Honorable Mention - Excellence in Landscape Architecture for Open Space Planning

University of Texas Austin

A Framework Plan for Waller Creek
University of Texas Austin - A Framework Plan for Waller Creek
Jury Comments
““. . . turned an engineered solution into something natural . . . rather than putting it in a storm sewer underground, they celebrated it . . . deserves attention at a national level on the value of such resources in the campus setting . . .””


    • Site – Approx. 30 acres
    • Waller Creek runs through the center of UT Austin’s campus.
    • The framework plan helps establish Waller Creek as a campus district.
    • Invasive plant removal began immediately, allowing field investigations to follow.
    • This large and engaging natural landscape presents a huge opportunity for a school with no central landscape space.
    • Improving safety along Waller Creek was of primary importance.
    • Successional cypress planting improves sightlines, bank stability, and district identity.


Although it is at the geographic heart of the UT Austin campus and vital to campus infrastructure, Waller Creek has historically been ignored in campus landscape planning efforts. As a result, the creek suffers from erosion, invasive plants, and high pollution levels. It is also subject to extreme flooding. And in 2016, an undergraduate was murdered along the banks of the creek. The framework plan was undertaken as a direct response to that tragic event to improve safety and security along the corridor. But this essential need enabled an opportunity to undertake a comprehensive examination of how the creek could and should contribute to the university’s teaching, research, and service missions.

The urgency the community felt in response to the student’s murder on Waller Creek translated into early support for initiatives that could dramatically increase visual access to the incised areas of the creek that had become thickly overgrown with invasive shrubs and trees. In response, the framework plan proposes a range of integrated initiatives to support the foundational principle of “see and be seen,” including fast-tracking the removal of invasive species, stabilizing areas of overbank erosion, prioritizing circulation routes visible from streets and campus buildings, introducing a lighting program, and establishing this as its own district with a specialized maintenance program.

The campus already floods frequently and 95 percent of campus stormwater empties into Waller Creek, wreaking environmental havoc. The framework plan spurred momentum for district policy alignment within departments and a stormwater management program to improve water quality and ecosystem health. This includes reconsidering flood- prone capital projects and mapping out areas in need of targeted interventions to address erosion.

The campus master plan recommended removing a series of small weirs within the Waller Creek corridor. The framework plan demonstrated that these weirs were part of a cultural landscape and necessary for 71 bank-stabilizing heritage cypress trees. Preserving the weirs and adding two more provided a framework for successional cypress tree plantings.

Framework plan elements help UT address gaps in previous planning and support sustainable growth on different scales and over different timelines. With more growth projected east of Waller Creek, the framework plan makes detailed recommendations for expanding circulation networks and adding crossings. This helps integrate development proposed in the campus master plan, including a new multimodal transportation corridor.

Project Team

Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Inc.; LimnoTech; Applied Ecological Services, Inc.; Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center