Texas Tech University

2020 Texas ASLA
Merit Award



On the Llano Estacado, playa lakes create a unique, delicate, complex hydrologic system on the flat highland landscape. The rapid development of Lubbock has decimated many of these ephemeral lakes which serve as critical migratory waterfowl habitat and replenishes the severely declining Ogallala Aquifer that supports human development and agriculture in the region. With growth estimates in Lubbock exceeding 150k by 2040, a different tactic to urbanism is necessary. The project investigated how to integrate regional playa lake functions and hydrologic systems within the context of the Lubbock development model.

High Plains urbanism is the reconceptualization of the playa lakes as a robust network that weaves ecology, hydrology, and community as a new urban paradigm. Unlike typical development on the high plains, the proposed urbanism responds to the unique hydrology by recognizing playa lakes and their connections as assets to the livability of the city and its vital ecosystems.

Playas create hubs of activity within the city creating a hierarchical flow that informs development, program density, and connection. Human experience is drastically increased by designing for walkability, healthy ecosystems, access to public space, and the recognition of a unique living environment.

Playas physical typology defines the strategic ecosystem goal of the basin [fractured basin: rapid aquifer recharge; intact basin: regenerate playa ecology]. Fractured basins utilize infiltration wells to recharge the aquifer, while shade devices determine high evaporation environments and deploy to increase infiltration rates. Intact basins utilize an elevated ring structure as a social engagement mechanism, while physically protecting basins. Playa ecology is regenerated by an automated management technique designed to transition the damaged landscape to a functional ecosystem.

Through social and technological interventions, an urban transition integrates urbanism and playa lake hydrology to create a more resilient future for Lubbock and the Llano Estacado region.


Michael Tsapos, DoLA

Elizabeth Lane, DoLA

Ingrid Nunez, Architecture