The newest exhibit at the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History was originally designed with an international audience of architecture experts in mind. 

Visitors to last year’s Venice Biennale of Architecture were the first to see a display spotlighting the issues facing the Trinity River watershed, the state’s third-largest river and the largest basin to be located entirely within Texas. 

Collaborative work from UT-Arlington students and faculty spanned across North Texas, from the $1 billion Panther Island project in north Fort Worth to development around Fair Park in Dallas. 

“DFW is one of the fastest-growing regions in the country, and we really do want to show what’s happening and how some people aren’t even thinking about the future of the river and urban environments,” said Dennis Chiessa, a UT-Arlington architecture professor whose work is featured in the exhibit. 

Where to see “Watershed Urbanism”

The exhibit will be at the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History through August. Tickets are available for in-person purchase only. More information can be found here.

Starting on Sept. 26, the display will move to Lewisville Grand Theater, 100 N. Charles St., through Oct. 26.

Visitors to the State of Fair of Texas can also see the exhibit between Sept. 30 and Oct. 23 at the Texas Discovery Gardens in Dallas.

Now, “Watershed Urbanism and the DFW Metroplex” has made its way back home. After a short stop at UT-Arlington in March, the exhibit opened in late April on the second floor of the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History, where it will stay until the end of August. 

From there, Chiessa and a crew of UT-Arlington students will move the box-shaped display to the Lewisville Grand Theater and the Texas Discovery Gardens during the State Fair of Texas in September and October.

Bringing the conversation about the impact of river development on the environment to people who live near the watershed was a crucial element of the exhibit, Chiessa said.

“We really wanted to make sure that it’s accessible to people here locally so they can see what ideas are out there,” Chiessa said. “People are aware of some of the major projects, especially those that have become more political. But understanding the river, and visions for what it could be, is important.” 

“Watershed Urbanism” began with Adrian Parr, then-dean of UT-Arlington’s architecture college and the water chair for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). She was offered the opportunity to curate an exhibition in relation to her UNESCO research on water, and decided to focus on development around the Trinity River basin. 

“The idea was really sparked from the fact that you could swim in the river in Fort Worth, but by the time you got to Dallas, if you were kayaking and fell in the water, the recommendation was to seek some medical advice,” Parr, now the dean of the University of Oregon’s design college, said. “I thought: What’s happened from one point to the next in such a short span of time?” 

The answer was the growing number of developments along the banks of the Trinity and the tributaries that flow into it. More buildings and roads means more concrete surfaces, leading to more toxins from freeways and industry heading toward the river, Parr said. 

With North Texas adding vast numbers of industrial facilities, cars and people each year, Parr knew studying the Trinity could lead to endless research opportunities. 

“We’ve got a tremendous opportunity as far as not having to navigate the complex political realities of other watersheds that move across a variety of states or even countries,” Parr said. “If we were to think about all those variables and pose it as a design challenge, how might we begin developing in ways that are much more sensitive to the watershed systems on which many of these human settlements are located?” 

Parr created a film showcasing the underwater sounds of North Texas to go alongside standing posters highlighting work from professors and students working together in UT-Arlington design studio classes. Design firms also contributed research, and government agencies like the Tarrant Regional Water District and the city of Lewisville signed on as partners. 

Topics range from existing projects along the Trinity, like Arlington’s River Legacy and Viridian developments, to proposals for more public space in Fort Worth’s Northside community, near where the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plans to build the Panther Island flood control channel. 

Chiessa has long focused his research on urban development in the Northside, where he grew up. Most recently, his studio class researched the forgotten history of labor in the Stockyards and how it relates to Fort Worth’s “Cowtown” identity. 

“As we do architectural projects, we can also expose students to some of the social issues and some of the things that are already happening,” Chiessa said. “These are issues of how we are reshaping the river and the land, and for whom? These are important questions that many people have not been included in the conversation about.”

Drawing attention to innovative ideas in North Texas on the international stage was meaningful to Parr, but her main goal is for the exhibit to spark conversation among residents about how the region should protect its water resources. 

Texans need to be more cognizant of the ways humans are depleting water supply and contaminating it in ways that aren’t sustainable, she said. 

“If we were to design with the watershed in mind, we could come up with urban developments that are much more pleasant for us all,” Parr said. “Imagine these waterways as clean and inviting and being defining features throughout our neighborhoods. I think that’s a wonderful possibility.” 

Haley Samsel is the environmental reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Her position is supported by a grant from the Marilyn Brachman Hoffman Foundation. Contact her by email or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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Haley Samsel

Haley Samsel is the environmental reporter for the Fort Worth Report. She previously covered the environment for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. She grew up in Plano and graduated from American University,...