Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates and Thomas Phifer & Partners

As the culmination of an international competition, a team led by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates (MVVA) and Thomas Phifer and Partners has been chosen to design a 1.5-mile-long linear park in downtown Austin. The competition jury’s selection, which was announced on October 18, hinged on the team’s elegant vision for the transformation of the blighted banks of Waller Creek into a chain of large outdoor gathering spaces. The urban park is expected to be the capstone for a massive public works project intended to spur dramatic redevelopment of 15 blocks in the central business district.

MVVA and Phifer bested three other teams following public presentations to the five-person jury earlier this month at Austin City Hall. The competition was co-sponsored by the nonprofit Waller Creek Conservancy and the City of Austin. As presented to the jury by MVVA principal Van Valkenburgh, the winning scheme for the linear park features several lightweight bridges that span the creek while also re-engaging the urban core with a neighborhood stranded on the opposite side of an expressway. The most expressive element is called "The Poppy," a luminous shade structure held aloft by tall, thin columns and large enough for 1,000 people to gather beneath it.

Following the presentation, jurors commented favorably on the design’s "meaningful and relative hybridity" of nature and architecture, as well as the team’s "very disciplined" approach to designing a park that responded to Austin’s culture and ecology. Although no schedule is set for groundbreaking, conservancy officials expect construction will cost between $50 and $60 million. That future work will complement more than $200 million in municipal infrastructure improvements either underway or planned.