Waller Creek







In late 2012, the newly formed Waller Creek Conservancy created a three-stage international competition requesting ideas from 175 teams on how to best transform and revitalize the downtown Austin section of the Waller Creek corridor, which extends from Ladybird Lake to the University of Texas. Our team was selected as one of four finalists. Our proposal envisioned harnessing the natural creek corridor and the unique creative economy of Austin to completely transform the east side of downtown Austin.

Once prone to dangerous flooding, Waller Creek stifled the development of a significant area around downtown Austin for decades. The creation of a new flood bypass tunnel built under the creek bed diverts water during peak rain events, effectively stopping the floods. With the potential property and public safety concerns alleviated, the creek has become an underutilized city asset. Our 6-month research, planning, and public engagement efforts led us to a multilayered solution that maximizes the corridor’s natural beauty and features while leveraging Austin’s unique cultural entrepreneurialism.  

The first step was to shift our client’s focus from those who develop next to the corridor, to those who curate its growth. We conceived a development framework for the entire corridor as a new kind of inverted cultural institution, with a melding of art, music, food, and design influences from Austin and abroad. This framework would be curated by the Conservancy, a relationship often seen at major museums or cultural institutions, who would act to balance permanent solutions with  

temporary and experimental ideas. Organic growth and a uniquely authentic experience would be borne out of this specific place. The framework also yielded new rules, regulations, and guidelines on how to inform the design of future buildings, and provided suggestions on how existing buildings and spaces can connect to this framework in meaningful ways.

Next, we focused on the creek corridor itself. We wanted to reestablish the creek as a natural Hill Country creek with a thriving population of Austin-native flora and fauna. Bringing back Waller Creek to its natural state prior to the development of downtown Austin required careful design considerations and long-term planning. The goal for this was twofold: it would allow us to create lively public spaces interwoven by an enchanting urban creek and allow us to maximize the estimated $3-4 billion dollar investment over a 10–20 year period. Our vision was to seamlessly mesh the experiential and ecological qualities of Hill Country creeks with the cultural and economic vitality of a grand urban boulevard and Austin’s uniquely creative and entrepreneurial culture.  

Simultaneously responsive, engaging, and creative, our program was created to generate a network of partnerships, incubate new enterprises, and bring an eclectic mix of music, food, art, recreational, and civic events to Waller Creek to catalyze economic development. Several of the ideas from our proposal have been incorporated into the Conservancy’s adopted plan.