Revitalizing Waller Creek
Four design teams, hailing from Austin to Beijing, have been chosen as finalists in the international competition to revitalize Austin’s downtown Waller Creek.
The finalists are scheduled to be formally announced on Monday morning by the Waller Creek Conservancy, which is overseeing efforts to turn the blighted waterway into an engaging public space for culture, relaxation and education.
The teams each have a strong local component — an Austin connection either to the leaders of the teams or in supporting roles — which is what competition leaders said they emphasized throughout the process.
Attention to the summer heat, to Austin’s culture and economic situation, how the city moves and breathes throughout the year — attention to those things and more was vital in their choice of finalists, competition manager Don Stastny tells CultureMap.
Stastny wouldn’t discuss the particulars of each team’s approach to the project, which are still in their development stages, but he said the teams recognized the challenges faced by the project.
“What you’ll see within the teams is that they understand this complexity and put together teams in such a way as to work through the complexities to come up with very singular strong concepts,” Project Manager Don Stastny
“What you’ll see within the teams is that they understand this complexity and put together teams in such a way as to work through the complexities to come up with very singular strong concepts,” Stastny said.
Years in the making, the renewal and redesign of Waller Creek is viewed as one of the more compelling challenges for design teams and architects from across the world that competed for the chance to turn the dismal waterway that runs through the city's historic downtown into a community gathering place, an education center and a performance space. The nonprofit conservancy launched an international search for the team that would make the group's vision into a reality.
More than 30 teams entered the competition late last year. Now that the four finalists have been chosen, Stastny said, they’ll move forward with meetings in mid-May, at which point the design process will be begin in earnest.
At this point, they’ve already come up with their design approaches and identified the problems they plan to address through their approach, and several are already beginning their design and sketching processes.
In mid-September, the teams will submit their designs to the jury, which will then release them to the public for input. The first week of October, the jury will get the final ideas in presentations from each team — sessions which are also open to the public.
The final winning design and team to oversee the revitalization of Waller Creek will be announced no later than Oct. 18, 2012.
Here are the teams that were chosen, according to our sneak peek:
1) CMG and Public Architecture
CMG is a San Francisco-based landscape architecture firm whose projects include the SF Museum of Art Rooftop Sculpture Garden and Mint Plaza. The 11-year-old company says it focuses on projects that will “build a more sustainable, economical vital and livable city.”
The firm is partnered with the San Francisco nonprofit Public Architecture, which runs the nationally recognized “1% Program” connecting architecture and design firms that are willing to do pro bono work with nonprofits that are committed to making positive impacts on the community through the use of public spaces.
2) Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates (NY) and Thomas Phifer & Partners (NY)
Based in Brooklyn, N.Y., and Cambridge, Mass., Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates counts the Hudson River Park in Manhattan among its projects.
The group also won the competition to design the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial - the urban space around the iconic Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Mo.
The competition sought to link the city with the arch and the river - a unique challenge not unlike that faced by the Waller Creek project. Included in the final plan is a 60-acres wildlife habitat using stormwater gathered across the river in East St. Louis,.
New York architects Thomas Pfifer & Partners, most recently designed the North Carolina Museum of Art, which won ArchDaily’s 2011 Building of the Year award. “Our goal is to make architecture in which one can experience surprise, intellectual stimulation, a profound sense of physical well-breing and an affirmation of the spiritual unity between man and nature."
3) Turenscape and Lake | Flato Architects
Turenscape, a landscape architecture firm in Beijing, declares its simple philosophy on its bilingual website: “Nature, Man and Spirits as One.”
The firm’s projects include the Floating Gardens in Yongning River Park in Taizhou City, Zhejiang Province of China. The city asked the firm to design a 51-hectare park that would resolve flood issues that had kept the area from being used by the public.
“In meeting the needs of designing this park,” the firm’s website says, “the landscape architect had to provide a concept that would be accessible to both tourists and locals, while also providing an alternative flood control and storm water management solution to be used as a model for the entire river valley.”
Closer to home, Lake | Flato Architects of San Antonio views itself as “stewards of the natural environment and our client’s resources.”
4) Workshop: Ken Smith Landscape Architect, Ten Eyck Landscape Architects and Rogers Marvel Architects
Workshop: Ken Smith Landscape Architect is based in New York and Irvine, CA. Hailed as one of the most interesting voices in modern landscape architecture, Smith’s prominent works including Manhattan’s East River Waterfront - which opened its first phase last month.
The project is described as a “two-mile-long, City-owned public open space extending from the Battery Maritime Building to the south to Montgomery Street to the north,” according to NYCEDC. According to NYCEDC, the waterfront project, for which Ken Smith is a leading consultant, “seeks to revitalize the Lower Manhattan waterfront that currently suffers from weak connections, a lack of amenities, and underutilization. “
Smith has teamed up with Austin-based Ten Eyck Landscape Architects.Ten Eyck has several footprints in Austin’s public spaces, including the Belo Center for New Media on the University of Texas campus, the Pfluger Circle at the downtown pedestrian bridge and the Livestrong Foundation.
The New York-based firm Rogers Marvel Architects rounds out the team and is currently also a finalist in redesigning parts of Washington D.C.’s National Mall.