Inspiring Others Through Design: Buffalo Bayou

Dallas Morning News architectural critic Mark Lamster wrote a Sunday feature describing how Houston got it right in the transformation "of a neglected urban waterway into a grand public park and metropolitan gateway". He outlined a blueprint for other cities to follow, describing the 160-acre Buffalo Bayou Park as "a bit of nirvana".

Page Senior Principal - and professor at the University of Texas School of Architecture - Larry Speck created a theme that runs through the whole park. Speck's design of a series of pavilions and recreational buildings utilizing a common visual language helps users know they're in Buffalo Bayou Park when they see them.

The design was driven by the concept of “thermal mass,” Speck’s idea that “when you’re near a cool surface you feel cooler. ... We wanted these big, thick concrete volumes that were in the shade, and would therefore feel cool, and be cool anytime you touch them.” 

Taken together, the structures suggest a modernist interpretation of the architecture of the Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps, which built works in harmony with the landscape in the nation’s parks. Speck is also responsible for the rehabilitation of the Cistern, a cavernous subterranean holding pool for collected well water built in 1927. Within its tomblike space are more than 200 enormous steel columns. 

“It’s got a rawness and a real elemental quality to it,” says Speck. “It’s downright Egyptian in scale.” It had been scheduled for demolition, but instead Speck is converting it into a space for special events and exhibitions, with an open-air performance space, boasting postcard views of downtown, on its roof.

The park, which was planned and designed by landscape architecture firm SWA for the non-profit client Buffalo Bayou Partnership, connects "shoulder" neighborhoods to downtown Houston through verdant landscapes, scenic bridges, bike and pedestrian trails, restaurants and cafes, watersport facilities, a skate park and performance and art spaces.

At Page, our vision is to create design that makes lives better and we're very glad to have that affirmed by an architectural critic from another city. We're even more pleased that he recommends holding the project up as inspiration for other metropolitan areas. 

To view the article in its entirety and see images of Buffalo Bayou Park, click here

Contributed By

Mark Lamster, Architecture Critic, Dallas Morning News