John Jacob Observation Tower

A&M Vet Hospital
The Texas Gulf coast is blessed with an abundance of birdwatching possibilities due to its numerous wetlands and its location along major migration routes. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, along with other park entities, has developed many refuges for birds along these routes and these have become destinations for birders from all over the world. Among the best of these sites is the Sheldon Lake Environmental Learning Center. Located a mere 25 miles east of downtown Houston, this wildlife habitat features a man-made reservoir, Sheldon Lake, and includes the remains of an abandoned fish hatchery. A fine example of Texas Gulf Coast prairie land, this park has developed as a major resource for teaching the large nearby population of Houstonians, and especially school children, about their natural habitat.

The park was only lacking a vantage point with sufficient height to best view Sheldon Lake and the waterfowl regularly found there. TPWD committed to develop a project for an observation tower to accomplish this goal. This first-of-its-kind project for TPWD was awarded to PDG Architects to design under PDG’s ongoing services contract and represented a true challenge, both aesthetically and technically.

The project’s goals were to develop an observation platform 60’ above the ground, fully accessible, with minimal impact on the surrounding environment. The design includes stairs and an elevator, with 2 observation platforms located at 30’ and 60’above the ground. The platforms are shaped and oriented to best take advantage of views to the lake and the surrounding prairie. The upper platform and stair is covered with roofs designed to provide maximum shade during the hot summer months.

The tower’s physical design constructed with surplus oilfield piping - a resource abundantly available in the heavily industrialized surrounding area, blends with other structures in the park Additionally,the platforms, the boardwalk, and the elevator shaft are constructed with Forest Stewardship Council certified hardwoods naturally resistant to rotting or insect infestation, making for a maximally sustainable design. The result is a dramatic new feature for the park that sits lightly upon the landscape.

The use of Revit and it’s associated clash detection features/reports greatly assisted in the coordination of the very complex integration between structural elements and the overall design for this tower. The process completed with BIM allowed for simultaneous design between these 2 critical elements.The team was able to immediately identify conflicts and work to resolve them in a manner that would not detract from the form of the structure. The use of BIM also proved to be a valuable tool for the constructor to produce cost estimates and material take-offs for each element of the project.