“There aren’t many
spaces in Houston
where you say, somebody should
shoot a movie here;
this is one of them.”
This quote, by Houston writer David Theis, was painted in hot pink bold letters on the side of a wooden block constructed next to Allen’s Landing, a prominent port on the Buffalo Bayou recognized as Houston’s birthplace. Although the blocks are no longer installed at the iconic concrete waterfront, you can still feel the warm winds and hear the calm, moving waters thump against the harbor that made Houston the metropolitan city it is today.
The blocks were designed as part of “Encounter: Meeting Points on Buffalo Bayou,” an interactive site-specific installation that was on view in the spring of 2018. Buffalo Bayou Partnership (BBP) and students from the University of Houston’s graphic design and creative writing programs partnered to highlight the Buffalo Bayou’s community and history through “Encounter.” The project featured six installations throughout the east sector, including the Old Gravel Silos, North York Boat Launch, BBP Field Office, Japhet Creek, Yolanda Black Navarro Buffalo Bend Nature Park and, of course, Allen’s Landing.
“A lot of thought went into the Allen Landing’s installation design,” says graphic design alumna Nadia Tran, who was a part of the team assigned to the site. “We wanted an installation that explored connectivity, inclusivity and authenticity, so we designed blocks to represent how Allen’s Landing acted as Houston’s building block. We included prompts on top of each cube, so the community could write down how the installation made them feel or what they wanted in future bayou projects.”
Though the project was created and installed last year, “Encounter” was recognized with a 2019 Global Design Award by the Society for Experiential Graphic Design (SEGD) for addressing community needs and emphasizing engagement, interactivity, landscape and innovation. SEGD is a non-profit professional association of designers, fabricators, architects, strategists and educators focused on building experiences that connect people to places — elements demonstrated throughout “Encounter.”
Earlier this summer, Tran and her former classmate Alwyn Brownewell, who worked on the Old Gravel Silos site installation, headed to the 2019 SEGD Conference Experience Austin to accept the award. Representing the UH graphic design program, they presented “Encounter” at the 2019 SEGD Academic Summit Austin to a crowd of conference attendees, which included educators, professors and prominent graphic designers from across the country.
Tran and Brownewell discussed how the large-scale, collaborative project took over a semester and a half to conceptualize, design and develop. Starting in the fall of 2017, graphic design students began visiting installation sites, later working with local fabricators to render, cut vinyl and weld. Graphic design students also interacted with the sites’ communities, which proved to be an invaluable opportunity. During that time, their creative writing counterparts drafted original works based on personal experiences and local history, which were incorporated into the final installations.
“It’s not often do you actually make your projects come true,” Tran says. “With ‘Encounter,’ we got to see our project through from beginning to end. We’re honored to leave our marks on and learn more about Houston.”