Even though it runs right through the downtown area of Austin, Texas, Waller Creek tends to go largely unnoticed in the daily lives of local residents. And it doesn't suffer only for a lack of attention: over the years, the 2.4 km waterway has had to face pollution, erosion and periodic flooding.
As a way to bring attention to the creek as an integral part of the city, the Waller Creek Conservancy brought together a group of local architects, designers and artists to build temporary installations along the waterway as part of an annual program, Creek Show, spearheaded by director Ingrid Spencer, now in its second year.
This year's event, which opened on 12 November, includes five installations, each using light as a way to create interactive experiences along the corridor. Artist Luke Savisky, for example, created a project to animate a little-used pedestrian underpass by setting up a system that allows passersby to interact with a camera, then distorting and projecting the images onto the vault of the underpass.
Other projects drew attention to the creek as a dynamic ecology. Specht Harpman Architects, for example, focused its installation, Volume, on the fact that the creek tends to fade from public perception with normal water levels, but, with rain, it becomes a flooding hazard – something impossible to ignore. The team rigged water to gently flow over a limestone wall, but they designed that water flow to sporadically surge, causing a different experience not only with the appearance of water, but also with increased sound.
Austin is currently undertaking a major infrastructural project – inserting a network of drainage tunnels beneath the creek – that will make the creek and its surrounding areas less susceptible to flooding. With a landscape design overseen by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, the project will also transform the waterway into open public space.
Creek Show addresses this dimension, too. A project by Clark Richardson Architects, Natural Unnatural, interprets and represents the water infrastructure that will do the work of flood control, but that will otherwise exist invisibly.