oldest public park in Texas.

The new Emancipation Park reflects the pride, resilience, and hope its founders expressed when they established the park nearly 150 years ago.

Emancipation Park is a commemorative public park and recreation center spanning 10 acres in Houston’s Third Ward.
Picnic Shelters
"Today, Emancipation Park takes its place among the best park properties in the country. We offer our thanks to the founding fathers who boldly embraced their future to purchase this land long before the city created a parks department.”

Lisa Johnson, Interim Director, Houston Parks and Recreation Department

Until the 1950s, it was the only public park and swimming pool in Houston open to African Americans.
Renovated Cultural Center with Outdoor Theater
The Cultural Center renovation is restorative. We reopened bricked up windows to daylight to capitalizing on new connections that create a bi-directional indoor/outdoor stage.
People and Culture

The collective vision for the park was focused on promoting a neighborhood renaissance, providing a central area for health, recreation, social interaction, and engagement intended to radiate out to the surrounding community. A site with national significance as a revitalized living monument to African American history, it will offer individuals daily inspiration and connection to the culture of their own community.

Connecting and Stitching

The new Recreation Center is clad in colored composite panels on the east and west sides. Applied vertically, the panels add visual texture and a modern aesthetic to the building. The idea of connecting together different elements to create a harmonious unity reflects African and African American traditions such as quilting. Complex “stitched” pavement patterns run contiguously through the buildings, pavements, and pool deck.

The rich, earth tone colors of the panels represent a contemporary interpretation of the traditional metal roofs and brick masonry found in the surrounding neighborhood.
Commemorative Monument
Pavement Pattern at Promenade
Public and Private Partnership

The renewed park is a result of years of advocacy by nonprofit organizations and the community. The park is funded and endowed through public, private, and philanthropic partnerships. The investment has helped raise the tide of the neighborhood as well as community support and connection to the culture of their own community.

Urban Land Institute Development of Distinction Award - Emancipation Park
Project history with client interviews

Project Team

Phil Freelon (1953-2019)
Derek Jones