A Sacred Space Revealed

Since 2010, Houstonians have anticipated the day the public would finally will be able to experience The Cistern, a former City of Houston underground water reservoir built in 1926. After decades of unuse, stakeholders of Buffalo Bayou Park (BBP) rediscovered it again during the park planning process. Now, its grand opening also will have a national audience since BBP was voted both a USA Today Top10 City Park and a Top10 Urban Trail.

Yesterday, a front page article of the Sunday Houston Chronicle recounted the recent private tour that columnist Lisa Gray took through the Cistern with Page senior principal and designer of BBP’s built architecture, Larry Speck. With Buffalo Bayou Partnership president, Anne Olson, the group entered a curved hallway. Larry explained it was deliberately only lit with a dim, thin line of LED lights to help visitors’ eyes transition from outdoors to the relatively dark space of The Cistern.

Additionally, the curvature helps people realize they are descending belowground and helps mentally prepare them for the entrance into another realm. Upon entry into The Cistern proper, visitors have to stop to adjust to the dark – and the quiet. Pale light and still water create perfect reflections, a deceptive palindrome that makes the reservoir appear far deeper than it really is – less than five inches.

A walkway that rings the cavernous space and offers views from every vantage point eventually will be used for temporary exhibits. Page engineers designed a dehumidifying system which will help keep the near-constant temperature more comfortable for visitors year-round. 

Larry also was the lead designer on the large structures in the Lost Lake and Water Works areas of the park. In his latest blog, he notes that for a park building to do its job, it’s essential that it feel connected to the landscape. And whether it is a gracious building with abundant outdoor areas sitting next to a small lake, or a subterranean, ethereal space in which the only light enters through small shafts, the intersection between structure and nature is critically important.

Scheduled to open to the public on Friday, May 13, The Cistern will provide visitors to BBP a unique opportunity to experience a space that is unlike anything else in Houston.