Landscapes should be spaces that evoke joy, wonder, and inspiration. Nowhere is this more critical than in dense urban areas in the heart of the city, and no public event in DWG’s hometown of Austin, Texas captures this more than Waterloo Greenway’s Creek Show. Started in 2012 to bring awareness to improving a neglected waterway weaving through the downtown fabric, Creek Show is an annual ten-night public art event featuring light-based sculptures by local artists and designers. Free and open to the public, the show is an opportunity to introduce whimsy and enchantment in the urban environment to audiences of all ages and backgrounds.
This year’s Creek Show celebrated the recent completion of 11-acre Waterloo Park, designed by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates with DWG as the local landscape architect. The park represents the first phase of the Waterloo Greenway park system transforming the Waller Creek corridor. As part of the first Creek Show to be hosted within the renovated park, this year’s challenge to artists and designers involved crafting an installation celebrating the park itself. Inspired by the revitalized ecosystem and the many thousands of new plants installed at Waterloo Park, si-glo featured a series of towering, inflatable, internally illuminated agave sculptures. Ranging in size from 12 feet to over 30 feet in both height and diameter, the installation elevated the century plant to epic proportions to celebrate the new, long-lasting life introduced in the heart of Austin. Gigantic, glowing, and soft to touch, the inflatables delighted audiences and honored Waterloo Greenway’s mission of enhancing connections between nature, art, and culture.
The instantly recognizable shapes, grand size, and undeniable sense of fun created an unforgettable presence both close up and far away—visible even from outside the park and from adjacent downtown towers. Sited on the park’s great lawn, the installation set the tone for the evening as it greeted visitors at the main entrance and acted as a backdrop to the central event amphitheater. Si-glo was designed not just as a visual element, however, but also as an immersive experience. The soft, glowing fronds flowing in the breeze invited people into the space, to be surrounded by an entire field of giant agaves. Designed to change color and light patterns, a range of custom programs allowed the installation to produce different atmospheres and vibes. At times it was joyful, fun, and bright, emitting a constantly changing rainbow of colors, and other times it was cozy and serene, softly flickering in cool green and blue hues. Each individual visitor, depending on the specific night or time, might have a unique experience not to be repeated throughout the week.
Understanding and utilizing scale was integral to the success of the installation. Si-glo encouraged audiences to be aware of the scale of their own body in relation to the sculptures, but also in relation to their larger environment and their role within it. Visitors could touch, lie among, and walk through the cluster, adjusting their own sense of proportion in relation to the inflatables and considering their engagement with the surrounding park. Drawing from pop art influences—where common-place objects are embraced and enhanced—a familiar Austin landscape plant was elevated to a level of art and joy. Playing with scale in this way not only brought physical awareness to the park, but also suggested the notion of oversizing something significant. Si-glo highlighted both the monumental changes to the urban fabric and the importance and power of landscapes in the city.
Throughout the design process, DWG worked closely with UK-based Glow Inflatables to refine and fabricate the sculptures. The development and exchange of parametric models, samples, design studies, and physical prototypes were critical to testing ideas and overcoming technical challenges to achieve the larger vision. Although designed for a temporary installation, the team envisions a second life for the sculptures through future exhibits and events, as well as upcycling the materials of some into bags and other accessories.
Si-glo represents the integration of landscape architecture and public art in a way that results in a welcoming, inspiring experience reaching a diverse mix of people both within Austin and beyond. It encouraged Central Texas residents to connect with and support a park they likely had not visited before, and perhaps had not even been aware of in advance of the show. With this installation, DWG aimed to surprise and delight, to bring a sense of joy to the urban environment, and to amplify the awareness of the value of green space in the heart of the city.
Location: Austin, Texas, USA
Design Firm: dwg.
Collaborator: Glow Inflatables