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Waller Creek: A Competition Process

For over a year, LF worked on Austin’s urban-scale competition to Design Waller Creek, which finally came to a close last month. Our vision of Waller Creek (The Oasis) unfortunately didn’t win (see for a glimpse of our boards as well as the selected team and other finalists’ submissions); but by participating and making it to the final stage, we gained an amazing experience that taught us huge amounts about the dynamic culture of Austin and the potential roles of regenerative landscapes in future urban development. A little background: Waller Creek runs roughly north-south through downtown Austin, just west of I-35, from Lady Bird Lake up to 15th Street and beyond. The creek has been largely ignored as a deteriorated watershed because of its position straddling downtown and east Austin and because, until recently, flooding prevented any significant development along its banks. However, a new tunnel currently being dug to alleviate the flooding has opened up the possibility of completely reimagining this district. So, capitalizing on this new freedom, the Waller Creek Conservancy sponsored a competition to Design Waller Creek. We partnered on the competition with Turenscape, an international landscape architecture firm based in Beijing, and through this partnership we learned an immense amount about the possibilities for large-scale urban landscapes as rehabilitating, productive features in city development. Moreover, we learned about the beautiful power of contrasting the practical elegance and spontaneous performance of natural ecosystems with a light but certain touch of artistic human insertion. To this end, our design grew using a "farmer's approach" to landscape and urban design, applying minimal interventions to maximize ecosystem benefits for the land and surrounding communities in order to create a new oasis in Austin. Our team also consisted of many more players than LF and Turenscape. SvR in Seattle worked from the beginning of this partnership, back in the fall of 2011, to facilitate communication and design development between San Antonio and Beijing. Black and Vernooy, an urban design and architecture firm with deep roots in Austin, were also major collaborators who helped focus our efforts on the development of the city's unique present and future communities. Many more firms, most based in Austin, joined our team as we moved through Stages 1 and 2 of the competition, during which the jury narrowed the field of participants from over 30 to 9 teams. This list was cut down to 4 teams for Stage 3, the 5-month design phase of the competition—and then came our real work in designing the oasis. The Turenscape/LF design phase was set up as a series of group charrettes and critiques held in San Antonio, Austin, and Beijing throughout the summer, with each team working from afar but in constant communication in the interim. Dr. Kongjian Yu traveled to Austin multiple times, and David Lake spent 3 weeks in China, both leaders playing major roles in pushing forward the narrative and depth of our proposal. The end result was a well-researched, thoughtfully considered, and inspirational vision for Austin that all on our team are immensely proud of.
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