Architects Talking to Architects: Roman McAllen, Assoc. AIA

Roman McAllen, Assoc. AIA, is a planner for the City of Brownsville and coordinator of its Historic District Facade Improvement Grant Program. He is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin School of Architecture and has a strong interest in historic preservation.

Roman McAllen, Assoc. AIA – photo by Alejandro Bastida, courtesy Roman McAllen 

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Windsor Village, a well laid out, modest, working class, suburban neighborhood in Houston built in the late 1950s and 60s. All of the streets are named after cities and towns in England such as Sheringham, Oakham and Bridlington. For a time, in about the 8th grade, I was a paper boy and delivered the Houston Chronicle from the high perch of my father’s 5-speed Schwinn Suburban. I was unaware of it then, but I was beginning to build my mental library of the typology, quality and siting of typical post-war American track housing.

Later, I would have the good fortune of knowing people in and working around the wealthiest old neighborhoods of Houston, like River Oaks. The dichotomy of those living conditions, as well as later coming to know the barrios and everything in between, set up for me a unique perspective on living environments, needs, and the sublime.

If you were not in the architectural field, what other profession would you have pursued?

If not another design profession, I would have pursued becoming a surgeon of some type. I really enjoy working with my hands, remaining calm in a storm, and doing things exactly right.

At a meeting for the Downtown Brownsville Build a Better Block Project. – courtesy Roman McAllen

Pen, pencil or computer?

I came to study architecture nearing my own middle age, after some amazing experiences, including law school, insurance adjusting through some large storms, and delivery driving for UPS. I had always designed and built interiors, furniture, and other things in full scale. I was very intimidated when I visited architecture schools and saw the models. I thought, "I cannot do that, and why do it?"  After studying architecture at The University of Texas at Austin, I realize now how naive I was and now have the greatest respect and appreciation for modeling. I draw now with any instrument that I can find and use computers as well.

Where do you find inspiration?

For design, inspiration is anywhere and everywhere — a constant flood inundates my mind in what feels like every waking moment, for both for good and bad ideas. For inspiration about how to be a good Citizen Architect, I mostly turn to books. I read memoirs of designers, politicians, and economists and books about great accomplishments. The book "Endurance" about Sir Ernest H. Shackleton, comes to mind.

A quick project for Build a Better Block — this old console television was trashed in an alley near my house. It was reincarnated. – courtesy Roman McAllen

Winner of the 2012 Lower Rio Grande Valley AIA chair redesign competition; locally palm fronds are abundant and they were coupled with plumbing hose from the hardware store for a simple, sustainable makeover. – courtesy Roman McAllen


What sort of personal activities do you enjoy when your aren't at work?

I am rarely not working, but the line between work and fun is blurry. I fish in the Laguna Madre down here in South Texas on occasion.

Mark McAllen, my big brother, on a dock at the Laguna Madre on South Padre Island where we had just reeled in the legal limit of Reds.courtesy Roman McAllen


What is the next building you plan to travel to in order to see for yourself?

The Marika-Alderton House, in Australia, by Glenn Murcutt. I am fond of the environmental sensitivity of his work. In photos, his buildings are poetic. Whether in the design of a building or the solution to a problem, simple elegant solutions require knowledge, willpower, and experience.  Murcutt’s work, to me, seems to be in that space.

"Architects Talking to Architects" is a column on the Texas Society of Architects blog that spotlights members from across the state at different points of development in their career. All participants are given the same set of 10 questions with instructions to answer any six, giving them the opportunity to highlight the items they feel are most interesting. If you would like to join in this conversation and be featured in "Architects Talking to Architects," email