Porphyry paving stone, with its natural beauty and physical qualities is a material that will enhance Austin’s Waller Creek project.
“Waller Creek represents the largest urban creek in the nation to undergo the level of transformation the conservancy envisions. This project will completely transform how disconnected entities and interests relate and interact with each other. While the impact area at hand is 28 acres, the conservancy is encouraging designers to pay special attention to key links and passages connecting people and the environment to the targeted redevelopment zone.”
Michael Van Valkenburg Associates and Thomas Phifer & Partners were named the winners of Design Waller Creek: A Competition on Oct. 18 as Austin (Texas) City Council affirmed the Waller Creek competition jury’s selection.
The project encompasses about 1.5 miles of Waller Creek with a total area of 28 acres, about 11 percent of downtown. The Michael Van Valkenburg and Thomas Phifer & Partners design was chosen from 31 other projects and nine other teams. A five-member jury trimmed the number down to four teams April 16 before selecting the winning design.
All four schemes, presented to the jury earlier this month during a public event at Austin City Hall, share the common attributes of lush creekside plantings, accessible open spaces, and networks of bike paths and pedestrian trails. But otherwise, they range widely in formal expression and user experience: CMG and Public Architecture insert arts programming within an underused public park and add boardwalks that zig-zag over a water feature; Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates and Thomas Phifer & Partners span the creek with several lightweight bridges and reconnect the urban core with a neighborhood stranded on the opposite side of an expressway; Workshop: Ken Smith Landscape Architect, Ten Eyck Landscape Architects, and Rogers Marvel Architects emphasize the contrast between unbridled “wild” nature snaking through an urban landscape of high-rises; and Turenscape and Lake/Flato Architects envision clusters of mixed-use buildings linked by a “ribbon” sidewalk bordered by cypress trees along the waterway.
Finalists each received a $100,000 honorarium to prepare their schemes. The nonprofit Waller Creek Conservancy and the City of Austin co-sponsored the design competition. They retained Donald J. Stastny, architect and noted competition manager of the National Mall Design Competition and others, to direct the process. Although no schedule is set for groundbreaking, conservancy officials expect construction will cost between $50 and $60 million and will take place in phases over many years. The work will complement more than $200 million in municipal infrastructure improvements either underway or planned.
Michael Van Valkenburg Associates is a Brooklyn, N.Y.-based landscape architecture firm, and Thomas Phifer & Partners is a New York, N.Y-based architecture firm. Two notable projects from Michael Van Valkenburg Associates include Brooklyn Bridge Park and Tear drop Park, both in New York.
“I have seen Michael Van Valkenburg’s work in New York City, and it is exceptional, it is exquisite, and I hope that we can have just a fraction of that here in Austin,” said Stephanie McDonald, executive director of the Waller Creek Conservancy. “I think it’s his approach, it’s a very thoughtful approach. Michael Van Valkenburg is academic, he teaches at the Graduate School of Design at Harvard, and his work is very elegant.” McDonald said the next step in the renovation of Waller Creek is the implementation of the selected design plan, but there are still details such as a cost estimate and time frame to work out.
“(Implementation) is already beginning,” McDonald said. “We’re trying to work in conjunction with the City of Austin and the Waller Creek tunnel project, which is already about 65 percent complete. We are having to catch up because when they come up to ground, we want to be able to make sure that our design can be a part of what their work is so we’re not having to go back in and redo anything.” The 5,600-foot-long Waller Creek Tunnel is expected to be completed in 2014, and the estimated cost of the tunnel is about $146.7 million.
For more information on the project and the winning design, visit http://www.wallercreek.org/
Waller Creek Conservancy
The Waller Creek Conservancy will act as the steward of Waller Creek by playing a vital role in the preservation, redevelopment and maintenance of the creek’s surrounding parks, nearby businesses, adjoining neighborhoods and community at large.
Transforming Waller Creek starts with creating a healthy eco-system, one that inspires connectivity and collaboration between the most fundamental aspects of Austin’s collective identity. Throughout a 1.5-mile span of Waller Creek, all of the following reside: higher education, health care, the arts, historic structures, entertainment, housing, hospitality, business, retail, open space and recreational spaces. Yet, to date such components have acted and interacted independently of one another.
Waller Creek is the key connecting tissue that can and should bind all the independent entities into a workable landscape that rests on the bedrock of extraordinary design.
The Conservancy applauds the City of Austin, Travis County, and countless citizens for their efforts in starting the transformation. Thus far the effort is on track to take care of the below-ground needs, specifically the construction of a large tunnel that funnels rain waters into the mouth of Lady Bird Lake. By doing so, the tunnel removes a 28-acre stretch—and landmass equivalent to 11 percent of downtown Austin—from a floodplain that has hindered development and redevelopment opportunities for decades.
With the new tunnel slated for completion in 2014, now is the time to focus on how the area above ground should look, feel, function and perform in the future.
The City and the Conservancy each contributed $400,000 as seed funding for this initial Competition effort. With these funds in place, the Conservancy and City of Austin have launched the formation of a unique public-private partnership. The Conservancy anticipates raising an initial $50 million to $60 million to begin the implementation. All types of funding sources will be vigorously pursued, including private donations, grants, public funds, foundation support, matching funds, etc. The next step will be to host a design competition that will solicit concepts from teams of landscape architects and architects from around the world.
City officials indicate that the Conservancy is undertaking the first project of this magnitude within the City of Austin. Yet, acclaimed projects throughout the country have utilized a similar public-private approach. Other examples include Central Park in New York, Millennium Park in Chicago and Design Green in Houston.
Images Courtesy the Waller Creek Conservancy
Porphyry’s composition determines its high compression strength, resist
ance to stains, slip resistance, and high freeze/thaw ratings. The stone is the most popular paver in Europe, and is favored for its flexibility in design, beauty, durability and low maintenance requirements. ADA Compliant Porphyry pavers are also adaptable to a permeable paving set. The stone is by far one of the most durable pavers in the world. These beautiful materials are available from Milestone Imports. Milestone supports the creativity of architects, planners and designers. Porphyry offers surfaces of various finishes and mixed colorings, tending towards tones of grey, gold, violet and red, depending on where it is extracted. – www.milestoneimports.com