Shine Bright

Take Your Holiday Spirit Underground With Cistern Illuminated

The cistern is bringing even more holiday cheer to Downtown.

By Shelby Stewart

The Buffalo Bayou Partnership presents Cistern Illuminated. 

The Cistern in Downtown Houston was built in 1926 and used as the city's drinking reservoir. After it was decommissioned in 2007, the underground water supply took on new life as an unlikely attraction in Downtown Houston. Acquired by the Buffalo Bayou Partnership, the organization repurposed the relic into an underground public space for multidisciplinary art installations. 

For the first time, Buffalo Bayou Partnership enlisted artist and engineer Kelly O'Brien, Fenris’s founder, to reimagine the Cistern into an enchanting underground wonder dubbed Cistern Illuminated for the holidays. The experience begins with holiday lights displayed in the Water Works Entry Court, before reaching the main attraction, just below ground. 

Karen Farber, the Buffalo Bayou Partnership Vice President of External Affairs, says the breathtaking installation creates a unique visual that everyone will enjoy. On a typical day in the Cistern, the 221 massive pillars reflect off the water, creating an infinite illusion. However, with the help of O'Brien's ingenuity, the holiday installation creates an even more unique perspective in the underground space, illuminated with lights.

"The lights and the reflection they create in the space are awe-inspiring and serve to amplify the unique qualities of this amazing public space. We are so grateful to Kelly O'Brien for his vision," Farber told Houstonia. 

Cistern Illuminated at the Buffalo Bayou Partnership Cistern. 

The structure is decorated with rolling lights that mirror a "flickering flame," creating a cozy winter wonderland below ground. According to a release, the colored lights change between warm white and muted oranges, reds, and yellows, to mimic the way embers flare. Farber says Cistern Illuminated is a "heightened way to experience the already extraordinary cistern."

The cavernous space makes for stellar acoustics, and the holiday cheer is elevated into a multi-sensory event with live performances from The Schola Cantorum of the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart. The group will sing selections from Hildegard van Bingen, Guillaume Dufay, Elizabeth Poston, Arvo Pärt, Ola Gjeilo, and Crista Miller.  

Cistern Illuminated is on view now until January 6. For tickets, visit Buffalo Bayou Partnership.

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