Buffalo Bayou Cistern now open for public viewing
Buffalo Bayou Partnership debuted the Buffalo Bayou Park Cistern, a renovated architectural relic, on May 13. The Cistern, reminiscent of the ancient Roman cisterns under Istanbul, is a cavernous space the size of 1.5 football fields. It features 221 tall, slender concrete columns, each measuring 25 feet high.
Visitors can make online reservations to tour this unique space at buffalobayou.org. Admission is $2 per person for a 30-minute, docent-led tour.
The 87,500-square-foot underground drinking water reservoir was built in 1926 for the City of Houston. It supported the municipal water system’s goals of fire suppression (water pressure) and drinking water storage. After operating for decades, an irrepairable leak was discovered in the mid-2000s, and the reservoir was later decommissioned.
BBP re-discovered the site in 2011 when it was developing the $58 million Buffalo Bayou Park project. Realizing the historical and architectural significance of the highly unusual space, the organization — along with the City of Houston — worked to take over management of the site. With research, 3-D modeling of the interior by SmartGeoMetrics and community input, BBP developed a plan to repurpose the Cistern into a magnificent public space that could house temporary, environmental art installations. BBP secured grants of over $1.7 million from The Brown Foundation, Inc. to bring the space up to code, make it accessible to the public and, ultimately, house art installations.
Architecture and engineering firm, Page, was charged with designing a ground-level entry structure to help transition visitors from the outside world to the Cistern and making improvements to the shelf on the perimeter of the space to create a six-foot-wide walkway with guardrails.
“Buffalo Bayou Partnership is excited to be opening The Cistern to the public. We have had incredible interest and, now, we will be able to share the site’s beauty and uniqueness with Houstonians and visitors to our city. We think it will attract attention from throughout the country and abroad,” said BBP President Anne Olson.
As the architect for the cistern improvements, Page Senior Principal Larry Speck said, “Descending into The Cistern the first time was like discovering some ancient ruin. It was so strange and exotic in the setting and clearly ‘lost’ to people’s consciousness. That vast field of columns, the reflective layer of water on the floor and the tiny bits of light creeping in from above were really beautiful.”
The Buffalo Bayou Park Cistern will be open on Thursdays and Fridays from 3 to 7 p.m. and on Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $2 per person for a 30-minute docent-led tour, with free admission on Thursdays.
Another aspect of experiencing The Cistern will be through New York artist Donald Lipski’s Down Periscope, which was also unveiled. The installation, commissioned by Houston Arts Alliance in partnership with the City of Houston Department of Public Works and Engineering, sits atop The Cistern on The Brown Foundation Lawn and allows park and online visitors (www. downperiscopehouston.com) to peer into the periscope and view the Cistern.
To purchase tour tickets to view The Cistern, please visit www.buffalobayou.org/.