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Waller Creek Teams Design the Future of Downtown Austin

Designs from the four teams vying to remake Waller Creek.

Update: The final four design teams in the Waller Creek design competition  presented their plans to a packed house in City Hall today. Our live-blog is over; read below for details and images from the presentation.

4:01 p.m. We're into discussion with the jury right now. Barring any major developments, this will probably be the final update to this blog. Thanks for reading, and if you found it interesting, please use the buttons on this post to share this post with your friends on Twitter and Facebook. 

The Waller Creek Conservancy will select the winning design concept on October 16.

3:37 p.m. David Lake now talking up the final new neighborhood, Chavez South, "the one district we’re not encumbered by height-wise restraints." Envisions East Cesar Chavez Street as a "great urban promenade" leading into downtown. 

Now on to plans for Lady Bird Park, on the waterfront where the creek empties. An urban farm is suggested next to the Mexican American Cultural Center, along with a series of walkways over the lake.


3:34 p.m. Pivoting to individual street design for a second: David Lake of Lake | Flato pitches Ninth Street, the northern end of the Music Bend, as a family friendly play area, and Sabine Street becoming a market street.

Back to the four new neighborhoods: Zona Saltillio, anchored by Capital Metro’s Saltillo Plaza east of I-35, would extend across the interstate to increase east-west connectivity.

And now back to the parks: Palm Park is slated for a major makeover, using clean creek water to add wading pools and an “urban beach” to the park.  A shaded terrace would overlook the aquatic areas. 


3:25 p.m. The team is outlining four different development areas in their plan. The first two are:

  • Waterloo West, development west of the park, in the underutilized Capitol Complex area, and
  • Music Lofts at Music Bend. Public spaces in the bend contain a series of wooden terraces contoured to the creek’s shape. The musician lofts would be where the Austin Police station is currently downtown. (Insert your own joke here.)

3:14 p.m. The heart of the team's design is the Cypress Walk, winding through four parks: Waterloo Park, Palm Park, Lady Bird Park near the waterfront, and the Music Bend, parallel to the live music clubs on Red River Street. A prefabricated concrete walkway will be installed to keep a minimum ecological impact. 


3:09 p.m. Turenscape’s Kongjian Yu is speaking about his firm’s work cleaning waterways in China. Below, here’s a detail of their map for the Waller region.


3:06 p.m. The last team is up: Locally ubiquitous Lake|Flato Architects and China-based Turenscape. Here’s their page on the Conservancy website.

2:30 p.m. Closing remarks from Van Valkenburgh. "We want to make sure that what we do here belongs here. … not the first cousin of some other solution."  Third presentation down, the fourth and final begins at 3 p.m. Join us then.

2:21 p.m. Nearing the end of jury questions. Asked what the team's first priority would be, Van Valkenburgh nominates The Poppy. Another team member makes the case for the densely green area they call The Grove.

1:55 p.m. The fifth and final area of Waller Creek is The Confluence, in Waterloo Park, where the main inlet for the Waller tunnel is located. A pond is required for the inlet, and the team has proposed extending the parkland at Waterloo by building a lip over a portion of the pond.

Waterloo is also where “The Poppy” lives, which designers say can hold some 1,000 people under its folds. 


1:35 p.m. The team is opposed to an urban rail component intruding into the Waller area. “This is a place for people, not rail,” one team member says.

Describing the creek plans from Lady Bird Lake and going north, the team delineates areas as follows: The Lattice (from the waterfront), The Grove (the Palm Park area, densely planted with trees), and The Narrows, where we are now. That’s the I-35 corridor through downtown, and christened narrow due to its small width from the creek. The team proposes blowing out the concrete structure supporting I-35 from Fourth to Sixth Street to allow more East-West connectivity.

Next up: Downtown around Eighth Street, aka The Refuge, with plans for greening around the tunnel inlet there.

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1:26 p.m. Addressing the hike and bike trail around Lady Bird lake right now. The team is calling for a series of lightweight, cost-effective bridges – essentially rope bridges with wooden steps – to criss-cross Waller Creek. 


1:16 p.m. The size and scale of the inlets feeding Waller Creek are raised by the team. Putting up a photo of a large, under-construction inlet, team leader Michael Van Valkenburgh says “The train has left the station. The tunnel is being built.” The team envisions the inlets as being central in its "chain of parks" idea.

1:08 p.m. The next team, Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Inc. and Thomas Phifer & Partners, is up now. Right off the bat, the team is pitching the importance of parks, and making Waller Creek a chain of parks. 


11:59 a.m: That's it for Workshop: Ken Smith Landscape Architect, Ten Eyck Landscape Architects, and Rogers Marvel Architects. We now have an hour-long break until the next presentation. Check back then, and thanks for reading. 

11:50 p.m. Winding down here. A jurist questions Workshop which one of its designs was most illustrative of its ethos. Their plans for Waterloo Park seem to be consensus favorite.

11:31 a.m. The jury seems pretty impressed with Workshop’s designs, but notes the quiet, ethereal nature of their imagery. (See below.) “This is busting-loose city,” the team says, believing its “urban wild” designs can provide a respite from city life.   


11:25 a.m. The team’s emphasis on "wild" is the first area of focus for the jury. The team respond by saying its vision for pubic spaces – Palm Park, Waterloo Park, and a plaza on Sabine Street – fulfill a deeper civic duty. 

11:12 a.m. The team is calling for a terrace around the main tunnel inlet at Waterloo Park, saying there’s some 30 feet of landfill in the park around the inlet structure that should be removed. By creating a terrace overlooking the park and the creek, the team envisions a grand public space.  


11:09 a.m. The Upper Wild has “a lot of extraneous structures” the team would like to remove. The plan calls for a “Waller Walk,” roughly stretching from Symphony Square to Waterloo Park. 

The team’s now calling to “untame the tunnel” by creating a series of “Waller Coolers” at inlets where water drains into the tunnel by adding towering arbors there. “An urban swamp cooler,” the team says. 

10:56 a.m. The team has divided Waller into three segments: the Lower Wild, the Urban Canyon reaching through downtown, and the Upper Wild. Plans for the Lower Wild, near the waterfront, include an eco-centric redesign of Palm Park

Plans for the Urban Canyon include "iconic density," via building right up to the lake, as that land is now out of the floodplain.

10:40 a.m. Now up: Workshop: Ken Smith Landscape Architect, Ten Eyck Landscape Architects, and Rogers Marvel Architects. The team is all about “rewilding” Waller Creek in parts, noting that many architectural features creekside were safety measures put in place to address  flooding. With the Waller Creek tunnel making those concerns obsolete, plenty of new possibilities are opened up:


9:59a.m. A member of the jury questions what we alluded to earlier; the balance between built environments and natural landscapes. A member of the CMG and Public Architecture team responds their design represents “less a naturalized landscape and more of a balance between urban and rural,” with the built segments allowing “the ecological demands [to] drive the look and feel.” 

9:55 a.m. Inspiration for the public spaces the team cites include San Diego’s Presidio Park and New York’s Central Park. Notice any resemblance?


9:49 a.m. Yes, we are using the parlance of design here. A jurist asks what the soundtrack -- figurative, not literal -- of their vision is:  "A jazz piece, country ballad ...a symphonic score?"  "It’s cant be classical," the CMG team says, settling on an "interpretive," "improvisational"  sound. 

9:40 a.m. Maybe the city should be hosting a MoPac design competition – a rush hour traffic snarl kept this reporter from showing up in time to catch all of the first presentation, from CMG and Public Architecture.

Their presentation began at 8:30 a.m., and is wrapping up right now with questions from the design jury, the group that will ultimately recommend a winning design.

CMG and Public Architecture feature some of the most ambitious built environments as pitched by the finalists, such as the zig-zagging boardwalk where the creek empties into Lady Bird Lake.


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