Participants in the 23rd Annual Building Communities Conference of the Lower Rio Grande Valley Chapter of the American Institute of Architects began the two-day conference at South Padre Island with a daylong preconference tour on September 24 that focused on the domestic architecture of the border city of Brownsville. Guided by the City of Brownsville’s Heritage Officer Roman McAllen, Assoc. AIA, and Downtown Manager and Brownsville Film Commissioner Peter L. Goodman, the 40-plus tour participants cut a cross section through the architectural history of this border city of 180,000 people.
The tour began at Market Square in the heart of downtown Brownsville. Carved out of a standard city block, Market Square is home to the Brownsville City Market House of 1852 (plus many additions and some subtractions), the oldest city hall building in Texas. Participants got to see the preservation work performed on the ground-floor market stalls by Brownsville building conservator Lawrence V. Lof and then walked a block and a half to the Immaculate Conception Cathedral of 1859 to inspect the first phase of restoration by Volz O’Connell Hutson Architects of Austin, completed in 2014. The tour also stopped at the Market Square branch of buildingcommunityWORKSHOP, the Dallas-based nonprofit community design center, where [bc]’s Jesse Miller, Assoc. AIA, talked about the firm’s Brownsville projects, including the Belden Trail rail-to-trail conversion.
Roman McAllen led the group to what may be the oldest house in Brownsville, a three-room wood cottage built by the English immigrant William Neale, possibly as early as the mid-1830s. Now owned by the City of Brownsville, which is obligated to move it off the site it has occupied for the last 65 years, the tiny, side-gabled house appears to be a Mississippi Valley Spanish cottage, its three side-by-side rooms and front veranda tying it architecturally to such houses as Hope Farm in Natchez, Miss. From the Neale cottage, the group moved by bus through downtown Brownsville to the West End neighborhood to visit the Kowalski-Dennett House of 1893, the work of Brownsville’s foremost late-19th-century architect-builder, Samuel W. Brooks. Set in a walled garden, the Mansard-roofed house is fascinating because Brooks organized its thin wings in a T-shaped plan, shaded by galleries, to take advantage of the prevailing southeast breeze. Participants ventured a few blocks farther to the Casa de la Higuera, facing Washington Park. This is a pair of houses—one a 1920s bungalow, the other of indeterminate age—which Roman McAllen recycled for an extended family. Functioning as both designer and builder, McAllen took advantage of Brownsville’s status as the “ship breaking” capital of the United States to retrieve and reuse salvaged rails, metal cabinets, a workbench, lamps, and aluminum and teak components in the smaller of the two houses, ingeniously economizing on both expenditure and space. The larger of the two houses contains an impressive collection of art by contemporary border artists.
A drive through Brownsville’s late-19th and early-20th-century neighborhoods brought the tour to Palm Boulevard, the divided, palm-tree-lined thoroughfare that leads to Los Ebanos Estates, Brownsville’s
first garden subdivision, developed in 1927. Palm Boulevard and Los Ebanos mobilized infrastructure and landscape to reinterpret the flat, hot, humid borderland as an exotic tropical paradise. Tour participants visited a Monterey style house in Los Ebanos set on an intensively landscaped site backing onto Town Resaca, an oxbow lagoon that meanders through the center of the city. The house was designed in 1937 by Brownsville architect A. H. Woolridge. There, and at the next stop, a spectacular mid-century Modern house faced with limestone and mahogany designed by Page, Southerland & Page and completed in 1951 on a small estate in the 1950s neighborhood of Río Viejo, tour participants witnessed the ways the natural landscape of the Lower Río Grande Valley was re-orchestrated in the 20th century to produce seductive, Eden-like settings of water, sky, and vegetation, even in the center of Brownsville.
The last two stops were located on Resaca de la Palma, which winds through the north and east sides of Brownsville. One was a country house built in 1941 as a winter home by S. Miller Williams, Jr., a co-founder of what is now the Williams Co. of Tulsa. Located on a 12-acre estate, the house was designed by Brownsville architects Frank E. Torres and A. H. Woolridge as a regionalized, streamlined version of a Mexican hacienda. The one- and two-story house is faced with white-painted adobe brick. It consists of two parallel bars — one the family wing, the other a guest wing — that frame a central patio (now containing a swimming pool). Steel casement windows, a screen of glass block, floors of pale blue tile or polished terrazzo, and thin roof plates with tailed rafter ends indicate the house’s 1940s vintage. Just across the resaca, participants visited a house nearing completion designed by Origo Works of Brownsville. Founding principal Javier Huerta, AIA, talked about his efforts to shape living spaces in Brownsville that work with site, climate, and view to accommodate modern family life. Rather than a hermetically sealed, climate-engineered box, Huerta’s Hackberry House rides above the sloping ground on a platform, which permits breezes and water run-off to pass beneath the house. The carport can be used as overflow space for outdoor entertaining. Deep eaves reach out to shade south-facing openings. And the two-story-tall living and dining room can become a completely open-air space by raising garage doors that will enclose its big-scaled openings.
One tour participant joked that the 2015 BCC tour began with the oldest house in Brownsville and concluded with the newest. The tour demonstrated not only the richness and diversity of Brownsville architecture but also the ways in which generations of architects have planned and built to spatially frame what seems most distinctive and rewarding about living on the lower Río Grande border.
Stephen Fox is a fellow of the Anchorage Foundation of Texas.
This article is online content for the January/February 2016 issue of Texas Architect.
On the subterranean beer garden’s creek-side deck, a picnic table is packed with a young professional bunch in rapt conversation, men with their backs to the water oblivious to the glowing presence creeping up the wall behind them. From Waller Creek below, looking up at them and the rest of the Austin skyline, the beast is visible in full: a ghostly creature emerging from the murky depths, its long legs, made of flexible LED Neon lights, frozen in mid-leap, looking as desperate as any other Austin-dweller for a good seat at a bar patio downtown.
This is “Waller Phantasm,” University of Texas School of Architecture Professor Clay Odom’s contribution to the lambent menagerie of the 2015 Creek Show, the second annual walking tour of temporary installations along Austin’s mostly forgotten downtown stretch of Waller Creek. Even the existence of this stretch of the creek has remained a mystery to people who’ve lived in Austin for years. In a city so in love with itself, Waller Creek might be its least appreciated attraction.
But not for long. The creek is undergoing a massive transformation — a $150 million flood control project that will contain the Waller in a downpour and keep its flow consistent in a drought, accompanied by a chain of new downtown parks overseen by New York-based Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates. Peter Mullan, former vice president of New York City’s Friends of the High Line, is leading the Waller Creek Conservancy, a 5-year-old nonprofit booster club for the creek that is working to attract investment and build excitement for the creek’s new life as a signature Austin attraction.
Job number one is a bit of social engineering, encouraging Austinites to start connecting with the creek and building memories before the parks are complete. Over nine nights in November, that’s what Creek Show did for thousands of people, illuminating the normally desolate, foreboding creek-walk confines as a place of discovery and wonder.
“The creek is beautiful in its way,” says Creek Show director Ingrid Spencer, “but it’s also abandoned and kind of dirty and dangerous. But what’s to come is going to be fabulous.”
Five installations from Austin-based architects and artists made it happen. Upstream from Odom’s “Phantasm,” lurking beneath an Eighth Street bridge, a spidery tangle of ropes illuminates the creek in shifting colors. This is “The Natural Unnatural” designed by Clark Richardson Architects, a suggestion of the meandering unseen pathways that will form the new and improved Waller. Seen from street level, with the owlish Frost Bank building towering above, the piece forms the underside of a monstrous urban jungle.
Architecture firm Specht Harpman’s “Volume” is a reminder that the creek itself has a wild side of its own: a long, luminous curtain of pumped-up creek water adds a soothing presence to the scene, until, at random intervals, it overflows into an unruly waterfall beside the walkways.
These paths were packed on the show’s opening night with a diverse cross-section of the city, most of them wearing thin glow-stick necklaces. Smartly dressed couples trade notes as though making the rounds of an east side gallery, while unsuspecting Sixth Street bar-goers, drawn like June bugs to the light, fawn over someone’s miniature goat whose name is Princess Buttercup, and dads with strollers struggle to negotiate the very non-ADA-compliant platforms spanning the creek between Sixth and Seventh Streets.
Those immovable platforms help underscore the joke in Ten Eyck Landscape Architects’ “Floating the Waller,” a matrix of inner tubes — chosen specifically for their photoreactivity — glowed a striking green in ultraviolet light. At first glance, their stretch of Waller Creek looked like the most orderly float ‘n’ bloat in Central Texas. But the Waller is, for now, untamed, and a downpour halfway through the show flooded the creek and loosed a section of the tubes from their tethers. Designer Christine Skaglund says their team improvised a fix for the show’s final days, stringing a series of the tubes together into one giant ring.
The spirit of Creek Show — sparking visitors’ imaginations about this long-forgotten space — may shine most brightly in artist Luke Savisky’s “AT/x,” a projection of swirling shapes on the underside of a bridge with interactive experience built in: a camera pointed back at the walkway collecting images of visitors’ faces to shine onto to bridge. Savisky says that as he watched visitors interact with his piece — he sat with his equipment through each night of the show — he saw those connections being made, between friends sitting together at his camera, the underside of the bridge above them, and their reflections in the creek below, quite literally seeing themselves in the creek for the first time ever, a vision of creekside times to come.
“Hopefully,” he says, “that creates a space for them to kind of lose their ground a bit and allow their minds to go into a different space. Even though they’re looking at themselves, they’re seeing something else.”
This article is online content for the November/December 2015 issue of Texas Architect.
By Rita Catinella Orrell
These curtain wall and glazing solutions help architects keep building views at a premium without sacrificing thermal efficiency, structural integrity, and sun control.
CRL-U.S. Aluminum’s new Unit-Glazed Systems for installing commercial storefronts and window walls allow glaziers to fabricate in their own shop environments, reducing field labor by as much as 50 percent while accelerating the installation process. The manufacturer’s Unit Split mullions and Gravity Loaded sill flashing enable installers to easily snap each Unit-Glazed section together in the field. All Unit-Glazed Systems have been fully tested and approved for structural integrity and air and water infiltration. Shown here is the Encore Condominiums project in Nashville by the Atlanta-based firm Smallwood, Reynolds, Stewart, Stewart & Associates.
GLASSvent UT Windows
Featuring a visually concealed vent designed for seamless integration with the framing system, GLASSvent UT windows create a complete, advanced thermal solution for commercial construction. The windows are ideal for architects looking to provide fresh-air ventilation without decreasing the overall thermal rating of the facade. Engineered for integration with Kawneer’s 1600UT System 1 curtain wall, GLASSvent can also be inserted into the manufacturer’s captured curtain wall and front set storefront framing systems.
The Reliance-HTC thermal curtain wall system from Oldcastle BuildingEnvelope features outside glazing with captured and Structural Silicone Glazed (SSG) vertical mullions, offering superior thermal separation through the use of insulating strips on all vertical and horizontal members. Reliance-HTC can meet ASHRAE climate zones 1–8 and is offered in 7-1/4″ and 10″ depths for 1-3/4″ glazing. The system is also available in 7-1/2″ and 10-1/4″ depths for 2″ glazing and accepts Oldcastle BuildingEnvelope’s high performance AD-375 Thermal Door system as well as operable vents.
Solarban z75 Solar Control Glass
Solarban z75 is a solar control, low-e glass from PPG with a neutral, cool-gray tint that offers architects a good combination of visible light transmittance (VLT), solar-control, and glare-control characteristics. In a standard 1″ insulating glass unit, Solarban z75 glass has a VLT of 48 percent and a solar heat gain coefficient (SHGC) of 0.24, resulting in an exceptional light-to-solar gain (LSG) ration of 2.00, making it ideal for warmer climate zones with high air-conditioning demands and cooling-dominated costs. The glass has interior reflectance of just 9 percent, which helps provide building occupants with clear, natural outdoor views.
400 Series System
Utah State University’s recently completed 32,744-sf Wayne Estes Training Center, which houses the campus’ basketball practice facility and 1,400-seat volleyball court, was designed by VCBO Architecture and built by Oakland Construction. Glazing contractor Steel Encounters installed the Center’s signature exterior curtain wall using Tubelite’s 400 Series system. Ducworks added a stainless steel, laser-cut, bull-shaped “Aggie” logo to accent the building using Tubelite’s standard sunshade clips.
Located at the corner of Congress Avenue and Main Street in Houston’s Sterne Building, the Honeymoon Café and Bar is a daytime addition to the rapidly developing nightlife scene in the area. Formerly an oversized TexMex restaurant, the space was in desperate need of simplification — something that would “engender the casual spirit of a French-inspired café,” notes CONTENT Architecture founder Jesse Hager, AIA.
With a modest budget, the design team focused on bringing a light and airy feeling to the cafe. An arched back bar and a large interior window, which allows views into the roasting room, define the space. Windows wrap the perimeter along the corner, providing glimpses of the hustle and bustle of the street. And marble tabletops fit for a Parisian sidewalk offer spots where patrons can enjoy the energy of a revitalizing district throughout the day and well into the night as coffee mugs are replaced with highballs.
This article is online content for the September/October 2015 issue of Texas Architect.
Thanks to the collaborative effort of numerous professional organizations, including the Texas Society of Architects (TxA), the annual license renewal fees will decrease by $200 starting September 1. Let me repeat, beginning with those with birthdays in September, the cost to renew your license will be $200 less this year — and next year — and the year after, etc.
Working with physicians, realtors, lawyers, and every other professional group whose members had been required to pay $200 per year directly to the state’s General Revenue Fund ($150) and Education Fund ($50). We eliminated this direct professional tax, which when combined with the 25% flat reduction in the franchise tax rate, provides a genuine financial relief to architecture firms and individual architects.
We know you’ve been hearing this good news from other sources, but we just wanted to claim our share of the credit for helping save our members money! TxA leadership, staff, and lobbyists worked hard on this issue and are proud of this truly significant success!
If users have documents to add, please contact Program Director Sharna Haine by email or phone: 512-615-7730.
For those of you working on putting together a strategic plan, below are some examples we’ve pulled together for you — one of which is actually the old version of AIA National’s. Although out of date, it will show you how a plan can be a one-page, graphic document (right up the architect’s alley!). There is also a second strategic plan that is a VERY short, simple piece. The Texas Society of Architects Strategic Plan is also provided as a reference.
The questions to answer in a strategic plan are:
It is NOT an easy process to get on paper, but it can really help to focus the work of the chapter and help make best use of resources. Feel free to call if you have any questions about preparing a strategic plan.
The following policy documents are examples only and must be modified for use by your chapter.
For Rand Elliott, FAIA, the creative process transcends conventional divisions between artistic disciplines. For Elliott, language and architecture — the output of his professional practice — are intimately connected.
“The words arrive before the architecture,” writes Rand Elliott, FAIA, in his 2014 book, “Word Paintings.”
“Words, sentence fragments, dissimilar pairings of adjectives, and the imagining of a place yet to be created… The words liquefy and reform as an architectural spirit in time.”
Elliott’s process for transforming a 1940s-era Gulf service station into the Marfa Contemporary Gallery illustrates that process. He began with a question intended to frame his thinking; the creativity flowed from there.
Those words captured the inspirations for the light-filled gallery space that simultaneously honors and draws attention to the modern art housed inside, the sparse landscape surrounding the structure, and the building’s past history.
In discussing his word paintings, Elliott draws a clear boundary between his work and conventional poetry. “Word paintings are not poems,” he says. “They are words combined to describe my own personal search and understanding of the creative process.” In fact, Elliott’s “paintings” are, as befits the architect’s core discipline, as much about form as they are about words. Font, white space, punctuation, and alignment are all critical to the integrity of the final work.
The piece below, “Between Green and Violet,” is a meditation on the color blue and illustrates that approach at its most complete. Although not tied to Elliott’s work at the gallery, the subject of the word painting resonates strongly with the brilliantly blue-lit gallery space, and offers some insight into Elliott’s deep appreciation for color as an animating force.
This post is online content for the May/June 2015 issue of Texas Architect.
Craig McMahon Architects‘ renovation and new addition to a San Antonio home responds to the South Texas climate and employs a simple materials palette to achieve continuity.
Project Castano House, San Antonio
Architect Craig McMahon Architects
Photographers Dror Baldinger and Mark Menjivar
Craig McMahon Architects’ Castano House is a subtle statement in site efficiency and maximizing an enjoyable aspect of the South Texas climate: its Gulf Coast breeze. The San Antonio-based architect approached the renovation and new addition to the home with a pared-down philosophy regarding space and materials.
The original stucco finish was stripped from the existing house, exposing the concrete structure, and a new rear concrete addition was constructed. Site orientation and passive cooling strategies maximize energy efficiency. A unique, double tilt-wall concrete panel system in the main building was furred out to increase insulation possibilities. The addition is oriented toward the south/southeast, and the numerous operable windows all allow prevailing breezes to pass through the house. Large overhangs protect interior spaces, ensuring zero heat gain from the harsh sun, even on the generous expanses of glazing — including the west-facing clerestory windows.
The sparse material palette — cool concrete tones balanced by warm hues of the salvaged Douglas fir of the built-in cabinetry and furniture — is continuous from the original home into the addition. This simplicity is carried out onto the site, where gravel and concrete stepping stones are interspersed with small areas of landscaped strips. Bamboo trees that reach over 20 ft were carefully saved during construction and now act as strategic privacy screens shielding the home from the view of the neighbors. The upper-roof deck, which is made of recycled plastic decking, offers a unique space for stargazing or dinner parties.
This article is online content for the March/April 2015 issue of Texas Architect.
Every other year, architects from across Texas convene at the State Capitol to advocate for the profession. On February 10, our Third Biannual Advocates for Architecture Day began at the Blanton Museum of Art for training and concluded at the Capitol with architects visiting state House and Senate offices.
Over 130 architecture professionals, associates, and students visited legislators at the State Capitol to explain issues important to the profession. Attendees gave legislators materials explaining what architects do and the impact and elements of design beyond the building and its plans. Each office received a limited-edition print of the Capitol Dome Lantern and Goddess of Liberty by Brian Griggs, AIA, of Amarillo.
Overall, Advocates for Architecture Day 2015 participants made personal connections with all 178 Texas House and Senate offices. With 29 new House and 8 new Senate members, this opportunity to connect with the 2015 class was an invaluable experience in building relationships and highlighting the importance of design.
Look out for a reflection on Advocates for Architecture Day 2015 later this month!
Thank you to the following ADVOCATES for making the event such a success:
Elkin Aguilar, AIA
Justin Allen, AIA
Peri Arthur, Assoc. AIA
Zaida Basora, FAIA
Paul Bielamowicz, AIA
Jan Blackmon, FAIA
James Booher, AIA
Bob Borson, AIA
Jim Brady, AIA
Derwin Broughton, AIA
David Bucek, FAIA
Robert Bullis, AIA
David Calkins, FAIA
Joe Cannon, AIA
Jacqueline Carlson, AIA
Shannon Carpenter Bearden, AIA
Eduardo Castaneda, Assoc. AIA
Fred D. Cawyer, AIA
Meredith Contello, AIA
Ada Corral, AIA
Carlos Cruz, AIA
Peter Darby, AIA
Brice Davis, AIA
Chad Davis, AIA
Hector De Santiago, AIA
Tony DiNicola, AIA
Debra Dockery, AIA
Jacqui Dodson, AIA
Jake Donaldson, AIA
Igor Draskovic, Assoc. AIA
Kathleen English, AIA
James Evans, AIA
Daphne Floran-Melendez, AIA
Richard Flores, AIA
Kye Franke, AIA
Sam Garcia, AIA
Sean Garman, AIA
Adam Gates, Assoc AIA
Ryan Gathmann, AIA
David German, AIA
Randy Gideon, FAIA
Brian Griggs, AIA
James Haliburton, AIA
Robert Hanley, AIA
Richard Harris, AIA
Vincent Hauser, AIA
Andrew Hawkins, AIA
Wendy Heger, AIA
Darren Heine, AIA
Henry Hermis, AIA
Manuel Hinojosa, FAIA
Keith Holley, AIA
Charles John, AIA
Mary Le Johnson, AIA
Walter Kilroy, AIA
Jane Kittner, AIA
Roy Locke, AIA
Andy MacPhillimy, AIA
Alyse Makarewicz, AIA
Michael Malone, AIA
Nicole Marrone, AIA
Ann McGlone, AIA
Mike McGlone, AIA
Richard Miller, FAIA
Christopher Minnich, AIA
Angela Mitchell, AIA
John Mize, AIA
John Moman, AIA
Jeromy Murphy, AIA
Chris Noack, AIA
Michael Novendstern, AIA
John Nyfeler, FAIA
Vanessa Ortega, Assoc. AIA
Justin Oscilowski, AIA
Jaime Palomo, AIA
Steve Patmon, AIA
Fred Patterson, AIA
Connor Peirce, Assoc. AIA
David Potter, AIA
Elizabeth Price, AIA
Jason Puchot, AIA
Philip Ramirez, AIA
Eric Rauser, AIA
Lauren Raven, AIA
Adam Reed, AIA
Craig Reynolds, FAIA
Connie G. Rivera, AIA
Shawnda Rixey, Assoc. AIA
David Robinson, AIA
David Rodriguez, Assoc. AIA
Cesar Roque, Assoc. AIA
Chris Royster, AIA
James Sandoz, AIA
Mark Schantz, AIA
Sheldon Schroeder, AIA
Perry Seeberger, AIA
Donald Sopranzi, AIA
Philip Southwick, AIA
Torrey Stanley Carleton
Tommy Stewart, AIA
Jim Susman, AIA
AJ Sustaita, AIA
Nydia Tapia Gonzales
Kirk Teske, AIA
Herman Thun, AIA
Betty Trent, AIA
David Trevino, AIA
Kevin Wallace, AIA
Derek Webb, AIA
Jay West, AIA
Jim Williams, AIA
Bill Wilson, FAIA
Joshua Wilson, AIA
J Mark Wolf, AIA
Al York, AIA
More than 10 years in the making, Lisa Scafuro’s documentary “The Vision of Paolo Soleri: Prophet in the Desert” can be classified as nothing less than a labor of love. And Scafuro, who served as the project’s producer, writer, director, and editor, is at last reaping the benefits of her labor as the film continues to be screened across the country.
The story captures the life and work of the late Italian architect Paolo Soleri (1919–2013). Born in Turin, Soleri move to the United States and was an apprentice under Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin West. Soleri established himself as an iconic figure of counterculture living through his Arcosanti settlement in the high desert of Arizona and his philosophy of “arcology” — the symbiosis of architecture and ecology.
“I first met Paolo in the summer of 1996,” said Scafuro. “I was immediately intrigued by his work and quickly wanted to know more.” She discovered a wealth of information and documentation about Soleri’s life form the 1940s to the 1980s. “I realized that Paolo’s work had long been voiced to the public by his wife, Carolyn “Colly” Soleri, but when she passed in 1982, the information-sharing ceased.”
So Scafuro set out to revive the documentation of the man behind the vision. But with Soleri’s busy schedule, filming did not take place until 2002 and took over a decade to complete. After years of dedication, Scafuro’s dream was realized when she was able to screen a rough cut of the film to Soleri on his 93rd birthday. “Paolo was such a humble man, but you could tell that he was pleased with how the documentary turned out,” said Scafuro.
Architect, urban planner, and environmentalist Soleri’s principles touched and made an impace on the lives of many. Scafuro captures his story through a series of interviews with “wish list” individuals — ranging from architect Steven Holl to 60 Minutes journalist Morley Safer — whose stories weave the tale of Soleri’s life and career.
“The Vision of Paolo Soleri: Prophet in the Desert” allows the legacy of Soleri to live on. Scafuro says it best: “Paolo was so much more than an architect. He remains a relevant contemporary of the built environment that we should all take a chance to learn from.”
Charlotte Friedley is the communications specialist for the Texas Society of Architects.
This article is online content for the September/October 2014 issue of Texas Architect.