Texas Architect January/February 2014: Ecologies
This issue on “Ecologies” explores urban design across Texas and focuses on the increasing importance of green infrastructure for our cities. With the rehabilitation of the San Antonio River, the state now has the longest linear park in the nation. Dallas is also leading urban design trends with its progressive parks plan — Klyde Warren Park is just one example of the good work being done. Houston and Austin are also both relying on green infrastructure to create valuable public spaces. Other important urban design initiatives featured include mixed-use development in downtown Austin, El Paso’s first net-zero senior housing project, and the push for San Antonio’s missions to be added to the World Heritage List.
Waller Creek Update by Ingrid Spencer Since selecting a winning design by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates and Thomas Phifer and Partners last fall, Austin’s Waller Creek Conservancy has continued sprinting forward with its plans to transform the 1.5-mile creek corridor from neglected waterway to vibrant downtown destination. First, a massive tunneling project is underway to divert floodwaters and create viable areas for environmental conservation and development. “The tunnel has been completely excavated and the concrete lining is 35 percent complete,” says Joe Pantalion, deputy director of Austin’s Watershed Protection Department. More than 100 people are urban design. Situated to the east of the downtown grid, Waller Creek has been historically prone to flooding. This hydrological situation, the environmental impact of the adjacent Interstate 35, and the superposition of a number of Capitol View Corridor zoning ordinances have resulted in relatively sparse development of the properties located along its banks. RENDERING OF DEVELOPMENT STUDY BY KEN SMITH LANDSCAPE ARCHITECT AND TEN EYCK LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTS. RENDERING OF THE GROVE BY MICHAEL VAN VALKENBURG ASSOCIATES. PHOTO OF THE TUNNEL EXCAVATION BY TODD SPENCER. PHOTO OF THE UT AUSTIN STUDIO BY MURRAY LEGGE, FAIA. What are urgently needed in the district are regulations that will guide the urban design relationships between the pending architectural development and the programs and places soon to be established along the new linear park system. The creek traverses a number of important urban districts: the eastern edge of the central business district adjacent to the Austin Convention Center, the State Capitol complex, and the main campus of The University of Texas at Austin. The intermittent flooding is being mitigated by the construction of a massive new flood diversion tunnel with an inlet at Waterloo Park at 15th Street and an outfall at Lady Bird Lake. The new substructure, partially funded through the creation of a tax increment-financing (TIF) district, will re-circulate a consistent flow of water through the creek bed, completely altering the hydrological status of the creek and forming the basis of a new designer ecology. The new vision for the corridor, designed by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates together with architects Thomas Phifer and Partners and spearheaded by the Waller Creek Conservancy, is meant to establish Waller Creek as the social and cultural nexus on the eastern edge of the city, trans- A principle component of MVVA’s vision is the integration of landscape and programmed activities. The Grove is to be the site of movie nights, open-air markets, and outdoor exhibitions. working on the tunnel, which is roughly 5,600 ft long with a finished diameter of 20.5 to 26.5 ft. The tunnel will be completed in early 2015. There is also an effort by the Conservancy to engage the public in becoming active participants with this major renovation of their city. Two Creek Show installations are currently planned to activate parts of the creek during SXSW. A phosphorescent graffiti project by landscape architect Jason Sowell called “After Image” will provide a glowing path along the creek, while a wood installation designed and built by third-year undergraduate architecture students in a UT Austin design/build studio taught by Murray Legge, FAIA, will engage the public in an as-yet undisclosed location near the creek. “We’re getting there,” says Conservancy President Melba Whatley, Hon. TxA. “There are so many layers to this process, but we’re grateful that our efforts have gained us credibility and confidence.” 1/2 2014 Texas Architect 57