Houston reservoir reborn as the public space, the canvas for the art

On this Friday, Dec. 16, 2016, photos, the exhibition of an abstract video installation called “Rain” by the Venezuelan artist Magdalena Fernández is projected in a former water tank, nicknamed “the Pit” in Houston. Once eyed for demolition, the former water reservoir built in 1926, and has now found new life as a public space that also serves as an unusual canvas for the art. The reservoir of the rebirth is the latest example of the efforts of cities across the country to re-use and re-use abandoned and dilapidated pieces of infrastructure as public space. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

(Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

HOUSTON – Houston’s first underground drinking water reservoir — a decades-old collection of more than 200 concrete columns, in a hollow space in the downtown has been unused for years and was set for demolition as a non-profit group that re-imagined as something new: a public space.

The 87,500-square-foot-space, nicknamed “the Pit” and is reminiscent of old European water reservoirs, opened its doors to visitors in May. When earlier this month, the structure of the dark pillars and walls became the canvas for a piece of modern art.

“Repurposing for a contemporary audience is the perfect solution,” said Judy Nyquist, a member of the board with the Buffalo Bayou nership, which included the reservoir as part of a $58 million park renovation project.

It is the most recent example of the efforts of cities in the U.S. — including Atlanta; Buffalo, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Washington, D. C. — re-using abandoned and dilapidated pieces of infrastructure as public space. Urban planners see the conservation of historic buildings and other structures as essential in creating communities people want to live in, said Stephanie Meeks, president and CEO of the Washington, D. C. on the basis of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Probably the most famous project is New York City’s High Line, an abandoned elevated railroad part converted into a park in 2009. It has been shown that cities such pieces of infrastructure can be diamonds in the rough, said Robert Steuteville, with the Congress for the New Urbanism, a Washington, D. C.-based non-profit that promotes sustainable communities.

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Pedestrians walk along the High Line park in New York City


“That is the reason why other cities can say:” Aha. We have this thing. What can we do?” Very often you can do something with that actually generates value,” he said.

In Houston, the Buffalo Bayou nership saw the preservation of the Pit, first built in 1926 and dismantled in 2007, as a way to save a piece of history and educate visitors about Houston’s relationship with its bayous, where both the drinking water and drain. The group also saw the Well as a good fit for the plans for the exhibition of art in the renovated Buffalo Bayou Park of 160 acres, that the tank sits next to.

The first exhibition was an abstract video installation called “Rain” by the Venezuelan artist Magdalena Fernández. The nearly two-minute video, accompanied by a soundtrack of snapping fingers and stomping and chopping that mimics falling rain, projects a series of white geometric shapes on the dark concrete columns and the shallow pool of water on the bottom floor to evoke the atmosphere of a stormy night. It can be seen until June due to scheduled tours.

In San Francisco, officials and community leaders are working to turn a reservoir hatches in 1940 in a park. In October, the officials in Philadelphia broke ground on a project to transform an abandoned railway into a public park similar to the High Line. In Buffalo, a collection of concrete grain silos that are relics of the city’s heyday as a shipping hub to be re-used as locations for restaurants, outdoor concerts, and as the projection screen for a nightly light show. In Washington, D. C, a cultural organization is the transformation of an abandoned trolley station under Dupont Circle neighborhood into a place for exhibitions and artistic expression.

Atlanta is in the middle of a project to transform 22 miles of a largely abandoned railway corridor around the city in a network of trails, parks, affordable housing and rail transit that will connect 45 neighborhoods. The project is set to be completed in 2030.

“This is really a legacy project that goes out 20 years, 30 years, 50 years,” said Kevin Burke, senior landscape architect for the project, which is managed by the economic development agency Atlanta BeltLine, Inc. “We really have to have that long view of what we are doing and the impact we have, not only on the current generations of Atlanta residents and visitors, but that is yet to come for decades.”

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