2016 Design Conference: Architects Invade Amarillo


Welcome to Amarillo – photo by Alan R Photography

Last month, architects from around the state made their way to the Texas Panhandle for the Texas Society of Architect’s Fifth Annual Design Conference. This event is an opportunity for practitioners to meet for a weekend of lectures and tours that focus on a specific aspect of design. This year’s conference, held on February 12–14, explored the relationship between designing and building. It was held in Amarillo and in nearby Palo Duro Canyon State Park, whose iconic Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) projects provided a historical precedent for the discussion.

Amarillo National Bank

The conference opened with a downtown walking tour. – photo by Alan R Photography

The conference began with a walking tour of downtown Amarillo and ended at the Amarillo National Bank Building, where the group met for the event’s first lecture. The speakers were Cade Hayes and Jesús Robles, Jr., founding members of DUST, a Tucson-based design/build firm. They shared two of their projects that displayed the level of craft that can be achieved when the same hands that produce a design also execute it. The discussion continued into the evening at a reception and dinner sponsored by AIA Amarillo.


Palo Duro Canyon – photo by Alan R Photography

Early Saturday morning, buses left the conference hotel for the drive south to Palo Duro Canyon. Lit by early morning sunlight, the descent into the canyon floor was breathtaking (and given the size of the buses relative to the road, somewhat harrowing). The Saturday lectures were held in the Mack Dick Group Pavilion, whose large window openings provided panoramic views to the surrounding canyon walls.

Dan Rockhill gave the first lecture of the day. The Kansas-based architect spoke extensively of Studio 804, a nonprofit extension of the University of Kansas that allows graduate students to both design and build community-centered projects. This is a similar model to Auburn University's Rural Studio, whose current director, Andrew Freear, presented next. Freear described the direction the program has taken in the 16 years since he took the reins after the death of its founder, Samuel Mockbee, in 2001.


2016 Design Conference Attendees – photo by Aaron Seward

State Park Interpreter Jeff Davis provided a history of the CCC in Palo Duro Canyon before the group headed back out of the canyon for a final architectural treat: the Sterling Kinney House by Frank Lloyd Wright. This is one of only three houses in Texas designed by the architect. Completed a year after his death, the 2,000-sf Usonian home has been recently restored and provided a fitting end to the day’s activities.


All four speakers participated in a panel discussion led by Andrew Vernooy. – photo by Alan R Photography

On Sunday morning, the group met at the Globe-News Center for the Performing Arts for a panel discussion featuring the four keynoters and moderated by Texas Tech University College of Architecture Dean Andrew Vernooy. The conversation provided an academic frame to the work of DUST, Rockhill, and Freear, addressing topics that ranged from the role of architecture as a tool of social engagement to the value of experience-based learning in academia.

Although few attendees were themselves associated with design/build practices, the weekend nevertheless provided an opportunity to pause and reflect on their approach to design. It also provided everyone with an opportunity to see good buildings in the company of good friends.

Global-News Center

The Globe-News Center for the Performing Arts – photo by Alan R Photography

For more photos of the Fifth Annual Design Conference, see the Facebook album by member Alan Roberts, AIA, and look for Editor Aaron Seward's perspective on the event in the May/June 2016 issue of Texas Architect.