Melba Whatley, founder and president of the Waller Creek Conservancy of Austin, has been named the Texas Society of Architects’ 2017 Cornerstone Award recipient. This award recognizes outstanding contributions from leaders in our community that enhance the quality of life in Texas by elevating architecture and the arts, promoting the value of community, and preserving the natural environment. This is the highest honor that our society bestows on citizen leaders in our communities. Whatley’s work in the Austin community — with the Waller Creek, St. Edward’s University, and the Jones Center — exemplifies the goals of good placemaking the Society promotes.
In her time as St. Edward’s Facilities Committee chair, Whatley led the transformation of the campus, through the construction or complete renovation of 15 buildings by notable local, national, and international architects, including Mell Lawrence Architects, Specht Harpman, Andersson-Wise, Moore Ruble Yudell, and 2016 Pritzker Prize winner Alejandro Aravena. The designs each made individual statements while complementing the existing architecture and helping the university achieve its goal of becoming more global.
As president of the Waller Creek Conservancy, Whatley has undertaken the largest, most ambitious urban creek transformation in the nation: the removal of 28 acres of land from the 100-year flood plain in downtown Austin, which will allow for the creation of more than 37 acres of newly designed and connected urban parks and public open space. In 2011-12, she spearheaded the international design competition selecting Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates and Tomas Phifer & Partners as lead designers for the project. Whatley was also instrumental in assisting with the creation of Arthouse at the Jones Center, now The Contemporary Austin, by assisting the team with the selection of LTLArchitects.
For her commitment to design excellence in our built environment and advocacy for well-designed civic park spaces in our urban core, TxA honored Whatley with honorary membership in 2013. In a letter of support for her nomination, John Ruble, FAIA, of Moore Ruble Yudell, wrote: “Melba brings a world-class sensibility to all she does for Saint Edward’s, for Austin, and for the cause of progressive, sustainable architecture and planning. As architects, we could have no better friend and ally.” The Cornerstone Award will be presented at our 78th Annual Conference, to be held in Austin this November.