For the fifth time in as many years, artists, architects, and Austinites alike descended the banks of Waller Creek to experience “Creek Show,” an annual display of temporary light installations commissioned by the Waller Creek Conservancy. Intended to delight the public and spark conversation about the transformation of Waller Creek, the show has swelled in popularity since its inception as a one-night event in 2014. This year was no exception, as thousands of Austinites were dazzled by six local design teams over nine nights in November.
“TENTSION” by Perkins+Will anchored the southern entrance to the show, which sprawled north between 9th and 11th streets in downtown Austin. Dozens of internally lit camping tents hovered over the creek bed in a variety of configurations, occasionally soaring into the tree canopies and over spectators’ heads via taut cables. Inspired by tensions at this intersection of the creek and Austin’s urban fabric, the tents themselves were donated to a local organization serving those in need after the installation was disassembled.
Moving north, “La Noria” by Drophouse Design rested on the creek bed, allowing the natural current to power two large, connected paddle wheels adorned with glowing spokes and fluorescent paddles. The playful armature was also unapologetically industrial, aiming to draw a contrast between the mechanics of the installation itself and the natural power source of the creek.
AOD contributed “Parabolus” as homage to the geometry of the 1930s arched masonry bridges that allow downtown streets to pass over the creek. Thin tension fibers illuminated by hidden black lights lent the installation its form, which resembled a graphed tangent function. Per the design team, the installation “draws [viewers’] gaze to both water and sky, creating an immersive experience that emphasized Waller Creek’s symbiotic urban and natural connection.”
“Urban Scrim” by Lemmo Architecture and Design (LA-N-D) featured ephemeral projections of silhouetted pedestrians and cyclists mapped onto rectangular modules of tight scrim fabric. Formally inspired by the West Texas land art movement, its simple forms and impressive scale sought to pair “the movement of the urban streetscape with the texture and nature of water flowing through the creek.”
“Ambedo ßeta” from Polis employed a series of linear LED lights that wrapped continuously throughout the three rectangular tunnels beneath the 11th Street bridge. The installation also featured two “phone booths” on opposite ends of the tunnel, where visitors could engage in a form of conversation as their voices manipulated the lighting. By turning visitors’ voices to lights, the installation reminded guests that words can tangibly affect those around them.
The terminus of the show resided within Symphony Square, a city-owned public plaza that features a terraced amphitheater and several historic buildings that the Conservancy renovated to house its own offices and support facilities for public-facing events.
A collaboration between Campbell Landscape Architecture and Tab Labs yielded “Light Lines,” an abstracted representation of the city’s waterways and drainage system. As another interactive display, the installation used a series of electroluminescent wires suspended from a grid that extended over the terraced steps of the amphitheater. Per the team, “interactive touch points allowed viewers to manipulate the light intensity as it moved across the structure and reflected upon the water.”
While Creek Show and its installations are only temporary, the Conservancy’s work in preparing the annual event is an around-the-clock endeavor. Austin-based artists looking to participate need only check the Creek Show website in the coming months for the next call for submissions. As the event continues to gain momentum, it’s never too early to wonder what the next chapter for Creek Show has in store for Austin and the future of Waller Creek.
Christopher Ferguson, AIA, is an architect at Clickspring Design and co-founder of DO.GROUP.