Buffalo Bayou Promenade in Houston, Texas by SWA, 2006
This project by SWA, as documented in their recent monograph Landscape Infrastructure, converted "a neglected, trash-soaked eyesore, challenged by entangled infrastructure of freeways and bridges, into a multifaceted urban park." It is a 1-mile (1.6 km) stretch of the 52-mile-long (84 km) Buffalo Bayou river, which meanders its way through Houston before heading to the Gulf of Mexico. The Bayou is also Houston's principal drainage system, meaning that increased urbanization last century left the watershed neglected, like many other pieces of water in and adjacent to cities.
The promenade (known alternatively as the Sabine or Sabine-to-Bagby Promenade), located just northwest of Houston's downtown core, is part of a larger project to improve the natural conditions of the waterway, remediating the pollution and making the Bayou an active part of residents' lives, not something the city turns its back on. The project can be traced back to the mid-1980s, when the city generated a master plan and the Buffalo Bayou Partnership was created. The non-profit "is responsible for developing and facilitating improvements to the Buffalo Bayou greenway system," a 10-mile (16 km) stretch in Houston.
The critical role of planting as an aesthetic erosion-control measure and element of habitat creation has nurtured a waterway that is now home to an established presence of ducks, herons, turtles, and fish. -The Infrastructure Research Initiative at SWA, from Landscape InfrastructureSWA was faced with existing conditions that made the downtown section of the Buffalo Bayou unsafe for people. The main impacts were the seasonal storm flows and lack of proper plant growth on the banks of the river. In both cases erosion resulted, so SWA's plan targets the banks to maintain hydrolic flows and create safe areas for recreation. What resulted, seen at left, is a shallower slope at the bank planted with a riparian edge (of local plants suitable for the application); gabion walls at the edge stabilize the bank while allowing for drainage.
Set back from this technical yet aesthetic edge are the paths that wind their way along the river and below the highway overpasses that made this area ripe for improvement, but which also give the promenade its most striking aspect. Lighting designer L'Observatoire International worked with SWA to make the park safe at night, developing various types of lighting, one of which included an art-driven lighting component illuminating the concrete supports. The bluish glow celebrates the overhead infrastructure; to do otherwise would be unrealistic. The lighting combines with the landscape to create a strong place on Buffalo Bayou that also celebrates this important natural feature.