Cistern

Location

The Water Works (105-B Sabine Street)

Get Directions

Hours

Wednesday – Sunday

10am – 6pm

Reservations are required

Cistern Tours

The Buffalo Bayou Park Cistern is a former drinking water reservoir built in 1926 for the City of Houston. BBP restored and repurposed the 87,500-square-foot Cistern into a magnificent public space for tours, performances, and art installations.

History & Facts

The Buffalo Bayou Park Cistern was one of the city’s early underground reservoirs, storing drinking water and providing support for the municipal water system. After operating for decades, an irreparable leak was found, and the reservoir was decommissioned in 2007.

In 2010, Buffalo Bayou Partnership rediscovered the largely forgotten site while developing Buffalo Bayou Park. Recognizing its historical and architectural significance, BBP retained the Houston-based architecture and engineering firm Page to restore and repurpose the Cistern into the magnificent public space it is today. Additions include a ground-level passageway to allow for easy entrance into the Cistern and updated the shelf on the perimeter of the space to create a six-foot-wide, ADA-compliant walkway with guardrails.

The Cistern opened to the public in May 2016.

Fun Facts About the Cistern

  • It is 87,500 square feet or the size of 1.5 football fields.
  • 221– 25-foot tall, slender concrete columns span the space.
  • It held 15 million gallons of water when functioning at capacity.
  • The thick concrete roof and tapered concrete walls range from 8 inches at the top to 18 inches at the bottom.
  • There is a 17-second echo.
  • SWA Landscape Architect Kevin Shanley first called the reservoir “the Cistern” because it reminded him of the ancient Roman cisterns under Istanbul.
Tours

For detailed schedule information and pricing, click here.

Cistern Experiential Tour

Great for first-time and returning visitors alike, this partially guided tour includes a short introduction followed by the opportunity to explore the Cistern at your own pace.

Cistern history tours

Learn about the history and architecture of this unique underground space on this fully guided tour.

Private Cistern tours

Opportunity for a unique group outing! Book a private Cistern tour for up to 30 people. Schedule based on availability. Private tours are not available on the first Thursday of each month.

Sound Healing Meditation

Practice meditation in the Cistern, led by Union is Creation. Singing bowls and wind chimes encourage mindfulness and connectivity in this unique acoustic space. Guests may bring their own cushions or mats.

Cistern Illuminated

A special winter installation that provides a unique perspective on this cavernous underground space, amplifying its 221 columns and seemingly-infinite reflection. Cistern Illuminated is designed by Houston artist and engineer Kelly O’Brien of Fenris.

On view: November 25, 2023 – January 7, 2024

Rules & Restrictions

The Buffalo Bayou Park Cistern is a unique and historic public space. Please adhere to all posted rules for the safety and enjoyment of all visitors. Violators of Buffalo Bayou Park and Cistern rules may be asked to leave.

  • No children under the age of 9.
  • Photography is allowed; however, no tripods or stands (except on Photography Tours).
  • Animals are not permitted.
  • No eating, drinking, or gum-chewing in the Cistern.
  • No smoking allowed.
  • Strollers, roller skates, inline skates, and bicycles are not permitted.
  • Littering is prohibited. Please use trash receptacles upon entry.
  • All bags must be secured while in the Cistern.
  • No sitting, standing, or climbing on the railing, stairways, or ladders.
  • No running or excessive noise.
  • All visitors must comply with instructions or requests from the Buffalo Bayou Park Cistern Attendants and staff and be respectful of others.
  • Destroying public property is prohibited by Title 19, Chapter 191 of the Government Code of Texas.
Permits

Any professional photography or filming inside the Buffalo Bayou Park Cistern requires a permit to be filled out and approved by our Visitor Services team. To apply for a photography or film permit, please fill out the form here and email it to permits@buffalobayou.org

General Information
  • All payments are final and not refundable.
  • Please allow approximately 30 minutes for parking/check-in.
  • No children under the age of 9.
  • The Buffalo Bayou Park Cistern is a dim space with no windows. The environment may be challenging for some. If you experience any difficulties, please proceed directly to the nearest exit.
  • Full participation in the tour requires walking a distance of one-quarter mile in 25 minutes. Please notify the Cistern Attendant upon arrival if you prefer a stationary or seated tour.

Discounts

  • $2 discount for military, youth (ages 9-17), college students, and seniors (65+). Must present I.D. upon checking in.
  • Members of Buffalo Bayou Partnership receive discount codes on select tours. Become a Member here.
Parking

The Water Works Parking Lot (105-B Sabine Street): A limited amount of spaces are available in the lot and along Sabine Street (watch for signage).

City of Houston Lot H: Over 400 spaces available for public parking. Pricing may vary by day of the week.

Parking on Allen Parkway: Parking is available 9am – 7pm Monday – Sunday. There are 140 parking spots between Sabine and Taft streets with pricing at $1 for 3 hours, a 3-hour maximum (including Saturday and Sunday).

Art in the cistern

Fulfilling the organization’s goal of presenting bold, immersive art installations and experiences in this unique space, Buffalo Bayou Partnership launched its Cistern art program in 2016.

Local and national advisors assist Buffalo Bayou Partnership in developing programming for the Buffalo Bayou Park Cistern. Ideas and suggestions for artistic programming in the Cistern may be emailed to publicart@buffalobayou.org. Suggestions are reviewed quarterly; therefore, response times range from 30-90 days.