ENCOUNTER—Meeting Points on Buffalo Bayou

Honor Award 2019

Allen’s Landing, where Buffalo Bayou meets the heart of downtown, is the birthplace of Houston. Flowing west from this historic landing, Buffalo Bayou Park was successfully revitalized in 2010. Now the focus is along the bayou’s east sector. This section has a distinctly different character from the west and downtown; flowing through historically Hispanic and African American communities and through the industrial zones of the Houston Ship Channel. Rather than raze or remove remnants of Houston’s industrial past, the strategy is to celebrate this heritage and incorporate this history into a unique series of parks. This phase references the bayou as a recreational resource and reflects the goal of future plans to connect the neighborhoods on both sides of the bayou through parks and community spaces.

“Encounter: Meeting Points on Buffalo Bayou” is a series of temporary interactive site-based installations at six distinct sites along the East Sector of Buffalo Bayou aimed to express the history, economy, resilience, culture and community values of the communities as they relate to the bayou and green spaces. Student teams presented proposals for each site based on research focused on Buffalo Bayou in relation to the surrounding neighborhoods and its interconnection to ecology and industry as it ties Houston to the Gulf of Mexico. The proposals were presented in a series of town halls and an exhibit to the public that invited feedback.

In addition to the design and fabrication of the installations, the students created an interactive “encounter” at each site for a public event. The event included a wide range of activities to invite ideas to define a vision for the parks and desired amenities. Education about the history of the sites and the surrounding ecology were presented through didactic information and playful games. Participants received a map to direct them to each site and a rubber stamp to incentivize them to visit all six.

Working on their first environmental graphics project, students faced issues of developing appropriate content, appraising the site, proposing structures that fit within the context, staying within budget, fabricated and installed within the given time frame. While each team had design autonomy, the project as a whole needed to be cohesive. Students gained valuable insight into the intricacies of community-based work, while learning new skills including research, design, fabrication and installation of large-scale design projects in the environment.

Despite inclement weather, the project’s success is verified by the large number of visitors from not only the surrounding bayou community, but from neighboring areas as well. Encounter was covered extensively by BBP and Houstonia Magazine, Houston Public Media, UH’s The Cougar, The Houston Chronicle, and 365 Things to Do in Houston which brought exposure to the planning process, the one-day event and the various related exhibitions. Additionally, the projects lasting impact in promoting the bayou’s relationship to the community is evidenced by BBP’s continued use of many of the transportable structures and artworks made for Encounter at various events around the city.

Jury Comments: 

"It is not only good looking and informative, but used repurposed materials as part of the story and design solution and was also a collaborative process between professors, students and engaged the public for feedback before designing, fabricating and installing the project along the Bayou."

"These students demonstrated exquisite execution of strategy, concept, material use, form, typography and color system to engage the public. A site of this scale could be daunting—their understanding of scale is impressive."

Design Firms: 

University of Houston

Client: 

Ann Olson, Buffalo Bayou Partnership

Project Area: 

435,600 sq ft

Open Date: 

April 2018

Project Budget: 

$9,000

Photo Credits: 

Alwyn Brownewell (videography)

Design Team: 

University of Houston | Bruce Chao, Jon Inthavong, Nadia Tran, Jose Chavero Rivera (Allen’s Landing team); Alex Thrift, Rebecca Plunkett, Camille Espinas, Claire Elestwani (Partnership Field Office team); Isabella Serimontrikul, Erick Velazquez, Jessica Vittoria, Sharon Chu, Derek Witucki (North York boat launch team); Alwyn Brownewell, Jerry Salgado, Camila Ruiz, Erick Mata, Jinyong Choi (Gravel Silos team); Lucia Delgado, Isacc Sanchez, Linh Hoang, Maryam Soltani (Japhet Creek team); Miguel Guerrero, Valentina Gutierrez, Esalee Andrade-Guerrero, Kevin Marroquin, Amira Maruf (Yolanda Black Navarro Buffalo Bend Nature Park team)

Consultants: 

Cheryl Beckett, Fiona McGettigan (faculty, Kathryn G. McGovern College of the Arts, University of Houston School of Art, Graphic Design Program)

Fabricators: 

University of Houston students, TXRX Labs

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