• The Creek Keeper, an inflatable and colorful rendition of Creek Show’s mascot, welcomed visitors to the 2023 event at the start of the path along Waller Creek. - photo by Roger Ho

Mid-November in Austin is home to a beloved community tradition, where thousands of visitors descend on the downtown Red River Cultural District to view locally made illuminated art that ranges from playful and interactive to informative and reverent. The 9th annual Creek Show, held on November 10–18, 2023, hosted eight immersive, light-based displays in Waterloo Greenway along Waller Creek. 

Each year, artists, architects, and designers apply to create site-specific installations through a public call for ideas held by the Waterloo Greenway Conservancy in collaboration with AIA Austin. The chapter’s executive director, Ingrid Spencer, serves as the Creek Show’s artistic director, having been involved with the event since its inception in 2013 (her son even coined the name). “Creek Show is really about creative placemaking,” says Spencer. “Architects are naturally drawn to creating something beautiful and something that makes a statement. All the installations have a relationship with this very specific place, and there’s a story to tell.”

This year’s tour welcomed guests with The Creek Keeper, a whimsical, inflatable version of the show’s mascot, the Creek Monster. Continuing on, Puzzle Grass paid homage to the flora along the creek with lighted poles, and Melting Mirrors utilized digitally manipulated slow-motion video of the creek’s flow and movement. Kaleidoscope Dreams, a colorful, UV-reactive display, explored the interplay of light, form, and imagination, and the equally jubilant Crescendo used repurposed sheet music stands to put on an orchestrated light show set to local music. 

A standout for its site-specific storytelling was the installation Riot, designed by Maria Berrios and JuanRaymon Rubio, Assoc. AIA. The project served as a memorial of the Battle of Waller Creek, a 1969 confrontation in which University of Texas at Austin students, led by the School of Architecture dean Alan Taniguchi, FAIA, protested the expansion of the football stadium that would lead to the removal of trees lining the creek and destruction of its natural state. Twenty-seven people were forcibly removed from the branches of the trees and arrested, and the demolition went on as planned. 

More than fifty years later, Riot recounted the event with historic photographs, stark statistics and quotes, and a red, glowing “tree graveyard,” as Rubio calls it. Their display was positioned about halfway through the trail, beneath a bridge and over the creek bed, leading Rubio and Berrios to opt for suspension for their final design. Says Rubio: “The site and the existing structure really led us to represent the trees as these floating rings … as remnants of what we lost. They’re not permanent, there’s something otherworldly about them.” 

Rubio, an associate at Architexas, works on historic preservation projects across the state. He is proud of the storytelling his team accomplished with Riot and the opportunity to educate viewers on a part of the creek’s history. “With my background in architectural preservation, I’m naturally going to have a stronger voice for the preservation of buildings and communities,” he says. “For me, I’d like to see where Austinites’ voices come together for not just the preservation of the [natural] environment but also the built environment.”

Following Riot, Into the Wild used glowing neon tubes jutting out from the creek bed to call attention to urban creeks and greenbelts as the few wild places left in cities. Closing the show was Babble, designed by Lucas Greco, AIA, and Reece Hunter, where echoing, murmuring voices emerged from faces made of three types of corrugated roofing panels. “To see families and kids marveling at the spectacle of these installations, learning about Waller Creek, and learning more about the place where they live is so gratifying,” says Spencer. “To have the design community involved in something so public-facing has been really gratifying as well.” 

Rachel Cooper is the communications coordinator at the Texas Society of Architects.

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