Over the past several years, local environmentalists have worked hard to save Japhet Creek, part of the Buffalo Bayou waterway system that is Houston, Texas’ most significant natural resource. Japhet Creek had become a dumping ground, littered with tires, trash, plastic bottles, and rubble. Local efforts resulted in the development of a series of parks along creeks feeding into the bayou, and Japhet Creek became the first Houston Green Fingers project, an initiative to create corridors of connectivity to not only improve water quality, but to strengthen the relationship between the community and the environment.
The Dis(solve): Natural Signs project was developed to create a series of park amenities for Japhet Creek that inform, provoke, and educate the park visitor. The project was an interdisciplinary collaboration among 35 senior-level students at the University of Houston’s School of Art, Graphic Communications Program and the Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture.
Each of four student teams was awarded a budget of $1,800 provided by a grant. The students proposed, fabricated, and installed nine pieces designed to inform the public about Japhet Creek/Green Fingers, but also to serve as environmental metaphor about ideas and issues that shape our thoughts about nature, water, industry, and protecting natural resources. Several of the pieces will biodegrade, providing a commentary on the things we make as humans and their ability to return back to nature. Several use re-purposed materials and will remain on site until disassembled. These pieces most closely serve the needs of the client: a toolshed was created out of a re-purposed shipping container, and recycled scrap steel was transformed into a gateway sign and main identifier for the park.
The intention of the installations was to leave zero environmental impact; therefore, all pieces are biodegradable or easily removable from the site. To tie the nine structures into a cohesive whole, a set of icons was developed and used on all of the pieces.
In addition to the design challenges, the students also developed proposals, procured city approval, solicited donations for materials, fabricated, and installed the structures in only nine weeks.
“The project is a healthy mixture of biodegradable/temporary elements and permanent installations, different materials and fabrication techniques, and a varied system of interrelated subject matter. It is at once playful and didactic, presenting important environmental messages in a nuanced and respectful way. Impressive work, made even more impressive by the fact that it was done by students on a limited budget.”
“Beautifully designed and executed, this project calls attention to a timely topic. A fabulous example of ‘storytelling with meaning’ and of what can be accomplished with very little money.”
Arantza Alvarado, Ramon Arciniega, Joanna Bonner, Lindsey Bowsher, Danny Carter, Hei Man, Alison Cheuk, Megan Conkin, Jose Alfredo Dehuma, Hai Phi Dinh , Miguel Farias Nunez, Amy Heidbreder, Marcia Hoang, Aike Jamaluddin, Zach Kimmel, Kyra Lancon, Jennie Macedo, Leah Macey, Jenny Ng, Jane Nghiem, Diana Ngo, ViVi Vu Nguyen, Rachel Outlaw, Ada Pedraza, Christopher Steven Pine, Anna Reyes, Jessica Rios, Josh Robbins, Haley Ross, R-Jay Ruiz, Hector Solis, Brad Sypniewski, Tam Truong, Erin Woltz
Jim Ohmart (president, Japhet Civic Association), Brian Herod (JCA project coordinator), Eileen Hatcher (co-founder, JCA)
Instructors: Cheryl Beckett, associate professor, University of Houston School of Art, Graphic Communications Program; Patrick Peters, professor, University of Houston Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture
Debner + Company (used cardboard), JL Proler Southwest (shipping container, waste management dumpster, scrap steel), Trees for Houston (tree), Blumenthal Sheet Metal Co. (plasma-cut metal), ImageSet (Komatex panel), students (all other fabrication)