The Center for Land Use Interpretation Newsletter

CLUI Opens Houston Field Office


The CLUI Houston Field Office arriving at the Logistics Site

CLUI photo
The CLUI Houston Field Office arriving at the Logistics Site. CLUI photo

THE CLUI HOUSTON FIELD OFFICE was opened in January 2008, to support an expanding roster of programs in the region. Located at a former junk yard on the industrial fringe of the east side of the city, the site also has frontage on the Buffalo Bayou, the main shipping channel and drainage artery for the City of Houston. “This is a most appropriate and advantageous location for the series of present and upcoming CLUI programs in the area,” said program manager Matthew Coolidge. “We are grateful to all the individuals and institutions that made this possible.”

The Field Office was established with the support of the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts at the University of Houston, and the Buffalo Bayou Partnership, an organization that is helping to bring people back to the city’s urban waterfront.

CLUI photo

CLUI photo
The Logistics Site is a former junk yard on the Buffalo Bayou, the city’s industrial waterway and drainage channel, across from Proler Southwest, a major regional metal scrapyard. CLUI photo

The initial purpose of this facility, a logistics site for the Los Angeles-based CLUI, is to serve the educational community of the University of Houston over the spring semester of 2008, specifically the departments of Art, Creative Writing, and Architecture, to assist with the development of creative interpretive projects in the region. A series of field trips conducted by members of the CLUI with students from the University are based on three themes related to the physical and economic landscape of the city.

One theme is water, specifically: drainage. The city of Houston was founded at the confluence of the White Oak and Buffalo Bayou, at a spot known as Allen's Landing, named for the Allen brothers who landed there and platted out the early city in 1836. The Buffalo Bayou, which drains into San Jacinto Bay, and the ocean beyond, was later dredged and widened to accommodate shipping into the city's core, and became the central artery for its developing economy, supported by rail and highways. The downstream portions of the Bayou evolved into the Ship Channel, the industrial port of Houston, one of the busiest ports in the nation, and the heart of the nation's petrochemical industry. The waterway is the industrial city's front door.

CLUI photo

CLUI photo
Field trips along the Bayou in the CLUI research vessel include stops at the main sewer outfall for the City, where visitors confront the notion that the treated water entering the Bayou might make this the cleanest part of the waterway. CLUI photo

Conversely, the Bayou is an essential egress. The city, built in flat and swampy grounds in a region prone to heavy rains, is dependent on the historic “bayou” network to get stormwater out of the city as quickly as possible. The Bayous (White Oak, Brays, Sims and the upper Buffalo) have been channelized to accommodate this task. Portions of Buffalo Bayou have been spared from this invasive engineering, and, especially on the portion between the ship channel and downtown, remain a chaotic and beguiling incidental landscape, cutting through the core of the nation's fourth largest city.

Another theme being explored in collaboration with students from the University of Houston, is that of bulk materials. The Bayou is a corridor for aggregate, which is transported by barge supporting construction projects around the city. This materialsand, gravel, crushed rock, concreteform the literal building blocks of the city. Where it comes from, and how it is used, is being studied by the students, led by Erik Knutzen of the Center (who was project manager for Ground Up at the Center in 2003, an exhibit and tour program that examined the aggregate industry in Los Angeles).

The third theme being addressed with the students, by Steve Rowell of the CLUI (who is a native Houstonian), is the oil industry, which of course, is the raison d'etre for the modern city of Houston.

The field office also serves as a regional base for the CLUI, supporting the development of other public programming in the Houston area. These include future tours, exhibits, and events, based out of the field office location, and at other venues in the city. These programs will also relate to the Buffalo Bayou and the industrial waterways of the city, and to the oil industry that is concentrated in the Houston region. A CLUI exhibit about oil will be displayed at the Blaffer Gallery at the University of Houston in January, 2009.

The CLUI Houston Field Office and Gulf States Logistics Site follows the model established by the CLUI in a number of other locations, including the Mojave Desert Research Station and Information Center near Barstow, California; the Great Basin Landscape Information Center and Residence Program in Wendover, Utah; and the Northeast Regional Office and Information Center in Troy, New York.