Austin - Blog

Archives For Austin

At the entrance of Crestwood Hills, a neighborhood in Brentwood in Los Angeles, the sign reads, “Crestwood Hills: an architecturally controlled community.” It all began in 1946 when four musicians returned from war hoping to build homes for themselves around a swimming pool. They placed an ad in the local newspaper to see if anyone else would like to join them, and, astoundingly, 500 families responded. After pooling together their resources, they ended up purchasing 800 acres of a hillside with views of downtown Los Angeles. This group called themselves the Mutual Housing Association, and they saved money by buying materials in bulk and designing similar midcentury modern homes. For the designs they hired A. Quincy Jones, Whitney Smith, and the structural engineer, Edgardo Contini. They believed in progressive ideals, such as the need to create multi-ethnic communities.

Jones and Smith designed twenty-nine plans for the houses, with the majority being slight contrasts on several different plans. This is where the application of the ethos of midcentury modern flourishes: open plans with wide stretches of glass creating the feeling of free space, while also allowing the ability to see to the end of the property; materials were exposed concrete block, redwood siding, and Douglas Fir ceiling planks. Houses, in accordance to the rules of the Mutual Housing Association, respected the orientation of the homes around them, being put at a 45-degree angle to the street, and all were to be a maximum of one story from the street level, so the neighborhood could maintain the appropriate scale to ensure every home had a view of the mountains.

Though many people call them utopian, these were all simple, common sense ideas—the notion that middle-class families could enjoy a remarkable quality of life in a major city through the implementation of simple design principles. TVOA is proud to have represented one of A. Quincy Jones and the Mutual Housing Association’s homes: 12449 Deerbrook Lane, and now, 12436 Deerbrook Lane.

By: David Plick

Snarkitecture is a design and architecture firm based out of Greenpoint, Brooklyn. But to think of them within this construct would be superficial and probably a little insulting. They are the embodiment of the effects of intersectionality—the notion that all ideas, art, and human behavior are interconnected. They focus on experiential design, on user experience, while implementing architectural practices into everyday objects—mirrors, shelves, and tables. They also do installations, for museums, local arts events, and window displays at Calvin Klein.

A lot of their work looks like fragmented glaciers. They are also clearly obsessed with the color white.

It was started by these guys, who studied architecture at Cooper Union and Columbia. Follow them on Instagram here (they have over 200,000 followers).

By: David Plick

SO Architecture in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Photo by Filippo Poli

At the pinkcomma art gallery in Boston is the exhibition Brutal Destruction, a collection of photos of brutalist architecture in the process of being demolished. The exhibit, which is an examination of how people lack the patience to allow a new art form to develop, and instead, destroy the art, reminded me of people’s eerie response to brutalism. This architectural form has an uncanny ability to elicit feelings, to make people uncomfortable, afraid—feelings that are probably more applicable to going to a museum or an opera house. And it also made me wonder if there were brutalist homes. And if there are, who would live in them?


Leakey, Texas


The Barbican Estate in London, by Chamberlin, Powell & Bon


“Solis” by Renato D’Ettorre, in Queensland, Australia

By: David Plick

Today, if you drive around the Bouldin neighborhood in South Austin, practically every street has a house that could be on the cover of Dwell magazine, but in 2002, when MJ Neal was finishing up his award-winning Ramp House on W. Live Oak, it was a completely different atmosphere.

“There were people starting to jog again and feeling safe to walk in the neighborhood,” Neal told me. “We were trying to provide opportunities for people to reconnect to the community at large, not just isolate themselves in their separate houses. Although the neighborhood still had its rough areas, this atmosphere was much different than when I moved to Bouldin in the very early 90’s and my truck was getting tagged with gang graffiti.”

Clearly, this was a vibrant, transitioning South Austin neighborhood that had a much different relationship to downtown and the rest of the city than it does now. “This part of Austin was the suburbs when it was originally platted in the late 1800’s, but I could see that it was changing rapidly. Now, it’s only a twenty-minute walk to downtown. Subsequently, one of the main design ideas was to create a suburban-urban hybrid dwelling, showing people how they might utilize the lots differently than their original intention, one that was more in tune with the proximity of the CBD and how the neighborhood might evolve into the future.”

Today, MJ Neal’s Ramp House continues to be one of Austin’s most significant architectural structures. In many respects, Neal’s work set the tone, and the standard, of the neighborhood’s new lifestyle. “We didn’t want to put these gargantuan projects in the neighborhood that would overwhelm the area,” he said. “But they were the most contemporary in Bouldin at the time.” While the Ramp House stood out as unique in 2002, and received criticism because of it, many other innovative houses found their home right along side it. Neal’s new contemporary homes had rooftops with views of downtown, and were designed to interact with the community. They had a symbiotic relationship with the landscape, the street, and the city.

Not only did MJ Neal live in the Ramp House after it was built, but it also produced one of his favorite compliments his architecture ever received:

“This house makes me feel like a kid again.”

MJ Neal spoke to me about Bouldin, Austin development and the disastrous trend of “remuddling” homes, engaging the senses, and how he’s inspired by the sun and the clouds.

TVOA: How did you first across the Ramp House site and project?

MJ Neal: We had a design/build development company. We were one of about three groups that started developing in Bouldin at that time. I had lived in that neighborhood since 1990 and saw how the neighborhood was starting to change, and there were many infill lots that were in the area. That particular lot for the Ramp House actually had had a house on it before. There were a few remnants of foundation left, some structure that had been on that site.

TVOA: How did the site itself influence the design?

MJ Neal: It was a really constricted site: 45 to 48 feet wide and 130-135 feet long. Also, the two adjacent houses being so close led to us inverting the living spaces, with the bedrooms on the first floor and the kitchen and living room on the second floor. Having those spaces on the second floor allowed us to open up and get some nice views of the landscape and feel expansive, while allowing the bedrooms to stay on the first floor where they can be private.

There is a layering that takes place from the street to the garden to the house and on through the interior. There was a direct relationship with the house and the garden; the front garden being the mediation between the public street and the private house.

We found value in utilizing the existing landscape elements like one amazing very large and old bush at the front side. We went to great pains to weave the trellis through this bush, a species that you can’t find anymore in Austin; I thought it was important to keep it.

TVOA: Is the bush still there?

MJ Neal: I’m not sure if the previous owners kept it. They reworked the landscape and did a butcher job on that and the house itself. That bush, along with an existing tree acted as a canopy as you entered (Later, MJ Neal discovers that the tree is now cut down and the bush trimmed back).

The whole idea behind the house was that it was supposed to engage the senses in different ways. It was a very specific set up so that when you walked up the sidewalk you stepped on the crushed gravel. You felt the crushed gravel under your feet, and also heard the sound of it, you started to hear a bit of the water, and as you moved into the house, you entered your own world. I lived in that house for a while and every morning my wife and I would get our coffee, walk down the ramp, open the front door, come out and sit on the front bench. We could say hi to people on the street and look at the fish in the pond and enjoy the front garden. The garden was a seasonal thing. We had poppies in one season, color coordinated with the house. In another season there would be melons. We had tiny, delicate red roses, sage, lavender, and there was one strip of grass that was cantilevered at one end, a political statement about the environment. There was a symbiosis that was happening between the landscape and the house. It, the garden, created a threshold from public to semi public to private space. It was all orchestrated and thought about.

TVOA: What was the idea behind the ramp?

MJ Neal: The ramp is the vertical circulation element. I was playing with the fourth dimension in conceptualizing the house. It’s about playing with time and engaging the fast-paced nature of how we all live today. I wanted people to come into the house, sit on the bench, take their shoes off, put house shoes on; it becomes a meditative thing, a ritual as you come into the house. As you move up the ramp, that really slows you down. It’s not like traversing a stair as you move from one level to another very quickly; the nature of the ramp itself, the size of it, forces you to slow down. We are so overwhelmed with data, speed, and immediate gratification today that we need to be slowed down so we can recognize ourselves.

TVOA: You mentioned before that the previous owners did a butcher job to the property. To what extent are owners of architecturally designed property responsible for upholding the project’s vision?

MJ Neal: There’s a lot of gray area in that. The work that comes out of my studio has a tremendous amount of care. I understand people need to alter something for whatever reason, or they want it a certain way—the way they live that might be different than the original intention, but they need to be respectful to the project itself, and if you are going to do something with the project, make it better than it was before. If one has respect for it, and tries to understand the project and its intent, then you can probably do something to it that makes it better. But often times that’s not the case. The previous owners of the Ramp House changed the landscape and destroyed the symbiotic relationship. I’m sick just thinking about the fact that they ripped out the 20-foot-long exterior Ipe bench. It’s fine to change things, but it is not fine to disrespect the design of the house, the intent from the beginning. I understand that work will always become altered, but it should always be the goal to make it better.

I’ve seen the same type of scenario around Austin for many years with all these remodels. There were some extraordinary houses in Austin and then all of a sudden people started buying and altering them; for example, ripping out amazing, thick set tile bathrooms from the 40s with incredible craftsmanship, beautifully done and worked just fine, and replacing them with tile from Home Depot thinking they’re making it better. They have no idea that they’re “remuddling” the house, and not paying any respect to it, the land around it, or the community. They just want to flip these things to make a buck.

TVOA: You mentioned engaging the senses in the work that you do. What are some inspirations for this and how might it work?

MJ Neal: The sun, the sky, clouds, cast shadows, how all of this interacts together and how it changes minute by minute, the birds and their song, the smell of flowers, plants, and herbs, the list goes on.

Many times I’ll set a scenario up where elements within a design will work together as an assemblage, say a window, a screen, and a particular surface, like a floor or wall (the wall and floor having specific material qualities, texture, color, etc., and if you want to get really into it so does the screen (is it wood slats, is it perforated metal…) and the window (the glass could be a tint, or color…) anyway, the idea being, an effect will happen as the sun moves around and engages the assemblage differently according to time, weather conditions (sunny, cloudy, rainy, etc), and position of the observer, but, the exact effect cannot be predicted, and that is the important aspect of it, knowing something will happen but being surprised by it never being the same. This brings an immediacy to the space, or in other words, as one of my clients put it, “Every day the house unveils new gifts.”

Specifically, in the Ramp house, one of the scenarios would be the vegetation on the east side with the lattice (and original planting of passion vine), and the colored acrylic panels set into the shelves (the shelves being painted in a specific way to emphasis a planer condition, note that the shelves have now been painted differently so this dimension is destroyed), regardless, there is still a strong effect as the sun rises and moves through the house casting shadows and colors on the adjacent surfaces, ramp, floor, walls.

Another example I mentioned while we where talking earlier, the compressed gravel approach to the entry, the gravel has been removed I believe; one steps off the hard concrete surface of the sidewalk onto the gravel and hears the crunch, fells the small granules of gravel under their feet, passes below the large bush, I was telling you about, and wild Irises, also removed, actually all the landscape and hardscape has been altered from the original and so the intent has been altered, but I digress. You can see how a scenario, many scenarios are set up for the opportunity for something to happen, for ones senses to be engaged.

There is also the play of memory that enters into it as well, but I won’t go into that.

By: David Plick

“Hip hop architecture is a critique of modernism. It’s a critique of the style of architecture that birthed the culture.” – Michael Ford

On Lexington Avenue and 53nd Street in Manhattan another Sir Norman Foster residential glass tower will finish soon. It will once again not be inhabited by New Yorkers, and will have nothing to do with the street life of New York City. Similarly to Rafael Viñoly’s skyscraper condos and penthouses that are bought by Saudi Arabian princes, tech billionaires, and supermodel Cindy Crawford, all of whom will seldom occupy the space, but simply buy these multi million dollar apartments as ornaments in their collection, this residential tower is designed to create more social injustice, and to separate us from them.

The fact is, in most great cities, the “high architecture” is rarely for the people who are from there and actually call it home for their entire lives. It’s for the outsiders. The ones who love the idea of this great city, but do not understand it. And they never will. Instead, architecture should be for the people, not for the wealthiest few who only want to say they live in a Gehry, a Viñoly, a Foster. That is the bastardization of design. It is design at its worst, at its most egocentric, at its most unjust.

Michael Ford, founder of the Urban Arts Collective and the Hip Hop Architecture Camp, says we need to Design Justice, which to me means we need architecture for the people. Previously, as Ford also stated, urban architecture, particularly in the designs of Robert Moses, only served to exploit people of color and of low socioeconomic status. Moses, by stealing Le Corbusier’s ideas and making “the worst remix in history,” did everything he could to make life difficult for the people of the Bronx. Michael Ford says it’s time to take back control of their lifestyle, and the only way to do that is to design their city themselves. That’s why he’s devoted his life to inspiring young designers and architects of color to build the world they inhabit.

Architecture for the people doesn’t only mean hip hop architecture, but in many cities, especially in the United States, having hip hop architecture would be a great start. For example, the Universal Hip Hop Museum which will open in the South Bronx in 2022, will be a breeding ground for Design Justice.

Hip hop architecture is a movement. And it starts by having more people of color designing our cities and landscapes. Today only 3% of Architects in the US are African American, and that number must change.

By: David Plick

Source: Godsfriendchuck

Austin legend and billionaire Michael Dell stuck to his roots and commissioned Miró Rivera, the Austin-based firm led by UT-Austin School of Architecture professor Juan Miró, to design his $100.47 million penthouse apartment at 57th street in New York City. The 10,923-square-foot penthouse comprises the 89th and 90th floors of One57, towering over Central Park at 157 West 57th Street, which is the most expensive property in NYC history. The contract for the home was first signed in 2012, before the tower was even completed.

The return of Juan Miró to Manhattan for a Dell project is a little ironic, because it was Michael Dell’s Dell House which stole Miró from NYC in the first place. At the time Miró was working for the New York based firm Gwathmey Siegel and Associates Architects when he was sent to Austin to work on the tech billionaire’s home.

Miró Rivera’s place in the New York City real estate elite is a reminder that Austin’s designers can compete against anyone on the world stage.

By: David Plick

Banksy in Coney Island, Brooklyn (Source: Scott Lynch)

In 2016, a house in Bristol, England was sold for an additional $219,000 than anticipated. And there was one simple reason: it had been tagged by Banksy (who is from Bristol, so his art is all over the city). This example is extreme, obviously, given that Banksy is an international celebrity (houses with his art typically double in price), but overall does data indicate that street art increases property values?

The answer is yes.

In the study, “Quantifying the link between art and property prices in urban neighbourhoods” by researchers at the University of Warwick, it was found that neighborhoods in London that contained the presence of “art photographs” on social media sites also produce higher gains in property prices. These results aren’t surprising as graffiti has become mainstream in the past decade and as cities become more inhabited by young creatives (read: millennials). Today in Bushwick, Brooklyn, for example, a place well-known for its street art, tour companies are popping up to show tourists around the street-art littered neighborhood.

Yet the war between building developers and street artists continues. In New York, when the building in Long Island City, Queens displaying the legendary graffiti Mecca, 5 Pointz, was sold and eventually demolished—thus destroying the many pieces of art on the side of the building—it ended up in litigation. The owner of the property, Jerry Wolkoff, was recently found guilty of violating the artists’ rights, and may have to pay them damages.

In Austin, the Historic Landmark Commission recently unanimously voted to allow the destruction of the HOPE Outdoor Gallery, to allow room for development in the real estate hotspot, Clarksville.

Something that the recent study at the University of Warwick does not measure for, because researchers only looked at property values in one city, London, is that it seems like a major factor in the evaluation of graffiti’s ability to add value to properties is the market in which it resides, most importantly, the sociocultural atmosphere of the city. In looking at several lists for the “best cities for street art,” all of them are major international hubs: Hong Kong, Melbourne, Lisbon, Paris, London, Buenos Aires, Rabat, etc, large market places where terms like “gritty” are attractive to young creatives, and where talented artists naturally flock. Will this vibe spread though, to smaller market, suburbanized cities like Charlotte, Orlando, and Phoenix? Or will their biases remain that graffiti is simply “ugly vandalism”?

By: David Plick

Source: Mamu-Mani

Burning Man, the annual festival which started as an art experiment with a group of friends in San Francisco thirty years ago, and has now grown into 50,000+ participants, is founded on The Ten Principles: radical inclusion, self-reliance, self-expression, community cooperation, civic responsibility, gifting, decommodification, participation, immediacy, and leaving no trace. This temporary city is constructed in the Black Rock Desert, approximately 100 miles from Reno, Nevada, and is devoted to the celebration of art and cooperation. Participants are encouraged to actively share their creative gifts with others, and to hold nothing back.

And a major part of that artistic celebration is architecture. In addition to smaller structures that inhabit the city, every year a temple is constructed on the site. But there’s one caveat about the built structures at Burning Man: they can “leave no trace,” which means they are burned at the end of the festival. It’s a “collective release,” where all participants unite for the sacrifice of the temple—a cathartic act of letting go. Architect Bjarke Ingels and designer Yves Béhar have voiced their affection for Burning Man, and many visual artists, such as David Best and Arne Quinze, have launched major careers there.

This year the sacrifice will be courtesy of Arthur Mamou-Mani, the designer of Galaxia (pictured above), and the director of Mamou-Mani, a parametric design firm based out of London.

Burning Man architecture is clearly striking, but is the culture surrounding Burning Man—the drugs and the disingenuity of it all—a deterrent for serious architecture lovers? While most of us have scoffed at least once at the culture of Burning Man, is there anything to be learned about the ephemeral nature of cities, how they constantly change and transform, only to be reconstructed again with a different population? Perhaps, like at Burning Man, all urban design is temporary, due to the constant evolution?

Yes, Burning Man has seemed to devolve, especially when they went from being a nonprofit organization to a for-profit company (Black Rock City, LLC) in 2014, but what can we learn about the movement of people, our purpose as city-dwellers, as citizens, as people who have the privilege to share our gifts with others (something you can do with or without Burning Man). Or maybe it’s just a crazy party with some noteworthy, unique design, and we should not read into it all that much?

To find out, or just to see that temple get burned to the ground, this year’s Burning Man is from August 26th – September 3rd. Get more info here.

By: David Plick

“Instead we propose a different framing: that of ‘Deaf gain’. What is it that we gain by the experience of becoming Deaf?” –Derrick Behm, Office of Campus Design & Planning, Gallaudet University

Perhaps the greatest difference between architecture and mass-produced design is its devotion to user experience. Instead of plopping down the same exact building in any space, architecture analyzes the topography of the land, the built and natural environment around it, and the use of the space, by whom and for what purpose. There is perhaps no greater example of this than DeafSpace, Gallaudet University’s pioneering approach to designing for their student population.

“Gallaudet University, federally chartered in 1864, is a bilingual, diverse, multicultural institution of higher education that ensures the intellectual and professional advancement of deaf and hard of hearing individuals through American Sign Language and English.” It is located in Washington, DC, and has an enrollment of almost 2,000 students. Their motto, because they are the only collegiate institution in the world strictly for deaf or people hard of hearing, is “There is no other place like this in the world.”

DeafSpace is an approach to design that incorporates Deaf people’s perceptions of space and how they live in it. After performing qualitative studies, interviewing many students on their habits and preferences, principles were laid out which guided the design of new buildings and renovations. Here are a few of the design principles:

Group Space

Classrooms and annexes are designed with open space between students. In the classroom the tables and chairs are made into a U-shape, so students can visually connect with each other.

Wider Walkways and Ramps

When people of hearing walk side by side, they can be very close together, or not even look at each other, but this is not so for deaf or hard of hearing people. In DeafSpace, walking paths and stairs are widened to give people the needed space to visually communicate.

Also, if there is an option, ramps are preferred to stairs to also allow for smoother movement, so more focus can be placed on visual connection.

Color and Light

To contrast skin tone, blues and greens are used to reduce eye strain. There are more mirrors to allow people to know what’s happening behind them.

DeafSpace is not only an example of how thoughtful design can truly improve the lives of people, but also of the inherent goodness that exists in people. It shows that humans are social, supportive, and thoughtful creatures.

By: David Plick

Photo via BIG’s Website

The internationally recognized Bjarke Ingels Group, also known as BIG, who famously designed the Danish National Maritime Museum and VIA 57 West in New York, and who has been featured in past articles at the blog of the Value of Architecture, has released designs for a 1.3 million square foot multi-venue sports complex in East Austin. The site would be at the current location of Rodeo Austin, but this complex would be so much more than a rodeo stadium. It would revolutionize sports viewing, and the East Austin architecture landscape, as we know it.

The complex features a checkerboard, photovoltaic roof which would render the site, and neighborhood, completely energy sufficient. The complex would include a 40,000-seat stadium for soccer and rugby matches, and concerts; a 15,000-seat rodeo stadium, and 190,000 square feet of space designed for art festivals and conferences. Due to Austin’s warm weather and even warmer personality, there is an abundance of outdoor patio space for people to socialize.

Here is what Bjarke Ingels, founding partner of BIG, says about the site:

“Like a collective campus rather than a monolithic stadium the East Austin District unifies all the elements of Rodeo and Soccer into a village of courtyards and canopies. Embracing Austin’s local character and culture, the East Austin District is a single destination composed of many smaller structures under one roof. Part architecture, part urbanism, part landscape – the East Austin District is the architectural manifestation of collective intimacy – a complex capable of making tens of thousands of fans come together and enjoy the best Austin has to offer inside and between its buildings.”

By: David Plick

Seagram Building (1958) by Mies van der Rohe & Philip Johnson

Thousands of people everyday walk past a marvel of architecture, one of the most influential buildings in existence, and they don’t even know it. That structure is the Seagram Building located on 375 Park Avenue between 52nd and 53rd street in Manhattan. It is designed by two of the most famous modernists, Mies van der Rohe and Philip Johnson.

I was curious how little people knew about the Seagram Building, so I asked some questions. One day while in front I asked someone standing there in a business suit if they knew of any famous architectural works in the area.

“That church over there is super famous,” he said, referring to St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

“Any famous office buildings?” I asked.

“I don’t know. Maybe that one?” He pointed to a fairly new, Art Deco building across the street.

“How about this one?” I asked him, pointing to the Seagram Building.

“That thing?” he said. “Why would anybody care about that?”

Unless you knew about the history of the architecture, the Seagram Building would feel irrelevant. It’s a black metal and glass box like the rest of the office buildings in Manhattan. What separates it, though, is that it was one of the first black metal and glass box buildings in existence. It set the standard for what is called the International Style.

What is International Style architecture?

It’s no surprise that this would be confusing because, like the style itself, the title is non-descript. International style is basically the design of most modern office buildings you’re accustomed to looking at in America. It’s a glass and steel rectangle (like the Seagram Building). It is made with reinforced concrete. The reason why this was revolutionary at the time was because it marked a dedication to efficiency. Imagine, it’s right after WWI, and architects, urban planners, and builders were trying to work with “less” materials (i.e., cheap) to make “more” (i.e., more space). It was all about getting the most out of the interior space, which was a radical diversion from neoclassical and Beaux-Arts, which sought physical beauty through decoration. International Style, on the other hand, was formal, practical, and eventually, corporate. These architects rejected design elements that weren’t related to the functionality of the building.

PSFS Building (1932) in Philadelphia by William Lescaze & George Howe

If I were to make an analogy, I’d compare it to pop music. When you listen to Sam Cooke or Otis Redding, or Buddy Holly, it’s so soulful, thoughtful and real, even though it’s simple and straight-forward. In its simplicity it’s an honest art form. But, this simple, honest pop music later influenced “artists” such as The Backstreet Boys and Justin Bieber, which was formulaic corporate drivel designed to make money. No soul, no heart, all marketing. That’s what happened with International Style. At first it was very human because it was meant to be used by people, rather than pad the ego of the architect. But then, like any other art form, it was copied and mass-produced, and that was when the formal “corporate” building took over American design.

By: David Plick

Crinkly Red & Yellow, 1968

American sculptor Alexander Calder came from a long line of successful visual artists. His grandfather made the famous statue of William Penn in Philadelphia; his father’s work has been in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and his mother was a famous portrait artist. In his childhood the Calder family moved from Pennsylvania to Arizona, California, West Chester then to New Jersey. At university Calder began studying mechanical engineering because his parents didn’t want him to endure the life of an artist. But, after an inspirational journey on a passenger ship from Guatemala to San Francisco, and then traveling up the coast to Washington State, he got some paint brushes and canvasses and the rest was history. He soon thereafter joined an artist’s league in New York, and moved to Paris where he was heavily influenced by the work of Joan Miró and Marcel Duchamp, the latter of which became a close friend.

Alexander Calder saw the abstract geometry in cubists and sought to achieve the same effect in sculpture. While many viewers saw each piece as a standalone work of art, the movement of the universe influenced all of the mobiles. Famously, this focus on movement in his kinetic sculptures fixed with mechanical parts culminated in his Cirque Calder, a highly detailed sculpture of a circus with wire models that contort to create the act of circus performers, including a sword swallower. Calder also made stabiles, standstill “traditional” sculptures, and toys, all of which were on display this year at the exhibition, Hypermobility at the Whitney Museum.

Calder’s effect on contemporary architecture is more relevant today than ever. His unique and innovative approach to design, his incorporation of movement and bright colors, led to many architects relying on his sculptures for their renderings. This fact was even mocked recently in ArchDaily’s article, “Why Are Alexander Calder Sculptures So Overused in Architecture Renders?”, with firms including OMA, Jean Nouvel, and BIG, who use, without permission sometimes, Calder’s sculptures to create an avant-garde, urban sophistication to their designs.

By: David Plick

I’m sitting right now in St. Bart’s on Park Avenue between 50th and 51st streets, a Byzantine Revival style cathedral designed by Bertram Goodhue, the architect behind Rockefeller Chapel at the University of Chicago and the Los Angeles Central Library. In an area full of excess in midtown Manhattan—excessively tall buildings, excessive overwork, excessive drinking and stimulation, St. Bart’s provides much needed respite. Inside there are tourists taking pictures of the six glorious mosaics designed by Hildreth Meiere, the wonderfully detailed stone carvings, the high, cavernous ceilings that make us feel so small. But St. Bart’s is far from a tourist trap—there are also several business people in Dolce & Gabbana suits and Cartier watches with their heads bowed and eyes closed. Like the rest of us, they’re listening to the organ music and praying, allowing the power and massiveness of this space to stimulate their meditative state.

It’s a reminder of the power of design. In St. Bart’s it’s far easier to feel humility, to feel simultaneously small yet a part of something glorious, infinite maybe, with the high ceilings, the cavernous empty space, and the incredible detail engraved into the stone. This structure is the result of thousands of people working together to build something special, so others could come here to seek peace and serenity. Those builders knew they were a part of something exceptional, and now I’m part of it too simply by being here, and sharing it with you.

A recent study by Dr. Julio Bermudez and other researchers from the Catholic University of America and Utah University examined architecture’s role in stimulating meditative states. Bermudez ultimately seeks to prove that architecture, specifically his “contemplative architecture”, has health benefits similar to meditation. In his study, results showed that spaces designed to invoke introspection activated the cortical regions in the brain, which manage emotional and motor-sensitive integration and reduced participants’ anxiety and the tendency to become distracted.

Contemplative architecture, similarly to meditation, is experiential. It’s a process that a viewer/listener goes through which is unique and consciousness-altering. It’s important to recognize that our moods—when we feel ashamed, anxious, afraid, lethargic, motivated, inspired, or peaceful—are influenced by our built environment.

And that we have a choice in what we surround ourselves with.

By: David Plick

In September 2017 there have been two category 5 (Maria, Irma) and two category 4 (Harvey, Jose) hurricanes. This is the most active month for hurricanes on record.

Whether or not you believe in climate change, or that these hurricanes are a product of climate change, a high percentage of the world does, and therefore, it’s having an impact on design. The way we plan and build our major cities, particularly in the Gulf Coasts (but not necessarily just there, since Sandy tore through New York City), must change. Storms are decimating cities and islands, displacing people, and design can help to prevent future crises, or at least the severity of the crises.

Flood Prevention

Architects and urban designers will consider with greater attention the threats of flooding. The flow of water that will occur must be planned deliberately with attention to high-risk areas. They can use the most effective range of measures available to reduce flooding, and attempt to predict and communicate flood risk, while implementing thoughtful and beautiful structures. For an example of an innovative flood prevention design that has surfaced recently, there is this one from Bjarke Ingels’ office, BIG.

Resiliency Rather than Sustainability

The Resilient Design Institute calls resilient design “the intentional design of buildings, landscapes, communities, and regions in response to vulnerabilities to disaster and disruption of normal life.” Since Hurricane Sandy, and especially this past summer, resilient design is a major part of the urban planning conversation. Resilient design is a devotion to preparing buildings for the worst possible outcome.

Incentivizing Downtown Living

A major hindrance to providing aid to people in Houston was the city’s urban sprawl. When people are so spread out, it just makes sense that emergency units would have trouble to reach everyone. Instead of this trend of having sprawling cities like Houston and Phoenix, the city must provide downtowns with a higher quality of life—parks, bike lanes, walking paths, local shopping, high quality schools, etc—to encourage city inhabitants to live in closer proximity to one another. That way when disaster strikes the aid can be more centralized in one place. To assist in this, the city should implement a centralized emergency operation center in the downtown area.

The summer of 2017 was a frightening time period, but it’s certainly not the last string of disasters we’ll see. Cities must be ready for the next category 5, so people aren’t losing their homes and their livelihoods.

By: David Plick

“Climate change did not avoid planning regulations. Climate change did not cause Houston’s population to expand by 40% since 1990. Climate change did not build a chemical factory in a flood zone after politicians lobbied for a delay in safety rules.

No matter what climate change did to the hurricane, a major disaster would have happened. Not from the rainfall or floods, but from the unnatural vulnerabilities and choices which created them. Rather than blaming a natural disaster, we can make individual and collective decisions to live in a hurricane zone without forcing a human-caused hurricane disaster.”

—Ilan Kelman

Due to the severity of Hurricane Harvey and the fact that Houston has no zoning code, this debate about urban design and the role of government in business has escalated. There are those, such as in this surprising piece in Slate, who argue that Harvey’s damage wasn’t affected by Houston’s lack of a zoning code, that this would’ve happened even if zoning laws were in place. Yet this is what Rusty Bienvenue, the Executive Director of Houston AIA, said:

“Some of the criticisms about how Houston is designed are valid, especially in regards to how the reservoirs are designed in the west part of Houston. They were designed at a time when the city didn’t reach that far; now people have built houses in the flood zone. That needs to be addressed.

Though it’s correct to say that Houston doesn’t have a zoning code, it’s not correct to say the city doesn’t have land use regulations. Strengthening those is something that will be done . . .

Katrina was 12 years ago, and I can’t even name all the ones in between. Wake up, people. It’s not a new reality, but it is the reality on the ground now. We will have storms the size of which we can’t fathom, and we need to design accordingly.”

Let’s say something really obvious: urban design and architecture saves lives. It prevents catastrophe in the face of human error and poor choices. For instance, if you sell someone a home in a city for $200,000 less than the market value, would they do their research and find out it’s in a flood zone, or would they be so excited to finally have their dream come true—being a homeowner in America—that they just jump on the opportunity? Or, is it possible that they’d know it was in a flood zone, and do it anyway? Urban design, zoning laws, the “red tape” that conservative journalists like Kim Strassel (who, after Harvey, still boasted of Houston’s approach to urban design) of the Wall Street Journal complain about, saves lives.

Ilan Kelman is a Global Health professor who argues in this Dezeen article for urban design necessities. His article starts to scratch the surface, but more research needs to be done. More compliance needs to happen. Let’s not avoid the issue to make real estate developers and local politicians wealthy.

Here’s a couple of Professor Kelman’s main points of how urban design can prevent catastrophe, but I urge you to read the article in full.

Keep Green Spaces

Having more green space in a city gives the water a place to be absorbed. Trees, grass and dirt soak up water naturally. If the city is designed for the water to reach its lowest point, it can find refuge in a reservoir. In fact, make a park at the reservoir with bike paths and walking trails.

Don’t Build in a Floodplain

Houston grew quickly, and neighborhoods were built by developers. Many of them were either directly in, or next to floodplains. Westlake Forest, Fleetwood and Briar Hills were all in or near floodplains, and the flooding they experienced vastly surpassed their expectations.

By: David Plick

With a net worth of $1.73 billion, which is over six times the wealth of Norman Foster, Miguel McKelvey might be the world’s wealthiest trained architect. He received his bachelor’s of architecture from the University of Oregon in 1999, and moved to New York in 2004 to take a job at Jordan Parnass Digital Architecture. A few years later, he founded a company called Green Desk which provided rental office space in Brooklyn. This company was the foundation for what later became his life’s work—a company called WeWork.

Wework is currently the largest coworking company in the world with a valuation of $20 billion. The company has spaces in 18 countries and most major cities in the world, including New York City, Austin, Los Angeles, Mumbai, Buenos Aires, Tel Aviv and Tokyo.

WeWork’s competitive advantage has always been their devotion to architecture and interior design. With McKelvey as the Chief Creative Officer, WeWork promotes a creative work environment through expressive, comfortable and artistic workspaces. There are open floor plans with open kitchens where workers at various companies can meet, network, and share ideas. WeWork is not only impacting the future of work, it’s impacting the way we live.

The company has led the field in designing inspiring coworking spaces but there are many other innovators, including: Sinergics in Barcelona, Guateque in Mexico City (by the architecture firm, Estudio Temporal), and Palmspace in London.

Miguel McKelvey and other coworking design pioneers can serve as an inspiration to architecture students today, showing that thoughtful design can change the world, but also provide a sizeable living for yourself. Sometimes it just takes a little forward thinking in tandem with design principles to make it happen.

By: David Plick

Robin Hood Gardens, East London

“In other places you see doors painted and pot plants outside houses, the minor arts of occupation, which keep the place alive. In Robin Hood you don’t see this because if someone were to put anything out, people will break it.”

– Peter Smithson

In 2008, starchitects Zaha Hadid and Richard Rogers rallied to save London’s public housing complex Robin Hood Gardens (by Alison & Peter Smithson, 1972) from destruction. The tenement was designed in the brutalist tradition, inspired by Le Corbusier’s “streets in the sky.” While architectural enthusiasts thought it was a historic accomplishment, residents weren’t as enthused with Corbu’s influence, because, as Smithson said, “The week it opened, people would shit in the lifts.”

The attempt to save Robin Hood Gardens from extinction was merely a delay of the inevitable. The demolition is planned for the coming weeks, and this isn’t the first time architect-designed public housing was destroyed due to public backlash. Famously, Pruitt Igoe, designed by Minoru Yamasaki of World Trade Center and IBM Building fame, was demolished in 1972. More recently, 5468796 Architecture in Vancouver had their public housing called “crime in the community.” For decades architects have been attempting to heal the wounds of poverty, but this usually results in it blowing up in their face.

Another starchitect whose largely made his name due to his devotion to affordable housing is the Chilean Pritzker prize winner Alejandro Aravena. His most famous urban housing project, Elemental, consists of two-story half-houses (the other half is empty space—which is a provocative image) that residents help build with simple materials. Like with the previous designer social housing projects though, residents are complaining. They don’t want to build their own house, and they don’t like working with the contractors, etc. Some of them even threatened to go on a hunger strike.

All of this makes me wonder if architecture can solve the housing crisis. All of these well-intentioned, intellectual architects design these structures with artfulness in mind, but what if the people who inhabit them do not have the context to “appreciate” the art, the role that it plays in the city, and the architectural context to understand that this building is brutalist, minimalist, or neo-formalist (could you imagine saying to someone in a housing project, after they shit in the elevator, that they shouldn’t do that because the building is deconstructivist?)? Does that mean, then, since the inhabitants hate it, that the architecture doesn’t work? And is there a way to reconcile the desires of the architects and the people?

Recently, this article was published on how architects planned to solve the housing crisis in London. Here are a few ideas.

Live on Water

With global climate change seeming to have an imminent impact on our lives, perhaps a better idea would be to just get used to living on water. This article has several floating homes I’d gladly live in.

Build on Top of Trains

In New York City there is a series of high-rise residential towers called Bridge Towers that are built on top of highway bridges on I-95 near the George Washington Bridge. Approximately 4,000 residents sleep as thousands of cars pass right beneath them, and they breathe in toxic fumes from the motors. It’s quite a hideous site to see, a massive building on top of a highway.

This idea, though, seems far more practical. Benjamin Marks suggests that London builds on top of their underground system which would allow for 53,000 homes.

Hostel Lifestyle

Didn’t we all love when we backpacked through Europe in our early 20’s, living out of our backpack and meeting all kinds of interesting people? Well, how about doing that for the rest of your life? For those who are excited by that idea, there is Y:Cube by Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners. These are modular unit 26m² one-bed studios for single occupancy. The units can be plugged and unplugged to conserve energy. Units can be added and taken away as needed.

In 1990 in New York City there were approximately 20,000 homeless people, and this number has risen to around 62,000 today. In San Francisco there are tent camps all throughout the city underneath bridges, in parking lots, next to railroad tracks. The tents have been sweeping across the city so badly that Oakland has sanctioned a space specifically for a homeless tent encampment.

Nobody wants tents to be the answer. But how can architecture solve the housing crisis? How can creative solutions come together in a way that will be accepted by the general public?

By: David Plick

“Your [designers] were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.” –Jeff Goldblum

Currently at the Cooper Hewitt Design Museum in Manhattan is an exhibit called Process Lab: Citizen Design. This interactive exhibit compels attendees to embark on the design process in its most primitive and critical stage through asking yourself fundamental questions all designed to get people to think: what is my purpose?

This exhibit is for the general public, yet we see everyday that it’s so easy for a professional designer, architect or artist to lose sight of that because we can get so wrapped up in the building process. Sometimes the last thing anyone wants to consider while we are creating and ideating, shaping and reshaping our product, is whether or not the design meets its primary purpose. If it didn’t, that would mean we’d have to start over again.

At Cooper Hewitt, they’re forcing us to get back to basics with these simple approaches.

Is your goal to get people healthier by riding their bike more often? Do you want people to read more? This value: family, diversity, or health, shapes the entire approach of the design process.

Take your value, then use it to formulate a design question. This question is what your design seeks to solve.

Now that your question has been formulated, what are the tools you can use to solve the problem?

Write down your process as you proceed.

Decide what to design to solve the problem: an underpass, a warehouse, a plaza, sidewalk or parking lot.

What are the questions you ask yourself as a designer? Do you ever stop to consider if the design is aligned with your values?

By: David Plick

Buckminster Fuller – Dome Over Manhattan (1961)

Sometimes ideas are just too innovative for their time period: the first electric car, for instance, came 150 years too early, and if Friendster had waited just a few more to launch, we’d all be “Friendster-ing”. It’s these initial fails that pave the way for their far more successful predecessors. Who knows, though, when these failed ideas will resurface to make an impact on our daily life? This September an exhibition is coming to Queens Museum to show us that, and make us rethink how we always viewed New York City—Never Built New York. Inspired by the A+D Architecture and Design Museum’s exhibit Never Built Los Angeles, this exhibition will chronicle the past 200 years of projected, yet ultimately abandoned projects in New York City. It is a reminder that New York always strives to reinvent itself, to search for originality.

Never Built New York is brought to you by Sam Lubell and Greg Goldin, writers for the Architectural Record, The Architect’s Newspaper, and many other journals. The exhibit is designed by Christian Wassman.

One last thing—they need your help! In order to make this alternate New York reality complete, they need to raise $35,000. Currently, as of May 25th, they have about $15,000. Please support this fantastic show by visiting their Kickstarter here.

By: David Plick

Offround Mirrors (Seeing Glass Project, 2013) by Sabine Marcelis

If there’s anything deconstructivism taught us, it’s that there’s always more to learn. This is true in all modes of creation, including contemporary furniture design. Yes—a chair must hold us up, candlesticks must hold candles, and we must sleep at night in beds, but these constraints simply mark a boundary, like the edge of a canvas or the fourteen lines in the sonnet. Everything else in the middle though is where creative minds roam.

These four contemporary furniture designers remind us of this. All of them are accomplished artists and designers—the ones that are pushing the built environment into places we’ve never seen before. Our future lives in their dreams, and after they build, it becomes our reality.

Sabine Marcelis

Candycubes, 2014

Winner of the 2012 Braun Prize, Sabine Marcelis’s integrative and functional pieces create a dialogue between the object and the user. A prolific artist with exhibitions in London, Milan, Dubai, and Paris, she creates in many modes, from furniture to glass objects, and installations. Not to mention, she has collaborated with the legendary architectural studio, OMA. Check out more of her work here, which she makes in her Rotterdam, Netherlands based studio.


Crepido Pedestal Platform

Based out of Germany, Notoria focuses on reshaping the way we view steel. Instead of limiting this dynamic material for raw, industrial aesthetics, Notoria hammers, welds, and paints steel with bright, boisterous colors, creating a symbiotic relationship between it and other materials—wood, copper, and marble. This relationship then is transferred to the user to create a pleasant yet powerful user experience.

Guilherme Wentz

Gambito, 2013

Before starting his brand WENTZ, Guilherme Wentz worked with the Brazilian luxury brand Riva, and won the Brazil Design Award, and the International iF Design Award. Out of his studio in São Paulo, he creates furniture which pushes all boundaries, ranging from pieces that feel ancient to futuristic, minimal to highly decorative. Check out his portfolio here.

Samuel Amoia

Coffee Table of Lapis Lazuli

The always innovative Samuel Amoia found his inspiration to become an interior designer after traveling the world in his youth, and seeing intimately how different ways of life impact how we construct our physical environment. His work has been featured in Architectural Digest, Vogue, New York Times, Forbes, Elle Décor, Wall Street Journal, and NY Magazine among many others. Amoia was also named “one of the Young Interior Designers to watch” from Vogue.

By: David Plick

In trendy restaurants, cafés, bars, and even barbershops in major cities all over the world the industrial chic aesthetic has become commonplace. Industrial chic has become so popular, in fact, that it’s practically expected that a new brunch spot, craft cocktail bar, or the new Peruvian-fusion gastronomic experience that just opened downtown, would also come with dangling steel lights, thick rope around metal pipes, weathered oak tables, exposed brick and heating ducts, subway tile walls, and raw concrete floors. We feel comfortable in these places, amongst all the raw, exposed materials, for some reason.

Perhaps it feels warm to us—getting closer to the natural world through raw materials. And interior designers know we long for this, so in the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s when American factories were dug out and made anew into residences, the Andy Warhol “loft” lifestyle was born, and also, consumers’ return to nature.

We seek out nature in our dining, so it makes sense now that the industrial chic aesthetic has entered home interiors. A current listing that embodies this urban design phenomenon beautifully is 2301 South 5th Street #25 in Austin, represented by TVOA.


We see it in open co-working spaces and “factory style” design, and now it’s here in modern homes with the open floor plan. The open floor plan of 2301 South 5th creates an open life. Not to mention the openness of the outdoor patio with panoramic views of the Austin skyline.


What separates this property from other modern homes is the absolute devotion to the most precise materials needed to create comfort. 2301 South 5th features polished concrete floors, structural steel on the banisters, white subway tiles in the bathroom, stainless steel appliances, the exposed metal vent in the kitchen. Industrial chic is all about making the materials—metal, wood, concrete, tile—work in a natural way, and this property infuses that philosophy beautifully.In an elegant twist of fate abandoned factories have created a design movement. From the influential Dia:Beacon, all the way here, to South 5th Street in Austin, Texas.

By: David Plick

“I do not ask the wounded person how he feels, I myself become the wounded person.”

― Walt Whitman, Song of Myself

In the shadows of one of the most underrated pieces of New York City architecture, the Lenox Health Hospital (formerly St Vincent’s) in Greenwich Village, lies a wonderful new design addition to downtown, adding elegance and a welcoming public space: the NYC AIDS Memorial. Designed by Studio a + i who won a competition launched by Architectural Record and Architizer, the memorial is located in Vincent Square, on 7th Avenue between 13th and 12th Streets and features a distinctive, geometric steel canopy which protects the stone benches underneath. In the granite underfoot, the words of Walt Whitman’s poem “Song of Myself” are engraved. The memorial is an inspiring example of how design cannot only empower people and unite communities, but also create compassion and healing.

Not even a block away from the LBGT center in the West Village, the site is in remembrance of St. Vincent’s Hospital, an important landmark for LGBT communities and the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and the 100,000 men, women and children in New York City that were lost due to the disease.

Lenox Health, formerly St. Vincent’s Hospital of Greenwich Village

By: David Plick

Even if you’re not a sports fan, chances are you’ve experienced the designs of Dan Meis, possibly the world’s most renowned stadium designer. His architectural visions have spanned the United States, in major cities including New York at Madison Square Garden, the Staples Center in Los Angeles, Safeco Field in Seattle, and in Las Vegas, Sacramento, Phoenix, and many other cities. Globally, he’s designed throughout the Middle East, Europe, and Asia, as seen in Stadio della Roma in Rome, Saitama Super Arena in Japan, and more recently in Qatar, for the upcoming World Cup games. This past year Meis also moved into designing homes and wooed actress Eve Plumb and her husband Ken Pace with his simple yet elegant model for a modern home.

With all of this work on his plate, Dan Meis needed a respite from the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles and New York. After travelling the world, it was a short conversation with Brian Linder that led him up the Santa Monica Mountains to Calabasas, where he found a dream home. This same home is now listed at The Value of Architecture, and Dan Meis spoke to us about how this house wooed him, what it was like for him to live in another architect’s vision, and what he did to keep the narrative going.

The Value of Architecture: So what made you first interested in the property?

Dan Meis: It’s a funny story. My wife and I didn’t know Calabasas at all, and I had talked to Brian about potentially moving back to LA because we had lived in the Palisades. Brian asked me if I would be interested living in what is officially Calabasas, because there was a house there that’s really special. He sent me the photos, and I was on my way to the airport, and literally missed my flight so I could come see it and decided to put an offer on it that day.

TVOA: How long did you look at the property before you put an offer on it?

Dan Meis: Maybe 15 minutes? I’ve always loved the Case Study, indoor/outdoor, mid century modern vibe. I’ve had other houses that were similar, but this one has such a beautiful post and beam design, and a lot of it is about the site itself. It opens up onto this acre of protected oaks that create a canopy that is almost like the world’s largest living room. It’s really special. After a quick run through the house and a walk under the oaks, I was pretty sold.

TVOA: It seems like a place where you could really get some thinking done.

Dan Meis: It definitely is. I get a lot of thinking done there. It’s become my office in the woods. It’s not far from LA, but it’s so tranquil there that I get a lot done. I commonly work from home and just do everything electronically from there.

TVOA: How long does it take to drive to Santa Monica?

Dan Meis: It takes about forty minutes to get to Venice on an average day. But you’re also driving along PCH, so it’s not a bad drive.

TVOA: As a successful architect, how is your process in investigating a property different from a non-architect, or layperson?

Dan Meis: I think one of the things that architects do, and this is true for myself and my wife, is we look for a home with provenance. It’s not just another home. There’s a story to the home, and it’s the architect’s job to tell that story. Now, it’s not necessarily a stylistic thing, though I have a tendency to be drawn more towards mid century modern or contemporary. But mainly, I want to live somewhere that has a narrative of the provenance of the home. I want to live somewhere that has some meaning to it.

TVOA: Were you familiar with that narrative and Douglas Rucker’s work before you saw the property?

Dan Meis: I wasn’t, but I quickly got a sense of it, and absorbed it. Douglas Rucker is a well-known Malibu architect, and he did a few homes with a similar style. And he was a very interesting guy in general. For me, all of those components combined to tell the story of this house. And I loved being a part of that, an architect living in another architect’s vision.

TVOA: And you did some renovations on the house. How did you continue the narrative?

Dan Meis: Luckily, the former owner had it for thirty years and took great care of it, so not a lot of things were necessary, but we did a few updates. Part of it is the functionality of how people live differently. The former owner had a lot of carpeting, so the first thing we did was put in a lot of hardwood floors. But we looked for a flooring that was very deep in color because of the color of the structure itself. Also, the flooring has a worn, aged look to it. And I built in shelves for my somewhat unnaturally large book collection. Every time I move I have to figure out a way to make the books part of the architecture.

We also renovated the bathrooms and made it much more contemporary. We put in subway tiles, and a lot of marble which contrasts the deep, dark colors of the structure beautifully. I like the idea that houses evolve much like buildings evolve. This happens in my work too. For example, if I work on a stadium that was built 100 years ago, I don’t try to recreate it entirely. I draw from the history, and also update it to have the modern amenities of a modem stadium.

TVOA: Is there a difference in the way you design in your personal life compared to your professional life?

Dan Meis: No, I think they cross over a lot. I may not have the budget my clients do—we may have to be more clever about what we do and what materials we use—but I think it’s a similar eye. I like things simple, functional, clean with durable materials–things that are easy to maintain. I like a darker palette.

It’s all influenced by California modernism. I grew up in Colorado actually, but the only textbooks that existed on drafting or architectural drawings were about mid century modern, the case study program, all in California. I was always influenced by stone materials that ran from the living room all the way to the patio, wood used in a contemporary way, flat roofs, square windows. That influence carries through in all the work I do, both personally and professionally.

By: David Plick

The Value of Architecture is very excited to announce the Austin Modern Home Tour, which takes place on Saturday, February 25th from 10:00am – 6:00pm.

Click here and use our code TVOA2016 for $5 off advance tickets.

The Austin Modern Home Tour is a wonderful celebration of local design, fathered by the partnership between the Modern Architecture + Design Society (MA+DS) and GoodLife Luxury. After purchasing your ticket, simply bring it to any of the listed tour locations during the scheduled times, and you will receive a wristband for the remainder of the tour.

Featured in the Austin Modern Home Tour: Bercy Chen Studio LPs

In addition to the fantastic Tetra House in South Austin, the Austin Modern Home Tour will feature Bercy Chen’s highly anticipated Hill Country Modern at San Juan Drive.

Tetra House, South Austin

Hill Country Modern, Hill Country West

Much like buying local food and other products, come out and support local architecture and design. The more you give to local artisans fights the mass development of our country, and city. Local designers, like the ones on this tour, give Austin its local flavor, something that other places could never duplicate. We sincerely hope to see you there.

By: David Plick

From Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West to Zaha Hadid’s London Loft and Philip Johnson’s home in New Canaan, Connecticut, we always have this fascination with the inner lives of artists. Of course, we’ve seen the work that they produced for their clients, where we recognize that a great deal of collaboration and compromise (sometimes begrudgingly) have been made during the design process. But what would they do if they had complete creative control, because they were simultaneously the architect and the client? That’s what we have here with Morris Bolter’s LA Mid Century modern (1966) near Lake Hollywood Park, which he built for himself and his family.

LA Mid Century Modern: Morris Bolter, 1966

Morris Bolter’s open plan design comes with gorgeous views of mountains and the Hollywood sign that can be seen from the Zen fountain. Architectural Digest called this LA mid century modern Bauhausian, and with the simple, elegant line, it’s clear why.

By: David Plick

Milton Glaser’s “Dylan.” Art or Design?

“I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound or stab us. If the book we’re reading doesn’t wake us up with a blow to the head, what are we reading for . . . We need books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us.”

—Franz Kafka

A couple nights ago I went to visit a friend at his bar. While I was there eating, a mutual friend of ours came up in our conversation. This mutual friend, a graphic designer/artist (I would give her that title—“artist”—whatever that means), had previously done all the typography for the menus on the chalkboards for happy hour. I could tell by the style that it wasn’t hers anymore, that the quality had been greatly diminished.

“She is so gifted,” I said about her. “You can just tell it’s below her level of skill.” I went on to say that she could easily become a successful artist, having galleries in the city, etc., because talent like hers is very rare.

Unbeknownst to me, the other bartender working with my friend, a woman I had never met, was an artist (whatever that means). She responded to this conversation saying that that wasn’t art. It was design. Which led me to ask, “Well, what’s the difference?”

“Art is a diverse range of human activities in creating visual, auditory or performing artifacts (artworks), expressing the author’s imaginative or technical skill, intended to be appreciated for their beauty or emotional power.”


“Design is the creation of a plan or convention for the construction of an object, system or measurable human interaction.”


What’s the difference between art and design?

Clearly a rhetorical question, but I would think that most people would say (or maybe this is just what I think) that design is the application of an artistic skillset for a specific, intended purpose. Design typically involves a team that makes decisions together to meet a functional goal; whereas art, generally, does not have a clear functional goal, or even no intention (all of this could be very heavily debated). But, art can certainly involve a team, and design sometimes has no clear functional goal.

And there are many more exceptions. When art is commissioned the client had a reason for requesting the art, a goal that the client expressed to the artist. Thus, the artist made the “art” (whatever that means) to satisfy a need, the desire of the client (and because the client is paying them, one has to assume that they influenced the production of the art). For example, most of Beethoven’s work was commissioned by the German and English government, and the Sistine Chapel was commissioned by Pope Julius II. These two men made these things for a specific reason and audience, but does that mean they weren’t artists? Also, in response to Kafka’s belief that art should be a “suicide”, that it is meant to provoke, disturb, and “stab” you, is the Sistine Chapel art? Or is that design, because it was commissioned for a purpose?

When is the decision made whether or not a creation is “design” or “art”?

I think, maybe, this is a historical decision. As the generations pass, if something is seen as culturally relevant, or made a difference, an impact, changed the world at all, or is maybe universally loved, then it would be given the honor of being called “art.” Is that how it works?

Who decides what’s art and what’s design?

First off, and this is my personal opinion, if you let people decide for you what is art and what is design, then you’re allowing them to make the decision. I think you should decide and what is art and what is design, or, probably even better, you can decide that you don’t care, that the question is irrelevant, because who knows what’s the difference anyway?

All that aside, the people who decide what’s the difference between art and design, who classifies what is what, are art critics, scholars, and Rolling Stone magazine.

By: David Plick

Isamu Noguchi was a citizen of the world. Born in LA, raised in the American Midwest, Tokyo, New York, and Paris, he viewed the world through many lenses. He loved Italy’s piazzas, Mexico’s temples, Egypt’s pyramids, and designed furniture with these inspirations as he sought to construct open spaces for civic life. His connection to people in the present was rooted in his devotion to our universal past.

Currently at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington DC, there is the exhibition, Isamu Noguchi, Archaic/Modern. The exhibit, showing until March 19th, features an impressive variety of Noguchi’s monolithic basalt sculptures, aluminum sculptures, his Akari lanterns (Akari means “light” in Japanse), furniture, and also the designs for several patents he registered in the United States.

Oaken (Hiroshima Mask), 1954


Cloud, 1959


Freeform Sofa

Akari (70F), 1978
Paper, Bamboo, Metal



Noguchi’s U.S Patents for Akari Lanterns


Stool and Table


Patents for Stool and Table

Black and Blue, 1958-9, 1979-80
aluminum, electrostatic paint, and polyurethane paint

Isamu Noguchi admired inventors over anyone else, and he also admired the American spirit of innovation. He didn’t see a difference between artistic creation and invention, and sought to unify these approaches. He said, “Every American in a sense is an inventor. After all, that’s how America was made . . . We admire people like Alexander Graham Bell. Those are the real artists of America.”

Isamu Noguchi died December 30th, 1988 in New York City.

By: David Plick


“It’s a pretty amazing building. It’s a little like a spaceship landed. It’s got this gorgeous courtyard in the middle … It’s a circle. It’s curved all the way around. If you build things, this is not the cheapest way to build something. There is not a straight piece of glass in this building. It’s all curved. We’ve used our experience making retail buildings all over the world now, and we know how to make the biggest pieces of glass in the world for architectural use. And, we want to make the glass specifically for this building here. We can make it curve all the way around the building … It’s pretty cool.”

—Steve Jobs

In 2009, Steve Jobs called Lord Norman Foster on the phone and simply said, “Hi Norman. I need your help.” It wasn’t until 2013 though, two years after Jobs’ death, that construction finally began on Apple Campus 2. Even though it was his energy from the start that got it going, he didn’t even get to see the first bit of earth dug in the site.

Jobs’ spaceship, this new Mecca for technology, will run entirely on renewable energy, and will constitute 2.8 million square feet of office space amongst an 176-acre campus. The space will include 100,000 square feet of gym access for employees, and a 1000-seat Apple auditorium. It looks, perhaps because Steve wanted it that way, like a place of worship, a place of perfect balance and order. I can already hear the echoes of Steve’s name in the hallways—those who knew him personally (both before and after he became humble), those who worked with him, those who only know the legend. He’s their patron saint, their dictator, their martyr. How could he not have a shrine dedicated to his memory?

Apple Campus 2 is expected to be completed next year.

By: David Plick

“If it’s not sustainable, it’s not architecture.” —Joshua Prince-Ramus

Driving down Lamar or Oltorf, it’s very clear that there’s a lot of bad architecture in Austin—those faux-modern apartment complexes that are made to look like California motels with bright orange and aqua blue color schemes; those mass produced complexes where every house looks exactly the same. While developers attempt to use buzzwords like “economical” or “efficient”, we know what it is—assembly line chain houses, about as interesting as a Quarter Pounder with Cheese. On the one hand, we can’t blame them for wanting to make money, but on the other, they rob Austin of its uniqueness and individuality, and thus, we are fully permitted to be derisive, scoff and say we hate it.

Thankfully, if we apply Joshua Prince-Ramus’ definition, it’s not even architecture, because those things are not built to last. I can say this for a fact because I lived in one of those obnoxious aqua-blue apartment buildings, and they were practically made out of cardboard. And if the cardboard started to crack, they fixed it with scotch tape.

Austin is still a perfect location, though, for the slow architecture movement. There’s plenty of space to work with, plenty of money to go around, and plenty of intelligent people with discerning taste. There’s also a distinct culture that emanates off of places like The White Horse, Rainey Street, not to mention the essence of the southwest, of Texas, of Mexican and Native American heritage. All of these combined elements allow for a vibrant architectural and design scene.

And there certainly is one. There are so many distinct, slowly designed modern homes like this masterpiece by Shane Pavonetti:

Like the other great joys in life: food, love, personal growth, architecture is best when it’s done slow. Take Bercy Chen’s work, for example, arguably the best that Austin has to offer. Here is Dan Loe, project architect at Bercy Chen, explaining how the firm elicits a slow architectural process in their projects:

“It’s very tactile—on-site working out the details. No matter how much time you spend on the design side there’s always going to be these elements that pop up during construction that you have to resolve. You have to figure out how the steel is going to meet the wood. It’s this constant process of analyzing and reassessing, and coming up with solutions. And sometimes those are really the best.”

In his recent interview with TVOA, Loe echoed the calls of Joshua Prince-Ramus, that the best design choices don’t happen in the preliminary sketches. They sometimes don’t even happen when the building is first being constructed. They happen when the architect is on-site, with the client, and they both have the time to look at it, reflect, and say, “This could be better. Let’s try this out.” It happens when intelligent people get together and collaborate, which is further proof that it’s impossible to make something to its fullest potential in the first try. It always takes re-drafting, re-thinking, changing. The good news in all this is genius, actually, isn’t natural. It only comes through hard work, discipline, and humility, the willingness to look at your ideas and think they could be better.

By: David Plick

In 1989, Kevin Costner uttered the iconic words “If you build it, he will come . . .” in the beloved melodrama Field of Dreams. Approximately ten years later, these words seemingly became architectural truth when Gehry’s Guggenheim Bilbao opened, which, highly arguably, saved the deteriorating city’s local economy. It was at this moment, when witnessing the Bilbao Effect, that architects, designers, and planners began viewing architecture as a possible impetus, and not the result of economic stimulus. Kevin Costner and Frank Gehry planted the seeds for this philosophy: build first, work out the details later.

Then came China. In the early 2000s, the Chinese government, sitting on an enormous trade surplus and seeing only greater economic boom in their future, made the decision to build hundreds of urban areas in which hundreds of millions of people would move to from rural areas. They built, and then they waited. But, nobody came.

There were a couple of hiccups along the way. First, it’s not so easy to uproot your life and move to a brand new area you’re completely unfamiliar with—especially when this place is empty with no jobs, and no one else seems to be going. Second, there was this little thing that happened during the construction project known as the Global Economic Crisis.

Most notably of China’s many vacant Ghost Cities, is Ordos, a city in Inner Mongolia, which was the place of Ai Weiwei’s famous Ordos 100 competition. Curated by Herzog and de Meuron, architects from around the world sent designs in a 100-day competition to build avant-garde residences. Today, it’s a few abandoned shells in a vast desert.

Atmospheric modern architecture is compelling and adds value to the quality of life of a city, but is it enough to attract inhabitants and boost local economies? Below is a photo of the Ordos Art Museum, designed by MAD Architects, with its polished metal cover and subtle undulation. Truly a work of art, it was completed in 2011. Yet, this museum has no website. They have no exhibitions. It’s unclear what it’s even doing.


By: David Plick

16001109780_dfc55bd504_bDue to the current political climate in the U.S, it might be as good a time as any to start getting accustomed to, and hopefully appreciate, fascist architecture. Let’s hope though, that our American version will have a little more pizzazz to it, a little bit more Hollywood glitz. For example, on top of the massive, white marble columns, it could say TRUMP in gold, sparkling letters. Instead of a godly and imposing concrete podium with a giant swastika underneath it, there could be gold thrones with the names of our emperor and his heirs and heiresses in neon. Let’s hope that, like the rest of American culture and sports, our fascist architecture will steal from past traditions, then just make it a lot more fun.

Stalinist Architecture

It’s hard to believe that Joseph Stalin could give birth to a school of architecture while exterminating 50 million of his own people, but he managed to make it happen. In fact, there was a new efficient system of urban design being considered in Kiev and throughout the whole country. Stalinist architecture was Beaux-Arts meets Bernie Sanders, a stark and simple realism for the everyman that still sought to let you know that Stalin was a god.


Pictured: Red Army Theater

Thing to Steal: Because of its proletariat roots, there is a devotion to public space. That’s not so bad.

Hitler’s Architect: Albert Speer

Albert Speer was Hitler’s right-hand designer, and a major player in the Nazi Party, yet he claimed to not know the Holocaust was happening (Hello Ben Carson . . .). Many of his grand structures did not get built, but he did make Zeppelinfield Stadium, which, like everything else Hitler wanted was grand, menacing, and most importantly, white.


Pictured: Zeppelinfield Stadium

Thing to Steal: Making a stadium look like a religious monument intimidates your opponent.

Giuseppe Terragni & Italian Fascist Architecture

Giuseppe Terragni was openly fascist, and his design mentality showed. His buildings are strict, rational and straight-forward, and not fun at all. For Terragni, architecture didn’t require creative expression. Instead, he sought logical perfection.


Pictured: Casa del Fascio

Thing to Steal: It makes great use of the space, and we’ll need somewhere to go when all of our social services get stripped from us.

While the designs in fascist architecture vary depending on the dictator’s taste and the cultural values in that country at the time, what unites all of them is their purpose: to unify the people through their collective pride in their nation. In the U.S, with over 2 million more votes going to Hillary Clinton in the popular vote, the wretchedness that is the Taj Mahal casino, Trump’s rants against Hamilton & SNL on Twitter, it’s doubtful whether his bravado can amass the same architectural success historically.

But then again, I also never would’ve dreamed that he would make it this far.

By: David Plick

Roof Modern Facade Building Architecture Inside

Los Angeles receives 292 sunny days annually, while Austin boasts 229. Compare this with New York City or Seattle, which has 152 sunny days, and it’s clear that in both of these climates, where The Value of Architecture is based, sunlight as a natural element is a major part of the design process in their modern homes.

Similarly to painters, architects and designers are certainly no strangers to the study of light. Throughout the design process it’s in their creative consciousness, much like the slope of the land, the way the tree branches bend towards the empty space that will soon possess the house. Great architects, from Louis Kahn to Zaha Hadid, have talked about how they are deeply influenced by light.

“Just think, that man can claim a slice of the sun.”
Louis Kahn

“The history of architecture is the history of the struggle for light.”
Le Corbusier

“Wherever I am in the world, my perfect day begins with waking up and heading to the beach or the pool or somewhere I can be semi-comatose. I just wake up and go to the sun.”
–Zaha Hadid

“Light belongs to the heart and spirit. Light attracts people, it shows the way, and when we see it in the distance, we follow it.”
–Ricardo Legorreta

“Architecture which enters into a symbiosis with light does not merely create form in light, by day and at night, but allow light to become form.”
–Richard Meier

“Light has not just intensity, but also a vibration, which is capable of roughening a smooth material, of giving a three-dimensional quality to a flat surface.”

–Renzo Piano

“More and more, so it seems to me, light is the beautifier of the building.”
–Frank Lloyd Wright

By: David Plick

8267996765_2ef43c308a_bThis article is for someone who just became interested in design and wants to know how to analyze architecture. Maybe you just moved to a big city, or you’re thinking about buying a modern home, or you just started dating an architect. At this point you’re probably wondering what exactly are the criteria for qualifying a building’s value? One option is to speak talkitecture and fake it. But, you’re better than that, so read this:

How to Analyze Architecture—questions to ask yourself:

What is the Building Built for?
Not all buildings should have the same shape and size. So, ask yourself, is this a residential, office, cultural (museum, library), or multi-functional building? Is it a government building (which means you’ll resent them spending your hard-earned tax dollars if it’s TOO nice)? Does the design match the purpose? How will the building be used? Does it seem useful?

Materials and Facade
What materials are they using? Glass, concrete, stone, recycled tires, shipping containers (very chic right now)? Is it clear how the choice in materials was influenced by the building’s purpose? How about the facade (aka, the exterior)? Does it seem appropriate for the building’s purpose? Does it have the client’s name in big, shiny gold letters on the side?

More on its Usefulness
If you really want to know if a building “works” or not, you should speak to someone who uses it, like the elevator operator or a tenant (in fact, it’s better if they’re not architecture aficionados because you’ll get an honest, unfiltered response—for example, if it’s a Gehry building, perhaps an architecture enthusiast would be less inclined to note its negative aspects). How does this person use the building? Are there facets of its functionality that they complain about? Like, is the bathroom in the kitchen? Do you have to go to another floor to access the bathroom? Wait—there is no bathroom?!?!? See what I’m saying.

What’s the Surrounding Area Like? Does the Building Fit In?
So, I’ll start with perhaps the exception to this conversation—some buildings are meant to be “disruptive” (did you see that duck up there?). The whole purpose of that design was to do something different. Now, whether or not you support disruptive architecture is a matter of taste, and I will not debate that here. But, you should recognize if that is the intention when you analyze the building. And if not, see if the building “fits in” or not. Now, I don’t mean that it has to be identical or even close to the design of everything else. But, on some level, it should make sense with the rest. Is it of a similar height, width, girth to he rest? A lot of architectural analysts believe that the scale of the building should match the surroundings and respect the natural environment.

So, this is actually extremely important in analyzing a building. We are deeply affected by sunlight, and a building should be designed with that in mind. In fact, how an architect works with light is what separates a chump from a talent. Ask yourself, how much natural light is there projected onto and into the building? Are the windows properly positioned to let light in? What does it look like when light is projected onto it? Overall, what is the building’s relationship with light?

Human Movement
How do humans move throughout the building? On stairs? Escalators? How do they ebb and flow? Would it be easy to get lost? Do you like walking around it or does it give you vertigo?

Get Inside and Play with the Thing
Buildings, to a certain extent, are machines, and machines were meant to be used. Use the machine and see if it feels good. Remember: Mercedes isn’t the best car because of that symbol on the hood. It was the superior engine that gave the symbol its reputation.

By: David Plick

moma_ps1_ffpDon’t look at pictures on the internet of Meeting James Turrell at MoMA. Just go and experience the thing for yourself.

That’s what I did. In fact, admittedly, I didn’t even know it was there. I went to PS1 last Sunday because I said to my roommate, “What should I do today? I want to do something that’s outside and free.”

She said, “Go to MoMA PS1. It’s both of those things, at least on Sundays.”

First off, MoMA PS1, unsurprisingly, given the organization’s devotion to architecture and design, is architecturally fascinating. They have all these brutalist concrete walls in the front and the building is a renovated Romanesque school. It still has the hardwood floors that you’d remember from 5th grade and those high windows in the entrances of rooms. In the basement you can explore old cavernous heating rooms with exposed pipes that they painted gold. The atmosphere in general is warm and inviting, yet the art is challenging.

Most of MoMA PS1 is currently the Mark Leckey show. But this article is about Meeting James Turrell, so I’ll just leave it at that.

After seeing a bunch of his stuff—it is funny and provocative; don’t want you to think I didn’t like it—I wandered upstairs and saw a door that was shut. There was a MoMA employee there like how they usually stand outside exhibitions, but I had never seen a door closed to an exhibit before. At this moment, I did have a lot of fear, thinking that this had to be exclusive, maybe only for inviteés or staff, but the staff member didn’t say anything. I looked at her and thought of Albert Bandura’s self-efficacy framework—if you believe you can do it, you can do it—and I reached for the door handle. I figured, if I’m not allowed to do this, they’ll say something.

A couple seconds later, as I entered the room, I was transported. Everything that had happened before a couple seconds ago was the past, and was in no way connected to the present. I sat (I don’t think that’s giving away anything) and observed. I saw people—mostly very stylish and from various races and ethnicities, because you’re in Queens and at MoMA PS1—full of joy and gratitude. It was like we could just look around at each other and say, “We all made it here. We did it.” Maybe I’m crazy, but there was a general feeling in the space that we were all so lucky to witness this. It was so simple, so natural. It was one of those things that just had to exist.

I stayed for about 15 minutes and that was the most serene 15 minutes I’ve experienced in a long time. After awhile I left because I felt like I had to, because I needed to give up my space for someone else to experience this.

And that’s what it was like Meeting James Turrell at Moma PS1.

By: David Plick

Through April 23rd MoMA is featuring the exhibition, How Should We live: Propositions for the Modern Interior. The exhibition examines the frameworks and designs that have shaped the various modern environments, from suburban homes to boutiques and shops. They also enter the personal spaces of famous designers such as Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier for perspective on how design legends design their own lives. You can even drink coffee in a rendition of Lilly Reich’s Velvet-Silk Café (1923).

With the global population currently at 7.5 billion and that number expected to reach 10 billion in our lifetime, what we do with our limited space has never been more important. Google responded to this challenge for space by pioneering the open-office movement which has been met with much hostility (like here, here and here, oh, and here). People hate the open office, because, what do they love? Privacy.

But is privacy going to be an option when you’re sharing the Earth with 10 billion other people? At the end of the widely popular article, “Google got it wrong. The open-office trend is destroying the workplace,” by Lindsey Kaufman, after complaining throughout the entire piece like a privileged Goldman Sachs exec having to take the train one day because their driver got into a fender bender, she actually diverted her thesis and entered into a new and more likeable argument: instead of an open-office, why don’t we just work from home?

As companies allow for more and more “work from home” models to save space and expenses, this also may provide for a potentially higher quality of life for their employees. But now, all of a sudden, the space that we use for “work” and “home” have become one.

By: David Plick

“If we were to look closely at architecture, it is perhaps one of the least inclusive professions. In a recent Atlantic Monthly poll on the thirty-three whitest jobs in America . . . architects were ranked as 93% white . . . In comparison to other disciplines in the humanities and social sciences, architecture has done very little to address how race, racial representations and racial thinking have shaped its own practices and discourse.”

Mabel O. Wilson, Professor, Columbia GSAPP

In 2015, Ta-Nehisi Coates won the National Book Award for Non-Fiction for his memoir, Between the World and Me. The book is written as a letter from Coates to his teenage son where he describes the history of racial violence in America, along with stories from his childhood in Baltimore. Twenty-two years prior, Tori Morrison won the Nobel Prize for Literature for her novels Beloved, Jazz, Paradise, her enduring contributions to the art form. In visual art, the painters Archibald Motley, Jacob Lawrence, and Jean-Michel Basquiat have left enormous influence and are important to the history of American art. And, of course, it’s too obvious to mention African-American contributions to music because they invented our finest art form: jazz. Amongst all of these groundbreaking contributions to art, philosophy, political & social theory (is anyone smarter than bell hooks?), not to mention hip-hop, breakdancing, graffiti, urban art—the list of African-American innovation goes on and on and on—why amongst all of this, is there still a lack of a historical African-American presence in American architecture? Why are the voices and perspectives not nearly as varied in this form like in many others?

And there’s no sign that it’s improving. In the U.S., 13.3% of our population is African-American, yet in 2014, only 5% of the admitted architecture students that year were African-American. Compare this disproportion to the more represented majors in this group–health and human services, social work, nursing, and early childhood education–and we’re still left with the question: why aren’t there more African-American architects?

When the National Museum of African-American History and Culture opened on September 24, 2016, Philadelphia’s Philip Freelon became perhaps the most important African-American architect in our history. But he is very much in a minority. In fact, the amount of registered African-American architects has virtually not changed in the past thirty years. Why? Watch the thought-provoking discussion on race and architecture at Columbia GSAPP above to get involved in the discussion and work towards an answer.

All disciplines benefit from different cultural perspectives. Diversity is crucial within a field not because it is nice, or fair. Not because it is wrong to not include a group, but because inclusion broadens everyone’s horizons and deepens the competition, making sure the very best, rather than the best within a select group, rise to the top. America, and the world, need African-American architects, so why aren’t there more? And how can we assure more inclusion in years to come?

By: David Plick

800px-adobe_pueblo_revivalThe famous war criminal, rapist, and human trafficker Christopher Columbus first touched “American” soil on October 12th 1492 when he reached the Bahama Islands. Fast-forward 524 years later and indigenous people of the Americas are still routinely discriminated against as federal courts are currently fighting the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s efforts to stop construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline which would destroy some of the tribe’s consecrated sites; Native Americans have massive disproportionate prevalence of alcoholism and poverty on reservations; only just this year there was the first Native American federal judge, Diane Humetewa, of the Hopi tribe, and in 2014, only 97 out of 24,989 architecture students identified themselves as “American Indian or Alaskan Native.” Every American knows of the crimes against humanity that European settlers did to native people; along with slavery, it’s the dark spot on our history that we should always be ashamed of, always remember, and always seek to counteract with love.

Slowly but surely, there’s progress—even if it’s rarely seen in the architecture field. Alongside Humetewa, influential Native American writers like Sherman Alexie and Louise Erdich are revered, with an enormous presence in the broader landscape of American literature, in addition to being indigenous nationalists. The stereotype in film, as far as I can tell, of the dangerous, vicious Indian warrior has disappeared; though the more innocuous stereotype of the stoic, wise, magical Native American remains.

In the U.S, the oldest living architecture was built by the Pueblo Indians, with their contribution of adobe designs. Today, this influence still lives in the Pueblo Revival movement, and buildings such as: Painted Desert Inn, Zimmerman Library, and La Fonda Hotel. But overall, Native American architects are widely underrepresented in the field with over 90% of American architects still being white, and most of that 90% being men. In searching for Native American architects there are practically none. The architect Billy Hinton of HKS identifies as Cherokee, and Mike Laverdure of DSGW is Chippewa, but overall, this is a field with an unseen Native American presence.

Why does architecture lag behind literature, visual arts, music, and other fields in its utter non-inclusion of Native American people? What needs to happen to reverse the racism embedded in the status quo? Because surely bringing more voices and viewpoints would only serve to advance the field by allowing for enhanced creativity and openness.

By: David Plick

Just when we thought we had turned the corner and made drastic progress against racism, bigotry, and xenophobia, in comes Donald Trump, Blue Lives Matter, ISIS, the mass shooting at the gay club Pulse in Orlando, and all that noise on the Internet. Today, these subjects are very present in our national consciousness and violently argued about in social media, from people with accounts on Twitter, Facebook, Youtube and Reddit that we’re not even sure are real (it could just be one angry racist with one hundred accounts, or a thirteen year old who gets a kick out of seeing adults get angry), but we’re sure they do upset others. In the academic world, and the architecture world, these topics can feel somewhat childish, like it’s beneath us to even debate something as ridiculous as racism. But there still is so much bigotry in this world.

And then there’s this—a video called “What Made Me” of architect Charles Renfro, partner at the superfirm Diller Scofidio + Renfro, which shows that there’s still so much beauty too. In the interview Renfro describes his experience growing up gay in a small town outside of Houston, Texas. He had been bullied and bullied and bullied, until one day he couldn’t take it anymore, and he said to his mom, “I didn’t want to go to school anymore.” His mom, clearly a wonderful and supportive woman, says, “Well ok. So what do you want to do?”

Eight-year-old Charles Renfro, just a little boy in nowhere Texas, who has no idea that in about thirty years he’s going to design some of the world’s most important structures, goes to his spirit, his instinct, and his future for the answer, and says, “I want to go to look at buildings.”

Show this video to anyone who is facing adversity, has faced adversity. Show them the advice that Renfro says to his eight-year-old self, “You’re really scared, but don’t worry.”

By: David Plick

800px-taj_mahal_atlantic_city_new_jerseyThe following buildings could be bulldozed right now and humanity would only benefit: Trump International Hotel and Tower Chicago, Trump Plaza New Jersey, Trump International Hotel Las Vegas, Trump International Hotel and Tower New York, Trump Palace, Trump Place, Trump Plaza New Rochelle, Trump Tower New York, Trump World Tower, Trump Tower, not to mention all of his casinos, especially Trump Taj Mahal, which one has to wonder how that even happened.

But, then there are these three. Now I’m not saying these are architectural achievements. They’re no Whitney Breuer, or Broad Museum, or anything Bercy Chen has ever touched. I’m just saying they have a quality. They have an atmosphere beyond grotesque, shiny gold letters spelling out T-R-U-M-P against a rectangular, flat wall of glass. They actually aren’t complete pieces of . . .

Trump SoHo, New York, NY


This building was (and still is) controversial and hated by many, but what building of Trump’s isn’t? The most pervasive argument is that it attempts to disrupt the scale of the neighborhood by towering over all other buildings. I walk this neighborhood often, and while this argument was true when the reviews came out a few years ago, the neighborhood caught up, especially now with Herzog & de Meuron’s 56 Leonard dominating the Tribeca / SoHo / Financial District skyline.

What is striking about Trump SoHo are the skyboxes that protrude from its façade, giving the structure a sense of movement and fragmentation. Much better than Trump’s other buildings which are only pieces of . . .

Trump Ocean Club International Hotel and Tower, Panama City, Panama

Trump Ocean Club International Hotel and Tower

I’m so tempted to do a wall joke right now, but I won’t. This Trump building in Panama is peculiar looking, even adventurous. It’s postmodern and uses its architectural language to express a relationship with itself and its surroundings. It’s also clearly modeled after a vagina. But at least it’s shaped like something, and not just a piece of . . .

Also, the labia flaps opening like that have the function of creating views from all of the hotel rooms in the interior. It reminds me to Bjarke Ingels’ Via 57 West, but not as good.

Trump Palace, Sunny Isles, Miami

Trump Internatonal Beach Resort

In Northeast Miami there are five Trump buildings—Trump Towers (three of them), Trump Royale, and Trump Palace, the tallest—and all of which, add, and do not take away from Miami’s revered MiMo, or Miami Modernist architecture style. These buildings have character, and actually aren’t obnoxious at all. Also interesting to note is that one of the principal architects on the project was José Suarez, who was raised in Miami, trained at the University of Miami School of Architecture, and most likely identifies as American, but who was technically born in Cuba. Perhaps Trump is more open to diversity than he leads on, especially when he can make money off of the deal.

By: David Plick

1280px-SoCoAustin is the progressive food capital of America. From the great food trucks, like Micklethwait Craft Meats and Torchy’s, to the intelligent & diverse food culture, the Tex-Mex, barbeque, fresh local produce, and farm-to-table restaurants, Austin has emerged as a gastronomic destination. So of course along with the great eats, Austin restaurant design is also cutting edge. There’s so much gorgeous design here in fact that it’s difficult to choose amongst the many design-focused and also naturally charming places (our most sincere apologies to Magnolia Café and the Bouldin Creek Café in all its wonderful quirkiness) but we broke it down to these five.

Top Five Austin Restaurant Design:

Javelina, 69 Rainey Street



Style: Texas Chic
Ambiance: College bar for the non-bro
Designer: Adam Young
Cuisine: Thoughtful bar food, including burgers and green chile pork cheese fries, but also a hummus plate, and grilled watermelon salad

Easy Tiger, 709 E. 6th Street

Easy Tiger no credit

Style: Industrial Modern
Ambiance: College party for thirty-somethings with good jobs.
Designer: Veronica Koltuniak
Cuisine: German pretzel shop & Parisian style bakery

Justine’s Brasserie, 4710 E. 5th St



Style: Old-timer saloon meets Montmartre cabaret.
Ambiance: Elegant, sexy dining with warm and inviting outside space.
Cuisine: Classic French.

Jeffrey’s, 1204 West Lynn Street

Source: Clayton & Little Architects

Source: Clayton & Little Architects

Style: Modern Aristocratic
Ambiance: Elegant dining that you should dress up for even though it’s Austin
Designer: Clayton & Little Architects
Cuisine: French-American fine dining

Yellow Jacket Social Club, 1704 E 5th St



Style: Rustic
Ambiance: Rockabilly
Designer: Adam Young
Cuisine: Picnic food that deserves a Michelin Star

By: David Plick

PrintIf there’s anything New Yorkers complain about along with rent, it’s the subway. Yes, it’s one of only three cities in the world with a 24/hour 365/day a year public transportation system. Yes, it’s far cheaper than the Tube in London, not to mention a car payment + insurance + gas. Yes, it brings New Yorkers together as a people, forcing them to share public space, thus further enabling cultural and racial acceptance, the fundamental trademark of New York City society. Yes, it gives New Yorkers something to collectively joke about—such as: “Ladies and gentlemen, it’s showtime!”

But don’t we still just want to murder someone when we hear the words, “We’re delayed because of train traffic ahead of us. Please be patient . . .”?

There’s something else though, that largely goes unnoticed in the subway, and that’s the MTA’s Arts & Design projects—the murals, installations, paintings and sculpture that inhabit stations throughout the city. Subway station art adds atmosphere to the metro, is socially and politically conscious, and sometimes done by world-renowned artists who were commissioned directly from the city. There is so much work to admire, and we should stop and take a look at it. If anything, to take a little break between our complaining.

Here are a few examples of some subway station art, but there are many more.

Station: 8th Avenue and 14th Street, A/C/E and L

Artwork: Life Underground by Tom Otterness


This one is a favorite of New Yorkers. These hilarious cartoon bronze sculptures really take over the station depicting playful yet sometimes disturbing situations, such as an alligator dipping its head out of a manhole to bite a person with a moneybag head. So, what’s going on here? The installation is a parody of Boss Tweed and big money greed.

Station: 50th Street, 1/2 Trains

Artwork: Alice: The Way Out by Liliana Porter

Source: MTA Arts & Design

Source: MTA Arts & Design

As you were waiting for the 1 Train to come did you ever think to yourself, “Wait, is that the Mad Hatter?” Yes. Yes it is.

Station: Prince Street, N/Q/R Trains

Artwork: Carrying On by Janet Zweig


This one is very sad. What the Prince Street subway station is actually depicting is a narrative of 1,200 people who were walking away from the World Trade Center after the 9/11 attacks. The artwork simultaneously speaks of the people who had to walk from the event carrying things in their hands, but also how New York as a place must carry on. The piece pays homage to those directly affected by 9/11, and is also a testament to the spirit of New Yorkers.

Station: 42nd Street – Times Square, Too Many Trains to List

Artwork: Next Stop, Times Square by Roy Lichtenstein


Lichtenstein’s 6 feet high and 53 feet long enamel mural was a gift to New York City, the place of his birth, death, and most of his life. It’s a futuristic depiction of NYC transportation, something that Lichtenstein loved and believed in. The MTA commissioned Lichtenstein for public art in 1992 and installed the piece in 2002.

By: David Plick

d191c2356db9d09ad54f06d75f87687c1453999514When we hear the words “real estate developer” there’s commonly a little feeling of suspicion. People, but especially inhabitants of a city with a strong sense of character, fear new things entering their environment because they know that their world is going to change, for the better or worse, and developers are the ones bringing that change. Austinites, living in the most rapidly growing city in America, all have their opinions on the new additions they like, and the ones they don’t (I, for one, have many that I can’t stomach, though I will not name them here), but there is plenty of innovative and exciting design to be proud of. Ben Myers, and the architecture firm he chooses to collaborate with, Bercy Chen, represent the best that this city has to offer in terms of development. They spare no expense, whether it be in effort or the materials used, as they are always design-focused with the goal of adding value to the property, the neighborhood, and the city. Not to mention, of course their work adds tremendous value to the lives of the buyers.

Ben Myers is an exceedingly intelligent and informed real estate developer, hence why he chooses to work with the hyper-talented team at Bercy Chen. He is also articulate, considerate, and down-to-earth. He is the kind of developer that Austin needs.

The Value of Architecture: Where did your interest in architecture and design come from?

Ben Myers: My parents. My mom is an artist, RISD trained.

The Value of Architecture: What kind of art?

Ben Myers: She’s in a lot of different mediums. Right now, she’s doing acrylic on paper. She’s done textiles and sculpture. And my dad is an urban planner, so I grew up with them always working on houses, and insisting upon living in houses that were interesting. We were never in a builder home. My parents’ last house was a 19th century California adobe ranch house in Pasadena. And I mainly grew up in a craftsman house, and they would take me to museums a lot, you know what I mean?

The Value of Architecture: You come from an engaged, artistic environment. Basically what every child should be exposed to but isn’t.

Ben Myers: Exactly. I think it’s very unfortunate that there aren’t more field trips. It’s sad kids aren’t exposed to all this.

The Value of Architecture: Did you end up studying art and design?

Ben Myers: No, actually, I studied communications, but when I was at school I was a docent at the Gamble House in Pasadena, which is operated at USC, where I went to school. I was so lucky to work basically at the most significant and best-preserved craftsman in the world, a national landmark, and Charles Henry Green’s best work.

The Value of Architecture: What’d you do after college?

Ben Myers: I moved to Palm Springs to restore a mid-century modern bungalow.

The Value of Architecture: Did you move to Palm Springs for work, or just to restore this house?

Ben Myers: Just to restore the house. That was all I was doing there.

The Value of Architecture: So you just jumped right into restoration. That’s very impressive.

Ben Myers: Thanks, then after that was finished, I came to Austin, which is where I was born.

The Value of Architecture: You were born in Austin? I didn’t know that.

Ben Myers: I was a professor’s brat, so we moved all over the place, as long as it was near a university.

The Value of Architecture: Is your mom or your dad the professor?

Ben Myers: My dad.

The Value of Architecture: What did he teach?

Ben Myers: Urban planning.

The Value of Architecture: Where does he teach?

Ben Myers: At USC. He still teaches there.

The Value of Architecture: What was the driving force to come back to Austin? Was it school?

Ben Myers: My wife and I felt that we needed to be in a place with more action. California was sort of dead at the time with the recession, and Texas was still doing really well, so we decided to evacuate back to the homeland. Retreat! Back to the homeland!

The Value of Architecture (laughing): What year was that?

Ben Myers: That was the end of 2012. And it worked out really well.

The Value of Architecture: Yeah, Austin didn’t seem to be affected by the recession. It was always booming. There was nothing but growth.

Ben Myers: Exactly. It wasn’t affected by it. It was very interesting. I think it was probably the oil boom that was happening side-by-side that everyone else was feeling.

The Value of Architecture: How’d you know about Bercy Chen?

Ben Myers: Years ago I saw the Annie House in Dwell when that was first published. That’s Thomas Bercy’s house. That was when I first noticed. Then in 2013, I saw them again when the Edgeland House was published in Dwell, and everywhere else. It was published everywhere.

The Value of Architecture: The amount of coverage they get is remarkable, and so well-deserved. So how did you get into contact with them?

Ben Myers: When I first got to Austin I did an architecture certificate program at UT just for fun. We were able to take a tour of a firm, and I signed up for the Bercy Chen one. Calvin Chen gave us a tour of their office and took us to the mixed-use development down the street that they did. So I kept them in mind, and then a year later, just rang the doorbell.

The Value of Architecture: That’s how it works, right? You ask and you shall receive.

Ben Myers: Right, right.

The Value of Architecture: So you found the San Juan site first, then came to them with it?

Ben Myers: Yes, exactly, I got the site first. Once I got the site locked down, which was the difficult part because people were writing contracts on the hoods of cars at that point—for land, especially.

Once I had that secured then I went to Bercy Chen and rang the doorbell. Dan Loe let me in.
The Value of Architecture: How did you find the San Juan site?

Ben Myers: I found it because I was looking in particular for a site where I could build more than one house. I wanted it to be in the Eanes ISD because my thought process was that the best school district is always the safest investment.
The Value of Architecture: The high school in the district is Westlake?

Ben Myers: Westlake High School, yes.
The Value of Architecture: Were you ever planning on moving into the property or it was strictly an investment to build on?

Ben Myers: I was considering moving into one of them, and the reason why I didn’t do that is because of financing regulations. I wasn’t going to be able to finance it that way. I could only finance it as both of them being Spec homes.

The Value of Architecture: Where do you live?

Ben Myers: In Allandale. East of Mopac, south of Anderson Lane, west of Burnet, and north of 2222 in that little pocket.

The Value of Architecture: How do you like that area?

Ben Myers: It’s great. I have a 1962 ranch house, pretty cool, nice little swimming pool. It’s a great neighborhood. I can walk to a lot of things, like Taco Deli and Hopdoddy.
The Value of Architecture: If you can walk to a Hopdoddy, then you have an A+ Austin life. So how was the design and creative process with Bercy Chen?

Ben Myers: It was amazing. We really share a lot of the same philosophy on the built environment. There’s an emphasis on quality, an emphasis on maximizing the space, getting the best possible use of every square foot of the house.
The Value of Architecture: Were you going back and forth with the designs?

Ben Myers: Oh yeah, often we would have a meeting, and I would take the paper from the meeting, and I would spend the weekend thinking about it. I would go to the site and look at it, think if it worked or not. That was a big part of it. We were really thinking about it from the perspective of someone living there, a family of four or a family of five, also because I thought I was living in it.
The Value of Architecture: Is that your situation? You’re a family of five?

Ben Myers: No, not yet, but we’re trying.

The Value of Architecture: Oh, good luck!

Ben Myers (laughing): Thanks! But, we were thinking that way because of the schools and everything, the type of people who want to live in this neighborhood. So we always considered what it was like to live in it, and we were also thinking of the future. That goes into every little detail. For example, in the garage we have two 40-volt outlets for electric cars, because that might be the future. Then, in all the details of the materials— the black Mexican marble in the bathrooms, the concrete floors on the ground floor, the steel on top of the stucco for the exterior. I think it’s going to be great when the steel rusts down on the stucco, and it has that weathered look. You get that in addition to the different thicknesses of the exterior, and all the different textures.

And also, we were trying to make it as comfortable as possible. I’m so excited for the rooftop deck. It’s a great outdoor space, and not enough people think to utilize the roof for that. Here, people are outside, they can see the bluffs across the lake. In the courtyards below, there are these carved out voids from a solid block, which looks great from the exterior but is also a serene way to live. There’s a wet room in the master bath with water repellent Tadelakt plaster; it’s a Moroccan plaster used in palaces. And, if people have company over, of course you need to have a coat closet—all those details. Details that people don’t necessarily get with a builder home.

The Value of Architecture: You always have to think about it as if you’re living in it. Say to yourself, “What would I want?”

Ben Myers: Yeah, exactly. You have to imagine being in it. Think about it in a real world way. Be honest with yourself about what would be helpful, what would be best. That’s what we tried to do.

By: David Plick

7cb90ccb37f3b694123155c4e2d48de81470411634If we started to list Bercy Chen Studio’s accomplishments, this piece would turn into a book, and let’s face it, internet attention spans don’t go beyond fifteen minutes tops. But I will say that they’ve been honored all over the world, by some of architecture’s most prized institutions, from Architizer, and World Architecture News, to the AIA. They’ve lectured at UTSOA, Texas A&M, the National Building Museum, and have exhibited work at the GA Gallery in Tokyo, the Seoul Design Olympiad in South Korea, and Art Basel. In fact, in viewing their accomplishments and portfolio you would think you were reading about a firm that’s been around for decades, but it was actually only began in 2001, and they’ve only begun to expand, announcing recently the opening up their second office in Monterrey, Mexico.

Bercy Chen’s work is sleek, modern, evocative and thoughtful, yet it’s difficult to precisely put into a category. It’s not exactly postmodern, but can have postmodern qualities; minimal, but not self-consciously minimal (yet it doesn’t typically do more than it needs and the form always is functional). In fact, their work has this universal, global appeal, which is probably achieved due to their founders, Thomas Bercy and Calvin Chen, coming from Belgium and Taiwan. Their work is global because this is a global firm, bringing experience that spans all continents, bringing skills from all architectural disciplines.

About two years ago, Bercy Chen teamed with the talented developer Ben Myers to build the San Juan Homes in Austin’s Hill Country. Dan Loe, the project architect for the San Juan Homes, took some time out of his busy schedule to talk to me about working at Bercy Chen, the process of designing and building the project, and collaborating with the client, Ben Myers.

The Value of Architecture: How long have you worked at Bercy Chen?

Dan Loe: I’ve been there since February 2007, so coming up on ten years. I started while I was still in college working part-time and kept working for them once I got out of school.

TVOA: What kinds of stuff have you learned about design and construction processes?

Dan Loe: It’s a firm that’s always very inquisitive. We do spend time on research and development, on different materials. There was one point where we did some mockups to make our own material, like the translucent concrete. That’s something we were really excited about. I experimented and did a little bit of that on my own.

As far as construction processes, part of the reason why these guys got into it was because back in 2000, there really wasn’t the kind of builders that were willing to do the kind of details they were doing at the time—very sleek, very modern, steel and glass. The cost of it was so prohibitive because nobody had really done anything like that before. These guys took it on as a means to not get their ideas taken out of the process, as a way to stay in control of the projects. It’s taught me just roll up your sleeves and do it.

TVOA: A great thing about Bercy Chen is the wide range of projects you guys get—cultural, commercial, and residential. What do you prefer working on?

Dan Loe: I prefer doing the single-family residential homes the best, and those are typically the ones we build too—about 60-70% of the projects. Typically how it works is I’ll sit down with the client on the first day along with Thomas and Calvin, and I’ll stick with the project the whole way through. I’ll be the project manager throughout construction, all the way up to handing the keys over to him on the last day, saying, “Here, it’s yours.” I love being able to see the project the whole way through. It’s the polar opposite of what I doing when I was working in New York, working on plans for a high-rise in Moscow. I never went to Moscow. I never got to see the site. Never saw anything, but I was just cranking out drawings. Here, it’s night and day from what that experience was.

TVOA: This sounds so much more human, developing something more organically.

Dan Loe: It’s very tactile—on-site working out the details. No matter how much time you spend on the design side there’s always going to be these elements that pop up during construction that you have to resolve. You have to figure out how the steel is going to meet the wood. It’s this constant process of analyzing and reassessing, and coming up with solutions. And sometimes those are really the best.

At the San Juan project we had an HVAC duct that was drawn and modeled, but once we were on site we thought there was a better way to do it. We played around with it a little bit, rerouted the duct. It really turned out to be one of my favorite spots in the whole thing. We made a little sitting bench over top of the duct, so it could run along the floor, blow out air into the living space. And then the end of the bench turned into a little seated desk area. That’s something that we would’ve never thought of if we just handed the design over to someone. There are moments of serendipity that just happen as a result of being intimately aware of the project.

TVOA: How long have you been working on the San Juan project?

Dan Loe: About two years now. I think we had about six months of design, then started construction. And we’re set to wrap up in December.

TVOA: What was the process like of choosing the materials? How did the site affect that process?

Dan Loe: When we first saw the site there were thick woods, completely covered in cedar trees that just never had been taken care of. So part of the process was cutting out these invasive, scrub cedar trees, and we kept the oaks. After that the site looked huge, and the view of the canyon across the river opened up.

For inspiration, a lot of the material selection was inspired by the southwest because the client, Ben Myers, coming from southern California, had lived in an adobe house. For example, in the bottom of each of these houses, what we wanted to achieve was the perception that these walls were massive and very thick, like an adobe wall. The windows are recessed in one to two feet, so every time you see that you get this sense that it’s this massive solid block. And the counterpoint of that would be how the top part of each house was handled. There we wanted to push the windows to the very edge and create this feeling of tautness, like a skin, a delicate veneer at some level, so we wanted to push the walls all the way to the corners, all the way to the edges, and create this delicacy, something that’s going to sit on top of it, and be the counterpoint to the volume that’s going to sit on the ground floor.

In addition to the southwest, we were also inspired by the Mexican sculptor, Jorge Yazpik, who works in these very angular blocks, pretty simple forms, and then he carves this void out of them, creating these interesting geometric forms as a result of starting with something very simple. That was a huge influential part of this project. For example, we used a solid block, a rectilinear block, as the base, and then we would carve out a series of courtyards. These spaces would be little courts that would be sheltered from the sun. When we’re done we’ll plant Japanese Maple, or it could be a Zen garden, or be more lush, more vegetative. Each one of these courtyards depending on their orientation will take on a unique personality.

TVOA: It’s amazing having so much outdoor space.

Dan Loe: Absolutely. In addition to the gardens, there’s the outdoor deck above the kitchen. Soon they’re going to be screened in, with perforated panels all around, and that’ll also add a nice quality of both shade, but also views of the canyon and beyond.

TVOA: How was it working with Ben?

Dan Loe: Great—Ben is probably the most design-informed client we’ve ever had. His knowledge of mid-century modern architecture is second to none. He and Brian can talk for hours and hours about their favorite mid-century modern furniture photographer. So, it was a really fantastic relationship. We’d meet with Ben every couple weeks. Initially we came up with a couple concepts with him, and he has a strong sense of what works for him and what doesn’t. He was great to work with, and continues to be.

TVOA: So you guys will continue to work together?

Dan Loe: He’s coming in a couple weeks to talk about a new project.

TVOA: It’s amzing. Everyone’s converging in Austin it seems. You’re from Minnesota and Ben’s from California, and you’re coming together to change the landscape of Texas.

Dan Loe: The thing I noticed here is that Austin doesn’t aspire to be Los Angeles, or New York—certainly doesn’t aspire to be Houston, Dallas, or San Antonio. It’s just got this confidence of: it is what it is.

By: David Plick


LBJ: Gordon?

Gordon Bunshaft: Yes?

LBJ: Lyndon Johnson.

Bunshaft: Oh, yes, Mr. President. How are you?

LBJ: I hope I’m not interrupting your dinner or something.

Bunshaft: Oh, no, no.  I—we finished some time ago.

LBJ: Gordon, we—I just learned tonight, our folks have been out looking at these libraries and is there no way in the world that we could reconstitute as nearly as possible in the President’s office at the Library the President’s office here?

Bunshaft: Well, we hadn’t thought of it, but it’s possible—

LBJ: I hate to build me a little one out there at the side and say, this is the way the President’s office looked. And here’s his desk and here’s his chair. Here’s his FDR picture. Here’s his—where all these people sat. Now, that is the most attractive thing, they tell me, to the people who go and hear it, is Truman discussing where he sat in this office.

Bunshaft: Yes.

LBJ: And—

Bunshaft: [talking over each other] I didn’t know that the Tru—in Kansas of Mr. Truman—President Truman—

LBJ: Lady Bird said we—well, we have a trouble—she says it just ought to be, we just should have thought of it, we just played hell not doing it. And now we got a bunch of can’t-do philosophy. She says that the ceiling’s not high enough—well maybe we don’t have to have the same height ceiling but maybe—and maybe we can’t have the same oval room, maybe it—we’ve got different dimensions.  But it seems to me that if we could, we ought to take this rug out of here and this—just as the Kennedy’s are doing and have done, just as the Trumans did—and ought to take the desk and ought to take the chairs, and we ought to say—you see, very—relatively few people come through the President’s office here.

Bunshaft: Yes.

LBJ: But all of them want to see where the President worked, just as much as they want to see where the President was born, when they come to our little house. That’s one of the basic things, and it’s going to be remembered and impress it on them a lot more than some book up in a shelf.

Bunshaft: Yeah.

LBJ: And if we could, I just—that’s the one thing I want.  I’d like to have as near a reproduction as finances and architectural requirements would permit.  I don’t say it’s got to be 18 feet high or 14, or it’s got to be 38 feet long.

Bunshaft: Well—

LBJ: We might have a little card on the door and say this is not an exact reproduction, or something, but I’d like for it to be such that, say—where they get an impression that here’s where the President worked, because they all want to see that. They all want to—that’s what they come to see.

Bunshaft: Yes.  Well, Mr. President, we’ll get the dimensions and we’ll try several locations—maybe there’s more than on—and it would be nice, if we could do it, to do it exactly, because I think the quality of that room is the total thing.  And it may be possible to do it.

People from the northeast have a long history of perverting Texas with their wicked ideas, and Gordon Bunshaft is one of its most profound examples, as his idea—the LBJ Presidential Library and Museum—will stand the test of time. Bunshaft, who was born in Buffalo, educated and trained at MIT, and made his career in the New York City super-firm Skiddings, Owing, and Merill, designed unarguably the most important piece of Austin architecture. He had a reputation of being a tough and crude man who spoke his mind, and was known for long silences where he would search for the right solution to a problem. He was someone who could lead an artistic movement because not only did he believe in what he said, he would stop at nothing to make you agree with him, and he shut out those who didn’t.

He was so outspoken, in fact, that he didn’t hesitate to disagree with LBJ. In a famous letter he sent to the president, he said, “The only sour note in your library, it seems to me, is the Political Campaign Exhibit [which] seems to have been done without the slightest sense of design or regard for the space or walls … It all looks like a poor trade show.”

Bunshaft was a terse and difficult man. He never lectured or taught, or liked to share his ideas with people. He didn’t leave behind drawings or a legacy for us to learn from. Even his house on Long Island was destroyed after Martha Stewart sold it to the textile business owner, Donald Maraham, who thought it was ugly.

Bunshaft’s design of the LBJ Presidential Library & Museum is a minimal monolith—a work clearly dedicated to modernism, yet with an intention to give homage to an earnest president. It is, with its sleek design, a very serious work of architecture, creating a somber, contemplative feeling, yet also with inviting balconies to take in views of the city and a majestic ceremonial staircase inside. This Austin architecture landmark houses 45 million pages of historical documents, including the papers of President Johnson and those of his close associates and others. As per LBJ’s request, referenced in the phone call to Bunshaft at the beginning of this article, the top floor of the library has a 7/8 scale replica of President Johnson’s Oval Office.

Ada Louise Huxtable, in her review in The New York Times of this great piece of Austin architecture, said, “Architecture as art and symbol is one of civilization’s oldest games, and Mr. Bunshaft is one of its most dedicated players.”

By: David Plick

14-chicago-jackson-parkSince politics is dominating our national conversation, particularly as the dust of the Democratic National Convention settles, it seems an appropriate time to start a series analyzing the architecture of presidential libraries. On Wednesday night President Barack Obama spoke to the convention and the rest of the country, urging them to “feel the Bern” and also to “carry her like you carried me.” Amidst this media frenzy surrounding our political landscape, another frenzy is happening because of Barack Obama at the firm, Tod Williams Billie Tsien, Architects | Partners, as they work on the plans for his presidential library.

The Obama Presidential Center will be constructed in Chicago’s South Side, a predominately African-American neighborhood, in Jackson Park, the third largest in the city, which comprises 500 acres. NY-based architects and married couple Tod Williams and Billie Tsien was chosen for the project. They boast a prestigious catalog of work including the American Folk Art Museum, Asia Society Hong Kong Center, the US Embassy in Mexico City, among many others, and also state that “architecture [is] an act of profound optimism.” It makes complete sense then that they would design the first major monument dedicated to our president who said, “Yes we can.”

The architecture of presidential libraries is fascinating. For example, something important to note in the last two presidential libraries—The George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum and William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum—is that both clearly reflect their presidents’ personality.

Source: Southern Methodist University

Source: Southern Methodist University

Architect: Robert A.M. Stern

Here is W’s library. Notice the strong, cream-colored limestone. It’s stoic, serious; it doesn’t blink when it needs to make a decision. Also, it can just sit there, still and silent and unsmiling. It has a purpose: to be quiet and do what its told.


Architect: James Polshek

Next we have Clinton’s library—now this thing is fun! It’s hovering over the air like a spaceship, like it just wants to take off and fly away from pesky tabloid journalists. An interesting contrast though was the use of glass—the building is more transparent than he was.

The architecture of presidential libraries is a fascinating way to view our nation’s modern architectural and design history. Starting with Abraham Lincoln all the way to seeing the first preliminary designs for Obama’s Presidential Center, it’s a peek into how design mirrors our politics, and how our culture is tied with our physical environment.

By: David Plick

Desks_of_architecture_students_in_the_Yale_Art_and_Architecture_Building,_September_29,_2008It’s July. Maybe you don’t even want to think about how to prepare for architecture school yet, but maybe you do because you’re so excited and can’t contain yourself. You’re going to architectural school, baby, and the future of the built environment lies in the 7” — 10” of the palm of your hand.

Even with all the bunking and debunking of stereotypes on the Internet regarding the professional life of the architect, it’s still easy to fall into the idealist, extravagant mindset as you start architecture school. In fact, this article isn’t meant to deny you that. It’s your right and you should soak it up (before you work professionally . . .) because that’s what being a graduate or undergraduate architecture student is all about.

But for those of you looking to enter with a Zen mindset, here are a few tips in how to prepare for architecture school.

Leave Hubris at Home

The Buddha said, “A man is not called wise because he talks and talks again; but if he is peaceful, loving and fearless then he is in truth called wise.”

10752549794_776db226c2And in graduate school, there’s a lot of the “talks and talks again” variety. Because it’s very common to go into architecture school (or most arts schools) thinking you have it all figured it out, and that you’re just going to get in there and blow everyone out of the water. But then inevitably the first time that student presents their first piece to design studio, it gets torn to shreds—and by “it” I mean their fragile ego. Instead, I would suggest to simply go in with openness. You’re here to learn, to grow, to practice so you can to discover all of your strengths and weaknesses. You’re here to apply what you’ve been practicing, or have been wanting to try, in a professional setting. The first time you get your work torn apart, don’t pout. Embrace it. Welcome criticism and listen to it. Those are the pains of becoming a working artist.

Throw Away Your Smart Phone

Studies show that people spend on average around five hours a day on their smart phones. Also, in 2014, the average person spent 103 minutes on social media. Not to mention all the energy spent and the headspace of thinking about what people are saying, the jealousies, the trying to make other people jealous—all the fear and loathing. I suggest staying focused on what you’re doing. You don’t have to show people your models, your work (start a website/digital portfolio for that!), your interesting life. It’s only a distraction. Plus, this election season is only going to get nastier. You don’t need to subject yourself to that.

Learn How to Cook

If you’re an American between the ages of 18-24, chances are you have no idea how to cook—I’m not talking about Easy Mac and cereal. And today, with the mental and physical punishment you’re going to inflict on your body during school, you must take care of it. Learn how to do simple things: make yourself salad, make salad dressing out of oil, vinegar, and mustard; steak, fish—proteins, get yourself some proteins, STAT! And if you’re vegetarian (totally understandable—it’s art school), soak yourself some lentils! And don’t say you don’t know how to do it. If you can undergo the complex process of designing a hospital, you can watch a three-minute Youtube video on how to make salad.

Come with a Rhythm in Mind, Then Be Prepared to Change It

Know what schedule works for you and your body. Are you a morning person who is productive from 6AM-8:30 while everybody else is still cursing their alarm, their boss, their family, their life? So, get up early and get to work. Don’t feel like you have to do what everyone else is doing in terms of their workflow—staying up all week until a project is done. Find out what pace and schedule your body and mind needs to stay productive. And remember: research shows that taking consistent breaks throughout the day produces productivity. Don’t think that killing yourself and never sleeping is what you need to do.

Bring Your Tools

Of course you know that you’re gonna CAD your ass off—free-CAD, auto-CAD, Vectorworks—but remember that it all starts with drawing, so make sure you have all your drawing tools: pens, drafting paper, scales, bottle of bourbon—all your different paint brushes, canvases, ukulele, tape, glue, rubber cement, paddles, binders, mats, boards, strings, whistles, glow in the dark stars, tent, plywood, Voodoo doll.

Remember to have fun, and that the process in how to prepare for architecture school is personal for all of us. It’s really a wonderful time full of experimentation and personal growth, and you’ll never get it back. So enjoy it—life is never quite the same again after.

By: David Plick

Vitra_Design_Museum-1If you’re passionate about architecture, you definitely had a moment at some point, no matter your level, from beginner enthusiast to Pritzker Prize winner, when you asked yourself, “What the [expletive] is deconstructivist architecture?” (Quick side note: Microsoft Word keeps underlining the word “deconstructivist,” insisting that this word doesn’t exist. Which, somehow, actually makes complete sense). The philosophical movement “deconstruction,” which is where deconstructivism derived, is theoretical and complex enough to understand, but it becomes even more confusing within the context of architectural theory because buildings are literally “constructed” by construction professionals. So naturally when people hear the word they immediately think it’s the process of demolishing a building. But no—that would just be too easy, now wouldn’t it? Because “deconstruction” was actually started by some smarty pants French/Algerian guy named Jacques Derrida in his book Of Grammatology.

So What Is Deconstruction?

Deconstruction is a late 20th century philosophical movement primarily fathered by Derrida. It basically sought to undermine preconceived beliefs surrounding reason and logic (things that previous philosophers such as Kant and the Enlightenment revered). Instead, Derrida argued that meaning, from words, symbols (actually, remember symbols for later—it’s what deconstructivist architecture is founded upon), or whatever, exist because of relationships, the yin and yang between things. Good exists only because of bad; a chair is a chair and has meaning to us (the audience) as a chair because we know what isn’t a chair, etc. In addition, the meaning of a thing changes over time. Today, in 2016, a laptop has a particular meaning and significance but will it have the same meaning and significance in a thousand years? Today, if someone showed you a sword or armor, would you actually think they’re taking that thing into battle? Or would you think they just were into collecting antiques? Anyway, the whole point is that the meaning of anything is fluid, always changing based on context, relationships to other things, cultural attitudes, gender, age, time, and other factors too.

Semiotics: How This Relates to Architecture

First off, let’s define semiotics, a word maybe you learned in college and probably forgot about as soon as the class was over. It’s the study of non-verbal communication, and how we derive meaning from symbols. Now, take this through the same line of thinking Derrida applied to words—symbols take on different meaning depending upon context, relationships to other things, cultural attitudes, time, and other factors too. A classic architectural example of the fluidity of symbolic representation is how classical Greek columns, the Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian order, receive different responses throughout history. In its inception Doric columns were considered masculine, Corinthian was feminine, and Ionic was neutral. But hundreds of years later during revivalist periods of architecture, when these same columns were built, viewers responded saying that Corinthian was strong and straight-forward, or in other words, masculine. Same column, different response. Who’s right? This is when we would quote Le Corbusier and say, “It’s life that’s always right, and the architect who’s wrong.”

UnknownSo now, what is deconstructivist architecture? It’s basically saying, “The hell with those symbols anyway . . .” because who knows what they mean? It’s about fragmentation—challenging the idea of what a building or structure even is. So, late 20th century architects like Daniel Libeskind, Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid, Peter Eisenman, and company said, let’s make buildings that sway and wave like they’re being blown around by the wind. Let’s make them bend. Let’s make them interact. Let’s make them human. Let’s make them not only stand out, but disrupt the system. Let’s change the landscape, change cities, and change lives. Let’s make weird looking windows and build staircases to nowhere. Because, what’s a staircase anyway?

And so on, and so forth.

To Review:

Modernism = “Less is more.”

Postmodernism = “Less is a bore.”

Deconstructivism = WEEEEEeeeeeeeEEEEEEEeeeeeeeeEEEEEEEEeeeeeeeEEEEEEEeeeeeee!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

By: David Plick

UnknownThe UK shocked the world today as citizens voted to leave the European Union. For reasons unclear: national pride, fear of immigration, fear of European economic instability, just plain ol’ drunk fun—they voted at a slight majority to “Brexit,” and quit a political and economic partnership which sought to create peace, unity, and security through the acceptance of various cultural and social ideas. Now, their Prime Minister has resigned; Scotland may vote again to leave the UK, financial markets around the world are plummeting, and millions of English people are still googling “what is the EU?” So, in the spirit of English humor, the Value of Architecture will give homage to great British architecture and its accomplishments throughout history (while they’re still there . . . ).

Neolithic (10,000 BC – 2,000 BC)


Looking like it would’ve been constructed by obscenely strong children, this early form of Brutalism was just bunch of rocks pushed next to each other. The designers didn’t factor an HVAC system into these structures because “human” bodies were most likely still covered head to toe in thick body hair.

Roman (43 – 410)


Wait—Rome in Britain? But wasn’t that the whole point of leaving the EU—to keep their nationality? That’s weird . . .

But believe it or not, the UK actually is geographically close to other European countries, which is why the Roman Empire did conquer some of their territory, extending into southern England into a province called Brittania.

Well, at least they got some Corinthian columns and Roman baths out of the deal.

Medieval (600 – 1200)


This style of British architecture probably makes the lads happy that they were invaded by the Normans, who ended up destroying almost all of these buildings, but who also, replaced them with much more stylish ones, i.e., in the Gothic and Romanesque form.

Tudor (Late 1400’s – 1600)


So many Henrys. So many mistresses and murdered women. So many bricks and stones, and depressed chimneys and long hallways with tapestries hanging on the walls. Somehow, even amongst all the misogyny, still charming in its own way.

Victorian (1837 – 1901)


The Industrial Revolution gave birth to the modern economy, Charles Dickens novels like Oliver Twist (and the horrid American Upton Sinclair), but also new materials that British architecture could use such as iron and steel. Manufacturing became mechanized, and this was a period of massive growth architecturally in cities like London.

International Style (1920 – Present)


Probably the most vague, non-descript name of any artistic movement in history, the International Style emerged because Hitler and the Nazis blew up so much of London (wait—wasn’t that one of the reasons the EU was supposed to be a good idea in the first place?) they were almost starting from scratch. Because there were so many buildings that had to be built, architects realized that the easiest thing to do was build something that is a square. So that’s what they made, and they called it “functional.”

The International Style was then co-opted by bloody Americans like Philip Johnson after they had an art exhibition at the MoMA.

Brutalism (1950 – Present)


It’s heavy, it’s dark; it’s somber and brooding which makes it look perfect in the rain. It would just rather not be bothered.

How utterly British.

By: David Plick

A special thanks to Kon von der Schulenburg of the fantastic architecture firm Cantrell Crowley in Dublin, Ireland who shared this article and brilliant infographic on urban planning with us.

Cantrell Crowley IG v2 Feb

Year after year, urban planning has changed radically. The building of cities and towns has a multifaceted and complex history. Although urban planning has only been recognised as an urban profession for less than a century, cities all over the world highlight the different elements of conscious design from everything from layout to functionality.

Since the dawn of time, cities have provided protection from outside forces and have been centres of government. In history, during attacks, the surrounding countryside rural community fled behind cities’ walls and fortresses, where defence forces assembled to resist the enemy. With the introduction of modern aerial warfare, cities have become key targets for destruction rather than safe zones.

Consequently, over time, the needs of cities changed. The concentration of talent, economic surplus and the mixture of peoples have allowed for a grounds of the evolution of human culture, from the scientific research to technical innovation.

From Giambattista Nolli to Jean Gottamn, architects have created some of the most influential urban designs in history. Let’s take a look at this infographic that has some simple visualisations of complex planning ideas that have changed how we live.

By: Brian Linder

Via flickr by Susluriel

Via flickr by Susluriel

If you’re in the game to fall in love with somebody, I recommend falling in love with an architect. They’re born with this hyper-intuition where they instinctively understand things without having to put them into words. For example, if you’re upset at all and maybe you’re just not in the mood to show your feelings to your architect, they will probably still pick up on it. They’re just in-tune with the world (and if they love you like you love them, they’ll be in tune with you). They’re easily going see that something is “off” about you.

I’m not saying you’re dating Sherlock Holmes or anything like that. They’re not necessarily going to be suspicious and looking for clues, but it does help to produce a healthy relationship if both people express how they feel—and you can do this with your architect.

What else?

They’re smart.

Architects of course vary in style, personality, but as a general rule, they’re smart. First off, getting into architecture school is very competitive, as is finishing the degree. An architect needs to have the imagination of a visual artist along with math and science aptitude. They’re both left and right brained which makes for fun conversation.

They’re hard-working.

The aforementioned architecture school is a killer with more than 10% of architecture students dropping out of the major before their second year, and over 80% of students never actually registering as architects. Most people do not have the discipline to make it through architecture school, but if you find someone that has, you know they have the ability to be devoted to something—to have a lofty goal and see it through.

They have great style.

Architects have that look like they just finished eating ceviché in San Sebastian. And you can always tell who the architect is in the room: the unkept hair that somehow still looks perfect, drifting across their face; the casual chic, unbuttoned at the top Oxford with a Prada blazer, the thick-framed Corbu glasses. The style somehow is unnoticeable—unless you’re in love with the architect and noticing everything about them—because it’s so effortless.

They’re engaged with the world.

Architects are trained in spatial relationships, how different physical environments affect one another, and how we can use the natural world—these things that grow all around us—as usable materials to build structures to keep us safe. They’re trained to be engaged, to react. They’re like actors in that sense, but instead of responding to feelings in a moment in time, they respond to everything else. This is why they read literature, listen to opera, and love ballet. It’s not because they’re snobs. It’s because they seek to connect.

They love art.

Architecture is a high art form, so it makes sense that architects would engage in other modes: theater, film, dance, literature, etc., and they have opinions on all of these things. Even if they don’t write because they excel more at expressing themselves visually, they’ll tell you what they think of Roth, of Susan Sontag, or Woody Allen. If you asked them to go to the Whitney on a Saturday night, they’d go. And if, on the third date, you asked them to go to an Italian film at your friend’s non-profit, they’d go to that too. During the movie you’d hold hands, and when a tense moment arrived in the story with Italian lovers who have not seen each other in years, your architect would look at you ironically and say, “Tough situation.” You’ll fall a little in love with them at this moment in time.

They love nature.

Since they are innately interested in the use of space, it makes sense that they love nature. They love to notice that a certain species of tree grows in a particular place because of the way the sun hits the earth at that angle. They like to watch the relationship develop between the birds, the trees, the deer, and us. They love going to a state park for the afternoon, hiking, and bird watching. And especially, above all things, going to the beach. They like to sit back and observe. And they’ll have no trouble sharing with you everything they think.

They love Paris.

Yeah, I know, everybody loves Paris, but architects will have specific things they love about it. They’ve been to Musée Marmottan and prefer the Musée d’Orsay to the Louvre. They’ll get an AirBnb in the 19th as opposed to staying at a dumb-looking hotel on Boulevard Saint-Michel, and they love, love, love Berthillon.

They challenge you to be a better person.

They don’t do this consciously. They don’t want you to be better for selfish reasons. It’s just that when you’re around them you want to be better. Not better, like, more successful. But a more disciplined, balanced, decent and kind version of yourself. The you that you want to be.

By: David Plick

summer-sun-blue-sky-palmI will always remember the first day I moved to Austin: June 20th, 2012. The temperature was 116 degrees. I walked (yes, walked!) around the city all week, and it was always sunny, and I don’t recall ever seeing a single cloud. I was looking for an apartment, and people drove by staring at me—shocked, appalled, like I had a hostage with me. I don’t think I have ever been so hot and dehydrated in my life.

But that’s Austin summer—hot! Some regions in this country have their wet and dank, unbearable humidity, but in Austin it’s just sun, and there’s a lot of it.

Today is June 10th, and another Austin summer is upon us. Of course, we’ll all cool off at Barton Springs and our pools (or our friends’ pools . . . ?), but there are also design choices in Austin architecture that can mitigate the brutal, and sometimes punishing Texas sun.



It blocks the sun from the windows, but you can also make unique finishes with it and add design value to your home.

Go Adobe


It keeps the home cool. It’s sleek and minimal. It’s the southwest and adds regional ambiance.

Add Plantlife


Plants make us happier and make designs more natural (I mean, it worked pretty well for Roche’s Ford Foundation Building); plus, they block the sun by absorbing its rays, as opposed to them heating the earth that the house sits on.

Make It Bigger


If the house has thick concrete and masonry, it’ll absorb the heat before it gets to your living space.

It’s fascinating to observe a region’s environment affect its design choices. Because, whether we like it all the time or not, we must co-exist and work with our natural world.

Any other climate sensitive Austin architecture and design ideas? Please write us and let us know!

By: David Plick


“In general, proximity to rail . . . [and] rail transit investments have positive effects on property values. In fact, the effect of a new fixed guideway transit investment is two-fold. First, transit investments improve the convenience of accessing other parts of a region from station locations. Second, rail transit accessibility enhances the attractiveness of property, increasing the likelihood that the property can be developed.”

Impacts Of Rail Transit On Property Values” –Roderick B. Diaz

Yesterday, the Central Austin Community Development Corporation revealed their new plan for a more limited light rail system that would cost $397.5 million as opposed to the previous plan which was estimated at more than a billion dollars. Austinites will vote on this in November during the upcoming presidential election, a tactic chosen by developers who believe that the high voter turnout could push the referendum through. Recent polls suggest that a convincing majority of residents support the implementation of an Austin light rail.

The new plan will bring a rail to Guadalupe Street to offer service to the University of Texas community, stretching all the way to North Lamar, as a means to begin the process of establishing the Austin light rail. Later, the group plans to incorporate a series of expansions to service areas such as South Mopac, William Cannon, and the airport. The Guadalupe-North Lamar light rail will challenge Mayor Steve Adler’s proposal to focus funding on improving the existing roads.

How will the Austin Light Rail affect local property values?

Along with San Antonio, Austin is the only major populated city in the U.S without an influential rail system. Now, questions will always remain whether the rail will deplete or add to property values, and the answers will not be the same for all Austin residents, as it depends on a number of factors, such as:

  • Accessibility, i.e., access to employment: how much convenience is added to your life because of the rail?
  • Distance between rail system and the property: does the existence of the rail take away from the beauty of the natural surroundings and add unwanted noise?
  • Public opinion about the rail system: if people generally feel positive about the system, then living near it will add social caché, and therefore, value.

What do you think, homeowners? Would you want the Austin light rail to run along Lamar and Guadalupe? How do you think it will affect your property’s value? We have the next five months to keep the conversation going.

By: David Plick

Via flickr by CreativeMornings Austin

Via flickr by CreativeMornings Austin

Earlier this morning, the founder of The Value of Architecture, Brian Linder, led a group of enthusiastic and creative Austinites in a tour of a Harwell Hamilton Harris’ Barrow Residence near Mt. Bonnell. Among the Creative Mornings audience, which included many talented interior designers, graphic designers, filmmakers, historic preservation officers, and creative directors at advertising agencies, there was also Chris Krager, the architect and founder of KRDB, whose sleek modern designs are changing the face of East Austin, and Ben Myers, a developer whose commissioned work from Bercy Chen Studios. Brian Linder spoke with me this afternoon about his first time being a Creative Mornings host.

The Value of Architecture: So it was a good crowd this morning?

Brian Linder: It was great. I arrived at about 8 AM, and we had twenty minutes for people to walk around and check out the house. Then I launched into a discussion of Harwell’s life—his birth in Southern California, all the way up to his time studying sculpture at the Otis Art Institute, and how he ended up being blown away by architecture as a sculptural art form because of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hollyhock House, and how he ended up apprenticing with Richard Neutra for years until opening up his own firm.

TVOA: So you really were able to get into talking about architecture. That’s really cool.

Brian Linder: We could talk about a lot of things because there were so many accomplished and creative people there. Another thing we discussed was this really interesting dialogue happening around this time—there was some tension between the Case Study Program, which had been commissioned by Arts & Architecture magazine and was all about that International Style of pre-fabricated, sort of hard-edged, modern. The publisher of the magazine commissioned Harris to design his home in the International Style. And House Beautiful, which was promoting the Pace Setter program, a more organic architecture inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright and a return to American regionalism. So, there was this big dialogue around post-war housing. At the same time, the Museum of Modern Art had introduced the International Style in the exhibition by Philip Johnson in the 1930’s. So, during this time period in the 1950’s there were opposing viewpoints, and it was Harris that bridged that gap. He had done the International Style, and then he moved to Texas to become the Dean of UT School of Architecture, and began advocating for the organic regionalism once championed by Wright. The Barrow Residence was born out of this national dialogue happening in the architectural community at the time.

TVOA: That’s great that you could get into the history.

Brian Linder: I consider myself more of an art dealer interested in the art of the real estate rather than dollars per square foot. I’m promoting the artistic value of the real estate. But of these designs, this art, does add tremendous value to the property in the marketplace.

TVOA: Was there any practical advice given to aspiring artists/designers?

Brian Linder: Yes, there was. Fortunately two of my friends came: Chris Krager of KRDB, and Ben Myers, who recently commissioned two houses for Bercy Chen Studio. They shared their tremendous knowledge about Austin history and architecture, and of course Hamilton Harris, but also about their roles as developers and how to bring design to the market and actually make money and not go bankrupt, which is actually a complicated equation. It’s very difficult to hit that sweet spot of building more expensive modern architecture, yet not doing everything you always wanted to do in architecture school, like installing the kinds of finishes that would bankrupt the project. So those guys introduced a really lively discussion.

TVOA: That’s so helpful to get first-hand advice from architecture and design entrepreneurs.

Brian Linder: It was amazing. It definitely ended up feeling like a salon where incredible people could just exchange ideas. It was a great turn out, and I would definitely do it again!

By: David Plick

Lady Bird LakeThis past week an AIA Austin Design Award was given to the firm Limbacher & Godfrey Architects for their Lady Bird Lake Boardwalk. The grand opening for the boardwalk was June 7th, and its intended to improve the quality of life of Austinites through thoughtful design, offering picturesque, unobstructed views of the city due to the path’s deliberate zig-zagging motion, amidst its 10 mile trail tucked away in limestone bluffs.

The design choices here are all functional, but they also add to the ebb and flow of the structure and its relationship to its surrounding environment. As people move up and down the lake by foot or on bikes, creating the motion of life, the Lady Bird Lake Boardwalk ebbs and flows as well, careening around trees and diverting its trajectory to ensure the maximum comfort of the user.

Lady Bird Lake Boardwalk is a stunning example of how thoughtful architecture and design can improve the quality of life of its citizens—something Austin knows well due to its vibrant and brilliant local architecture culture.

Lady Bird Lake Boardwalk was a $28 million project, and took six years to complete.

By: David Plick

IMG_1790Currently showing at The Met Breuer, the building which was formerly the Whitney Museum of American Art, is the exhibit, —Unfinished: Thoughts Left Visiblewhich features unfinished works by notable 20th century artists like Picasso, Roy Lichtenstein, Jackson Pollock, amongst other masters such as Van Gogh, Monet, Cezanne, and Manet. This exhibit provokes the question: when is a work of art “finished”? What makes one work “finished” and not another? And who decides this?


What makes this Jackson Pollock painting unfinished? What is it missing?

Pollock Unfinished






How about this Picasso?

Picassso Unfinished







This philosophical question pertaining to the constantly evolving relationship between art, the artist, and humanity—its deeply personal relationship to the artist, but then to the greater society throughout history—has an ironic architectural twist in The Met Breuer. The building, a symbol in Manhattan’s Upper East Side, was originally commissioned in 1963 for the purpose of housing American art, which was seen to be inconsequential and pedestrian at the time. The Whitney represented all of the things about art that the Met once rejected.

But now the tables have turned. And The Met Breuer is an extension of The Metropolitan Museum of Art and will house featured exhibitions and contemporary works that have historically been ignored by the organization. Amongst this conversation of unfinished business, we have to wonder now if The Met is finished, or if they will continue to expand not only in artistic breadth but also physical width and length, throughout NYC.

A Final Note About the New Whitney Building and the Breuer Building:

In being to both the new Whitney by Renzo Piano, and the former Breuer design in the past two weeks, I can tell you that the stark contrast couldn’t be clearer. While Piano’s design looks so light and airy it could fly away to heaven, Breuer’s heavy granite, concrete, and stone driven building looks like it wants to slowly sink deeper into the earth. The new Whitney uses light pine for the floors and expansive ceilings to create further openness, whereas Breuer’s is a slate floor and heavy granite slabs in the ceiling which makes you feel like you’re exploring an obscure cave. Breuer’s building is dark and brooding—an angry, misunderstood, misanthropic artist (Dostoyevsky, if you will) whereas Piano’s is the playful, delightful, whimsical artist (Voltaire or Oscar Wilde, if you will). To say one is better or worse is not only unfair, it’s incorrect and a gross misinterpretation of architecture.

Because the crucial difference in evaluating the contrasts between these buildings is their location—trapped within the enormously wealthy families of the Upper East Side, Breuer’s building is trapped. In fact, as it was the new kid on the block, formerly rejected by the mainstream, it deserves to feel like a misanthropic outcast. With all those rich, fake-happy people around you—all tightly packed together in an urban garbage heap—how could you not be?

On the other hand, Piano’s building flirts with the ocean, and the openness of downtown. It can fly because it has room to take off; it has the space to be free and alive.

Both buildings are architectural achievements, and the Met’s embracing of modernism, both in the art they hang on the walls inside, and the building they chose to put it in, marks a significant moment in America’s artistic history, and the fact that “the times, they are a-changin’.”

By: David Plick

551b2c2618160b4e1630baa905016bc91460393856This Sunday, May 1st at 2PM you can tour an important piece of American architectural history right here in Austin—the Barrow Residence by Harwell Hamilton Harris. A protégé of Frank Lloyd Wright, one of the fathers of the Midcentury Modern style, and the first dean of the UT School of Architecture, Harris has a house on the market at 4101 Edgemont Drive in the picturesque Mt. Bonnell neighborhood. And TVOA is so lucky to be a part of it.

The American Architectural History:

It all starts with a guy named Frank Lloyd Wright, who was in Southern California attempting to develop his own architectural art form. Harris had seen Wright’s Hollyhock House while he was studying sculpture at Otis Art Institute, and was inspired to study architecture, seeing that it offered tremendous artistic opportunities and challenges with form and design. He enrolled at UC-Berkeley, but was convinced by two guys—R.M Schindler and Richard Neutra—to not study architecture, but rather, to learn by doing. Later, after having his influence come from the International Style of Mies Van Der Rohe and Le Corbusier, Harris combined modernist principles to a regionalist approach to design which emphasized using local materials and local culture.

Hence, the Barrow Residence in all its Texan majesty was born.

The Incredible Story Behind the Barrow Residence, as told by Sarah B. Duncan (the current proprietor):

During Harris’s tenure as dean, he became friends with a young architecture student named David Barrow, Jr. At about the same time, David’s father and his Uncle Edward acquired 2000 acres of land north of 38th Street and west of what is now Mopac (Loop 1), which had been occupied by Texas Crushed Stone. Their intention was to develop the land as residential home sites. The Barrows’ role in the development of this area is memorialized in nearby Barrow Preserve and Edwards Mountain.

Although the Barrows had grown up on Windsor Road in the heart of Tarrytown, David Sr. somehow met and fell in love with a woman named Nelle, who had grown up near Johnson City and the LBJ Ranch. When David asked Nelle to marry him, she replied, “I will consider your proposal, Mr. Barrow. But you know I don’t go anywhere without my cattle.” The Barrows later personally selected and purchased this lot because not only did it back up to Camp Mabry where Nelle’s cattle could at that time run free but, as Nelle told my next-door-neighbor in a very charming manner, it was “obviously the best lot.”

Having selected their lot, the Barrows needed an architect. Enter David Jr., who introduced his parents to the new dean. As evidenced by their subsequent correspondence throughout the design and construction process in 1954 and 1955 (maintained, with the home’s original plans, in UT’s Alexander Archives), the Barrows had found their architect. In keeping with mid-century modern principles, Harris and the Barrows designed and built a gracious and beautiful home but no more than was needed—large, open “public” rooms for entertaining; a bedroom and separate bathrooms for Mr. and Mrs. Barrow with an adjoining home office for Mr. Barrow and a “sewing closet” for Mrs. Barrow; a separate bedroom and bathroom for David Jr.; and, of course, several “outdoor” rooms.

David Barrow lived in this home until his death. After the death of her husband, Nelle continued to live in this home until shortly before her death. [Later], Nelle had grown too old to personally tend her garden and asked her son David to build her an addition from which she could at least see her hillside garden of (depending on the season) red columbine or red amaryllis. David of course honored his mother’s request and built a room of glass and, in keeping with the original house, used straight vertical grain fir. Shortly before her death, Nelle sold the house to Peggy Marchbanks, who lived here before selling it to two realtors, Susan and John Gould, who in turn sold it to the Myers. As luck would have it, within weeks after the Myers purchased this house, a home they had both loved growing up, was listed for sale. The Myers bought that home, lived here while renovating it, and listed this one for sale. I purchased the house from the Myers in 2012.

And now this captivating property, which is built for comfortable living where you can host leisurely dinner parties on the deck under the Texas sky, but is also a cherished part of our unique cultural identity and American architectural history, is again for sale. It’s a place where you can get away from the hustle and bustle to get some thinking done, live a peaceful life, yet still reap all the benefits of an urban cultural center. We hope to see you on Sunday!

By: David Plick

Creative Mornings ATX

CreativeMornings was founded in 2008 in Brooklyn by Tina Roth-Eisenberg. With their headquarters in Carroll Gardens, a neighborhood well known for its progressive art community and many galleries, not to mention its location near the ultra-hip neighborhood, Gowanus, CreativeMornings was designed to cultivate artistic engagement, and is now present in over 140 cities in every corner of the globe. This fantastic organization connects artists of every walk of life, forging important relationships that lead to future collaboration. In addition to the talk/lecture in the morning from a fantastic guest speaker, you get some great coffee and breakfast, which is, as we all know, the most important meal of the day.

CreativeMornings ATX is hosted by Ben Thoma, an advertising veteran, creative consultant, and Brand Experience Director at GasPedal. One Friday a month Ben and his team at CM-ATX welcome a speaker who embodies the creative energy of this great city, and this week, we were lucky enough to hear TVOA’s good friend, Michael Hsu, of the Michael Hsu Office of Architecture. We are proud admirers and supporters of Michael’s work, and loved listening to him speak about his artistic philosophy, approach, and Austin. MHOA’s aesthetic fits perfectly with this city, as he seeks to foster community within the urban landscape through designing neighborhood-oriented structures. His firm uses local materials, and engages with local architecture.

We’re so lucky to live in such a vibrant artistic community, and no other organization is at the epicenter of all that like CreativeMornings ATX. It’s a must for any Austinite who seeks inspiration through creativity.

We can’t wait for the next event, 2 Mystery Speakers, on Friday April 29, 8:00am-9:30am at Spredfast (200 W Cesar Chavez Street, Suite 200 Austin, Texas 78701). See you there!

By: David Plick

4f06c4eafe0c60b5fa7f5a0929cdf0771460563062The greatest joy, perhaps, in working at The Value of Architecture is the feeling that we are a part of American history; that we are promoting and collaborating with some of America’s greatest artists. These architects are the unsung heroes of our city streets. They built this country into what it is today, and leave their mark for us to remember them by living in and around their dreams. Harwell Hamilton Harris, and his enormous contributions to Austin Mid-Century Modernism, but also throughout the entire country, is a prime example of that. It’s an honor and a privilege to be selling his designs, such as the Barrow Residence at 4101 Edgemont, because we get the opportunity to remember this man, who devoted his whole life to making American lives more progressive, efficient, and sustainable.

Harwell Hamilton Harris came to Austin in 1951 when he was hired to be the first Dean of the School of Architecture at the University of Texas. It was here that he assembled a group of architect pioneers, ironically nicknamed the “Texas Rangers,” because they were actually not employing Texas traditions, but rather, Bauhausian European minimalism. Among these famous architects were John Hejduk (John Hedjuk Towers in Galicia, Spain) and Werner Seligmann (Willard State Hospital in upstate New York) among many other critical theorists and important architectural thinkers of the 20th century. Prior to that, Harris apprenticed under Richard Neutra, and worked in Southern California, developing a system of design that employed modernist principles alongside a belief in careful materials selection. This is how progressive Harris was—these ideas of sustainability, the use of local materials, the fact that the materials used had to be site-specific—were all being implemented by Harris decades before it became popular. He paved the way for today’s architects in so many ways.

Austin Mid-Century Modernism was born when Harris stepped foot on the UT-Austin campus. This is why his archives are at UT, and why TVOA is so excited to be engaging with the Austin architectural community about a man whose contributions live on. When we invite you to the open house don’t think of it as simply an investment opportunity, or a chance to buy a dream home. It is that, but it’s also a way to learn about the architectural history of this great city.

By: David Plick

Zaha_hadid_-_Flickr_-_Knight_FoundationToday’s blog post brings me to the High Line in New York City, a famous elevated park designed by New York’s Diller Scofidio + Renfro, which brought liveliness and energy to this city’s west side. But I’m not here for them. I’m here to honor Zaha Hadid, through watching the growth of the only structure in this great city which will bring her liveliness and her energy, 520 W 28. For decades, tourists and New Yorkers will pass by and marvel at the motion of its curves, how it seems to be coming at you. They might not realize it—but the building is speaking to them. And so is Zaha (even though she claims that her work isn’t “personal”, it’s her art. And now it speaks for her).

I’m a little disappointed no one is here with me. I expected to see candles burning and flowers, other people who wanted to share in her glory with other lovers of work, but I’m the only one who seems to know who she is. People are coming here though, to take pictures. Even in its current state, all raw concrete and guts, windows being hoisted by cranes, the building is piquing people’s interest. I’m sitting here thinking about her, how she pushed forms into sciences it wasn’t ready to perform, how she took the stuff that dreams are made of, and brought it to life, how she infused various forms—brutalism and minimalism with futurism—and embraced technology by using it to advance the art of architecture, rather than having technology simply replace the human elements of design. I’m thankful that her wonderland made it to New York, even though she didn’t live to see its fruition.

520 W 28 isn’t her first building in the US. But, sadly, it will actually only be the second, the only completed building being the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati. Her legacy abroad though, is the stuff legends are made of, at Azerbaijan’s 600,000 square foot cultural center Heydar Aliyev, and Guangzhou’s Opera House, which was completed in 2010.

She was truly a marvel of a human being. The first woman to win the Prtizker Prize, she also won the Stirling Prize, and was selected as a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire for her contributions to the field of architecture. But even further, her contributions to womanhood, to Middle Eastern women, to art, have yet to be fully realized. While us in the architecture world are shocked and saddened to our very core, others may not know who she was. But they will. Even if they don’t know it as they walk past her condos in NYC or her many buildings across Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, Zaha is speaking to them. She’s playing with them, sharing her energy.

She will continue speaking to us. That is her power, and hers only.

By: David Plick

via flickr by Mark Moz

via flickr by Mark Moz

Recently Forbes ranked the top real estate investment cities in America for 2016, and Austin was no. 7 behind: Grand Rapids, MI, Orlando, San Antonio, Charlotte, Salt Lake City, and Dallas. Amidst complex metrics used to come to this conclusion, the most important criteria to make the list were a population over 600,000, a booming employment market, and the possibilities for home price appreciation.

Now, seventh in the entire nation is certainly nothing to be ashamed of, and we’re not going to sit here and argue with Forbes’ calculations, but let’s be honest—is there a city in the top six you’d prefer living in than Austin?

Grand Rapids, MI: Freezing cold, and so far from everything in this country you might as well live in Canada.
Orlando: Devoid of culture and only consists of mini-malls, and something even worse, Disney World.
San Antonio: A pretty cool place, but is it as cool as Austin? Let’s be serious.
Charlotte: All it is is banks and mass-produced tract housing colonies. Trust me, I lived there.
Salt Lake City: Beautiful, but no cultural diversity.
Dallas: Don’t Dallas my Austin, ok.

I know what you’re thinking. I’m biased. Well, maybe I am, and maybe you are too. So, let’s take our Austin pride out of the equation and look at it objectively. Is there a city in the US overall with a better reputation, a more invigorating cultural explosion, a cooler vibe than Austin? (Portland and Brooklyn could be argued, but they’re not on the real estate investment list.)

Interestingly, Forbes also listed the top ten coolest cities in America, and Austin was #3 behind Washington, DC (that choice is confusing), and Seattle, neither of which had significant positions in ranked cities for real estate investment. So, if you take both lists and consider the cool factor alongside the investment factor, Austin is the top real estate investment city in America. It’s a place where you can live a cultured, urbane, yet laid-back, low-stress lifestyle, and still make money so you don’t have to live in debt. You can retire and not have any worries. Not to mention, it’s a place with great international food, strong cultural diversity, and a local culture that is distinct from everywhere else.

Austin is weird. But, not so weird that it’s broke (like New Orleans).

Just kidding, New Orleans. We love you!

By: David Plick

Via flickr by shelbysdrummond

Via flickr by shelbysdrummond

It’s that time of the year, friends. That time of the year that you love to act like you despise (and of course, in certain ways, you do) yet still retain that deep and hidden sense of pride that your home is the world’s stage for the latest and greatest, the newest and most exciting trends in technology, music, and film.

Yes, my Austinite brother and sisters. It’s SXSW time.

Launching today until the 20th, your quaint, organic, modern Austin lifestyle is turned upside down. Your former routes to work have been altered, the noise levels exacerbated, and the general sense of calm long gone. But there are advantages if you choose to partake in the cultural madness that lies right in your backyard. For those architecture and design lovers, there’s hope. Here’s the Architecture and Design Lover’s Guide to SXSW:

Interactive Dynamic Design: Fashion and Architecture
Tuesday, March 15
11:00AM – 12:00PM
Westin Austin Downtown
310 E 5th ST

More and more designers and architects are moving away from paper towards digital design software. But these recent changes doesn’t mean that design is moving away from its humanity. In fact, this presentation will seek ways to further connect people through our use of interactive spaces and the natural world.

Tiny House Movement Meet Up
Sunday, March 13
11:00AM – 12:00PM
JW Marriott, Room 210
110 E 2nd St

Get together with some leading experts in the tiny house movement to discuss the how, what, where, and why of this fascinating solution to the global recession and the housing crisis.

Impact Design Night hosted by SXSW Eco
Saturday, March 12
6:00PM – 8:00PM
212 Lavaca St #390

This is the networking event you can’t miss—a discussion of how art and architecture are transforming cities, making them more livable, efficient, and enjoyable. Will there be European architects and designers there? Hell yeah. And people from Google? You know it.

Food Hall Nation: The Return of Public Markets
Saturday, March 12
12:30PM – 1:30PM
The Driskill Ballroom
604 Brazos St

First off, does anyone know what started this trend? Was it farmers’ markets or food truck parks? Either way, I think we’d all agree that this is a European way of life that we could all use more of. Because who doesn’t want to go for a stroll on a lazy Sunday afternoon through a local market with an burlap HEB sack full of baguette, Spanish jamon, and Wisconsin cheeses?

Death of the Stadium
Sunday, March 13
12:30PM – 1:30PM
Four Seasons
98 San Jacinto Blvd

Let’s all welcome our dear friend (and client) Dan Meis to Austin. We are huge fans, and you will be too (if you’re not already). He is the king of the stadium, having had designed the Staples Center, Los Angeles NFL Stadium, not to mention Manchester Arena in England and Saitama Super Arena in Japan, and many other stadiums all over the world. But he’s not here to simple say that stadiums are a great way for us to come together as people. He’s doing something far deeper and important—arguing for their future through sustainability, accessibility, and usability. He’s looking at them through the socioeconomic microscope to arrive at a way to keep this important part of our humanity going.

So there’s the Architecture and Design Lover’s Guide to SXSW. Now, in between your complaining about these intruders you can have a little fun too. Enjoy!

By: David Plick

2000px-Ikea_logo.svgWhether we like to admit it or not, we all shop at Ikea. For certain things, it just makes sense: the children’s bedroom or when we know we’re moving to a new city for a short period of time. Ikea does the work of looking pretty cool without the big price tag. Plus, who doesn’t have fun with the names of these things. “Hey, Honey! Check out this Malm! You won’t believe how much this costs!”

Here’s a list of five new minimalist designs from Ikea 2016:

Nockeby, $1,099







At over $1,000 for a couch it seems a little pricey for an Ikea product, but certainly the sleek and simple design has enormous charm and comfort. Plus, after you buy it, you can get a plate of Swedish meatballs for a dollar.

Lisabo, $129







This coffee table looks like it could be a carpenter’s workbench or an ironing board. The subtle rounded corners and legs positioning at an angle suggest the idea that the table is purposely imperfect. It’s a table meant to be noticed in the room, rather than simply blend in.

Vardagen, $9.99










This is a cool looking apron, and so simple, just a solid color with two pockets in the middle—a great combination of function and form—with three lines on the bottom. The tan straps are also elegant. Perfect for when you’re cooking for a Tinder date or a family gathering.

Barvalla, $12.99










This bathmat looks like it should be hanging in the Whitney Museum. Not only does it look like a Frank Stella, it also is “ultra soft, absorbent, and dries quickly.”

Skogsta, $34.99

Wall Shelf






Their new design Skogsta is hit or miss. For some items the style doesn’t work as well, such as the storage crate or bench. But the wall shelf is striking. The blend of the natural elements and the way the wood angles into itself definitely suggests it would be a good place to put your Anthony Bourdain cookbooks and Aerosmith CDs.

By: David Plick

VIA West 57Yesterday, Bjarke Ingels Group, aka BIG, unveiled its design plans for “The Spiral,” a 2,850,000 square feet, 65 story mixed-use tower on the western edge of Manhattan in the newly revitalized Hudson Yards District in Midtown. As captivating as The Spiral is, it is just one of many projects solidifying the tremendous presence of Bjarke Ingels Group in NYC.

Why is it called “The Spiral”? Because the building features a series of twisting and turning verandas and gardens which spiral down the building, simultaneously giving the structure the effect of fluid motion, and also its inhabitants outdoor recreational space and gorgeous scenic views. The project’s client is Tishman Speyer, the same company that owns Rockefeller Center.

The announcement of “The Spiral” comes as no surprise to New Yorkers and architectural enthusiasts around the world. The presence of Bjarke Ingels Group in NYC is well known, due to their courageous modern designs, which evolve the city’s landscape everyday with every fascinating project they take on.

Here’s a quick peek on how this Danish mastermind is taking on The Big Apple:


Status: Under Construction

That’s the building in the photo accompanying this article. Part pyramid, part spaceship, this residential building is a tetrahedron that lives at 57th street along the West Side Highway. Its design is not only revolutionary, employing cutting-edge structural design techniques to create its funky shape, it also adds to the quality of life of its residents because every window has a beautiful view of the Hudson River (and New Jersey . . .). Most importantly though, the space that is created at the tetrahedron’s center—the VIA Garden—is an open, green courtyard facing the Hudson River, with breathtaking views giving you the feeling of privacy while still knowing you’re in the big city.

2 World Trade Center

Status: In Progress

Perhaps you’ve heard of this one—this is a building that sits amongst a collection of other WTC towers known as the World Financial Center in Lower Manhattan’s Financial District.

Here’s how this happened: 

After James Murdoch, Rupert Murdoch’s son, didn’t like Lord Norman Foster’s design for WTC2, they handed the reigns (and the already built foundation) over to BIG.

But what’s going on now?

Plans are stalled because the tenants, 21st Century Fox and News Corp, bailed due to high costs. But BIG’s design, with Ingels’ signature stacking boxes and all, still prevails.


Status: Completed

Here, BIG shows that they can not only go small, but they can also have a lot of heart, with their homage to the I♥NY campaign. This 10-foot brightly glowing sculpture was commissioned by the Times Square Alliance, and uses the “natural light” that already bounces around this cultural epicenter to further brighten its 400 translucent LED powered glass rods. It lived in Times Square during Valentine’s Day, 2012, and if people joined hands, the heart beat faster.

The Dryline

Status: In Progress

This is where BIG shows their drive for sustainable urban living. Commissioned by the US Department of Urban Housing and Development after the disastrous effects of Hurricane Sandy, this waterfront park is designed to prevent flooding in all climates, and stretches 10 miles from West 54th Street down to the Financial District, across the island, and back up to East 40th Street. Bjarke Ingels called The Dryline “the love-child of Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs.”

NYPD 40th Precinct

Status: In Progress

Imagine humming, “Bad boys, bad boys, whatcha gonna do . . . ” as you walk into a modern, Brutalism-influenced police station, something that is a stunning combination of strength, efficiency, and beauty. That’s going to be the NYPD’s 40th Precinct located in the Melrose neighborhood in the South Bronx, a place synonymous with toughness, but which also shows BIG’s reach into the Outer Boroughs, that his designs aren’t only for Manhattan’s elite.

The building is an assortment of concrete boxes stacked, a simple minimalist approach with a striking effect. Let’s just hope that when we go there it’s as visitors, and not in cuffs from NYC’s Finest. “Bad boys, bad boys . . .”

By: David Plick

19765718278_768320a04a_zIn Austin and around the country the “buy local” movement has taken off. But “buy local” has only come to mean buy local food—fruits and vegetables, meats and cheeses that people grow and produce themselves in their local garden or farm. Obviously this is a great start, but does it have to end there? Everyone buys local, but then they head to Ikea or Pier Imports to get their chairs, tables, and cabinets. These stores have their advantages as well for certain products, but why not also support local craftsmen, artisans, and designers who are producing beautiful, charming, and sometimes challenging works right in your backyard? They’re making things everyday that you can show in your home with pride, that you can think to yourself, “I know the girl/guy that made that. I know where it was made.” Seriously, why don’t people buy local furniture?

There’s so many reasons to do this, particularly in Austin and Los Angeles, two places that are brimming with local artisan talent. Such as:

It stimulates the local economy.

Studies have shown if you spend $100 at a local business, 68% of that sale returns to the community, whereas if you spend $100 at a big multinational corporation, there’s only a 43% return.

It creates and sustains local jobs.

Everyone knows Walmart underpays and abuses their employees. Giving money to Walmart means you are taking away from local jobs.

It helps cultivate local culture.

Austin and LA have their thing—that thing that is only theirs, that Walmart and Applebees, Bed Bath & Beyond and Pier Imports, can never touch. This thing is special, unique, and you are a part of it.

Best Reason of All: It looks cool.

The only downside to buying from a local craftsmen is that it can cost more. But, like in anything else, you pay for what you get. Local woodworkers, metalworkers, and designers are using higher quality materials and using thoughtfulness when assembling it. They care deeply about their craft, their art, which means you buy a product that lasts decades, as opposed to breaking the first time you move.

And if you’re still not convinced, check out these artisans’ chops:

Michael Yates

Designing and building furniture in Austin since 2003. Michael makes everything from chairs and tables, to cabinets and coffins (Don’t worry, I’m sure you won’t need the coffin).

Adam Young

Adam was featured in our piece, “A Tale of Two Builders.” He’s a woodworker and the brain (and hands) behind Yellow Jacket Social Scene and Javelina.

David Clark

You may know him from his amazing company Kartwheel, but David has had several galleries feature his work, including the Barrel Art Collection.

By: David Plick

Flag_of_France.svgSalon: “a gathering of people under the roof of an inspiring host, held partly to amuse one another and partly to refine the taste and increase the knowledge of the participants through conversation . . . Salons, commonly associated with French literary and philosophical movements of the 17th and 18th centuries, were carried on until as recently as the 1940s in urban settings.”

Last night in East Austin, Brian Linder, in collaboration with architect Chris Krager of KRDB, hosted his first in a projected series of Twilight Salons, an event designed to provoke artistic discussion and engagement in the city. It’s a forum for artistically-inclined Austinites and architecture lovers to meet, talk, form connections and collaborations, but more importantly, drink wine and eat cheese.

A salon, which is the French word for “living room” or “sitting room”, is simply a place for people to gather and talk. But this word goes far deeper than that, with roots embedded in various artistic movements, from the Enlightenment to the Modernists.

Here’s a look at some of the most legendary salons in artistic history. How can TVOA’s Twilight Salon live up to their legacy?

Hotel de Rambouillet

This is the first salon on record which gained international prominence. Held in Paris’ 1st arrondisement during the early part of the 17th century at the Hotel de Rambouillet, the hostess was Catherine de Vivonne, an heiress of a noble Roman lineage. Vivonne’s literary salon was notorious for its displays of wit and etiquette, and included such notable artists and thinkers as: Jean-Louis Guez de Balzac, Cardinal Richelieu, and La Rochefoucauld.

Le Marais

This was Hotel de Rambouillet’s primary competitor. Hosted by Madeleine de Scuréry, an accomplished author and essayist herself, this salon is historically important in the feminist movement because of the gathering of “blue stockings,” a term for the intellectual women who frequented the parties.

The Stein Salon

Modernist writer, public intellectual, and art collector Gertrude Stein famously said, “We are the lost generation,” which gave voice to a literary movement, but she also hosted the premier salon of the twentieth century. Revitalized in the Woody Allen film Midnight in Paris, Stein’s devotion to the promotion of artists from Picasso and Matisse, to F. Scott Fitzgerald, Thornton Wilder, and, of course, Hemingway, all happened in her sitting room at 27 rue de Fleurus in Paris.

Salons in Austin? But this is Texas?

Paris will always be Paris, but Austin is internationally admired for its explosion of artistic energy. Austin is a city where people are coming together from all over the world to “keep it weird” and develop new technologies that will empower generations. There are some special things happening here in the Texas capital, and TVOA’s Twilight Salon will definitely be a part of it.

By: David Plick

Via flickr by One More Go

Via flickr by One More Go

Since the famous demolition of St. Louis’ Pruitt-Igoe housing project in 1972, and the infamous preservation of Robin Hood Gardens in East London, architecture’s role in social housing has been a publicized and controversial debate. At the core of all of these class-oriented arguments, of course, is the cost. Is it worth it to apply modern, sophisticated designs, most of which are more costly to construct, to public housing? Many taxpayers, who commonly do not feel responsible for the poverty of others, do not agree that they should bear the burden of footing the bill.

Many starchitects though, including Richard Rodgers and Zaha Hadid, both of which have campaigned for the historical landmark status of Robin Hood Gardens, and this year’s Pritzker Prize Winner, Alejandro Arevena, who established an entire career on public housing, think it’s worth it.

The debate this past week re-erupted when the architecture firm 5468796 responded via ArchDaily to The Guardian’s article entitled, “Crime in the Community: When ‘Designer’ Social Housing Goes Wrong” which criticized their social housing project, Centre Village in Winnipeg. The widely-acclaimed firm, who calls Winnipeg home, had their design choices attacked, saying that “families [were] living in cramped and unsuitable conditions . . . [in] a building structure that seems to act as a magnet for drinking and drug-taking at all hours.” The firm, who won the 2014 Canadian Architect Award of Excellence, attempted to respond to this article directly to The Guardian by writing them a letter, but the magazine declined to publish it.

And in reading the letter, it’s clear why.

With tremendous clarity and sincere emotion, 5468796 argued back. They countered the notion that the project wasn’t properly researched by citing the two years of research they performed, the fact that they had already completed a similar project within walking distance of Centre Village, not to mention the deep roots the architects have implanted in the city. 5468796 defended the logic of their design choices, such as their use of public space to create community, and the irregularly shaped windows that “create the sense of casual surveillance.” They cited the personal experience of one of their founding architects, Sasa Radulovic, whose family immigrated to Canada as war refugees, and said that “providing safe, inspiring and well functioning housing for refugees and immigrants is very personal, and an issue that the practice of 5468796 cares very deeply about.”

The argument over design decisions at Centre Village is a part of a larger, crucial discussion of architecture’s role in social housing—how much to spend? Who to protect? How to keep it going?

Today, Centre Village is up for sale, and as the building changes hands, and ultimately transforms, time will be the only judge of its success or not. Will it pay the price that Pruitt-Igoe paid, or endure like Robin Hood Gardens?

And even further, will talented design firms continue to take on these daunting, bureaucratic, and sometimes thankless projects? How many will decide that it’s not worth the time, money, and the headache?

By: David Plick

1857b94a565b7e5cdb69060d95736cd21452273771Austin-based architect Shane Pavonetti has garnered some much-deserved attention recently. With amazing write-ups in Dwell, Curbed, and Houzz chronicling his design process in his own home in East Austin, the Garden Street Residence, Pavonetti has established himself as a DIY hero. For this project Shane was the architect, general contractor, and steel fabricator while his wife Holly was the interior designer. They saved a whole lot of money making a dream home, but also a media buzz around Shane’s firm, Pavonetti Architecture, proving it is one to watch in the coming years.

Shane took some time out of his schedule to speak with TVOA about architecture, his artistic influences, and his newest project, 2004 E 12th Street.

TVOA: What is architecture?

Shane Pavonetti: Architecture is thinking and representing those thoughts in a way that will facilitate the construction of a building. Architecture precedes a pre-made garden shed kit from Home Depot just as it does the homes we design, and just as it did the Parthenon. It’s all a gradient.

TVOA: What were some of those thoughts that arose with the site at 2004 E 12th Street? Were there any challenges with the site?

Shane Pavonetti: There is a drainage easement on the site that’s about 10’ wide and runs diagonally through the lot, effectively cutting it into two triangles. The developer was interested in maxing out the buildable area of one side so the shape was really dictated by the lot lines and the easement. Matt and Jeanne [the designers] worked on the general siting and size of the building and when we stepped in most of those decisions had already been made.

TVOA: Garden Street Residence and 2004 E. 12th Street are both located in East Austin. Is your firm planning on focusing there? What does the East offer architecturally that the West/North/Central doesn’t?

Shane Pavonetti: We are not interested in focusing on a specific part of Austin or even Austin. We enjoy working on a diverse range of projects. We find that diversity in scale, scope, and location. We are currently working on what is going to be a beautiful home in western Michigan.

East Austin is changing very quickly with loads of new construction—especially in the low to mid price range. The clients are younger and we find they understand the value of design and are looking to work with a younger architecture firm.

TVOA: I read you worked at Miro Rivera’s studio. What did you learn there?

Shane Pavonetti: Professionalism, thoroughness, organization.

TVOA: What did working in Paris, Barcelona, Hong Kong, and other countries teach you about designing in Austin?

Shane Pavonetti: It has helped me to think about construction outside of the typical means and methods that we find here in Texas. Construction abroad, especially in Europe is much less ‘off the shelf’. They fabricate more and use more raw materials in place of prefabricated systems.

TVOA: Where do you see the future of architecture in Austin heading?

Shane Pavonetti: Unfortunately, because building costs are so high right now, most folks cannot afford anything too interesting. We try our best to deliver design that reflects the individuality of the owners and will last generations. This gets harder and harder as costs skyrocket.

TVOA: What’s exciting you guys about architecture in Austin?

Shane Pavonetti: The density is exciting. The resulting traffic is a bit of a drag but I think its good overall for the city. Hopefully this will force the hand to develop more alternative / public transportation.

By: David Plick

St EdsFor the first time in the history of Chilé, and for the third time in South America’s history, the Pritzker Prize has honored the efforts of a Latin American architect. Chiléan Alejandro Aravena, who is well-known for the strength of his designs, widely respected for his creativity, and revered for his dedication to social housing, has earned the 2016 prize—the highest honor in architecture.

Now, you Austinites may know Aravena from his work at St. Edward’s University—his striking modern dorms which many undergraduates call home and meet to study, or eat in the cafeteria downstairs. This powerful work of architecture now ranks amongst the most important historically in Austin. Along with Gordon Bunshaft‘s Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum, it is only the second structure in Austin designed by a Pritzker Prize winner.

Aravena’s career, while exhibiting remarkable range as he’s created schools, government buildings, museums, and schools, has been founded upon his devotion to solving the housing crisis. His firm ELEMENTAL has built around 2,500 units of social housing, taking on seemingly impossible budgets and governmental public housing policies. He strives through his architecture to empower the lives of the disenfranchised by giving them housing they can be proud to live in.

He is the type of artist the world needs—one that truly applies his skills to make all of this more beautiful, livable, and fair.

Five Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Alejandro Aravena

  • He was on the Pritzker Prize Jury from 2009 to 2015, which means he won the award the first year he wasn’t a judge.
  • He calls his company ELEMENTAL a “do tank.”
  • In the 1990’s he was so fed up with architecture, he quit and opened up a bar.
  • He met his business partner, Andrés Iacobelli, a transport engineer, when he was teaching at Harvard.
  • The CEO of COPEC, the Chilean oil company, is on his board at ELEMENTAL.

By: David Plick

IMG_1048Frank Stella: A Retrospective currently inhabits the fifth floor of the Whitney Museum of American Art, the largest gallery space in the museum. In addition to large-scale paintings, the exhibit features many of the artist’s sculptures, mixed media pieces, small models, and photography. The retrospective, whose organization was done through a collaboration with Stella himself, is structured so brilliantly to experience this man’s tremendous range as an artist. Stella himself remarked that his greatest artistic gift is “structure . . . and the strength of all the paintings [he] made in the sixties lay in their organization.” The movement from bright colors to neutral, from minimalism to maximalism, is all clear, deliberate, and evocative.

From this exhibition it is clear that Stella’s greatest success lies in his sculptures, in his tremendous ability to maximize unused space for effect, yet also employ sleek, and sometimes chaotic objects and shapes in the structure that make you feel like you’ve inhabited a fairy tale world. His sculptures are simple, made with shapes and natural materials, yet you feel transported into the emotion of the work—into its eeriness or excitement, its hope and joy, the way it just sits there with you so naturally. He is at his best when the focus isn’t on the piece’s details, but rather, the spatial relationship between things—empty space, the viewer, shapes, color, and the piece’s relationship to itself.

Stella’s work illustrates the relationship between space, shape, color, and the audience. It’s about emptiness, and how the emptiness is as functional as the busy-ness. It’s about how less is more, because we as Americans don’t know what to do when we have less, which is why I think minimalism is so powerful here. In this land of consummation, artists like Frank Stella provoke the question, “What if we had less? How would that make us feel?” Perhaps that’s where American minimalism came from—the need to peel off our county’s skin.

His work is also very interactive. In the exhibit I saw a three or four year old boy in his mother’s arms as she approached one of Stella’s mixed media pieces called, “Eskimo Curfew,” and the boy started getting dangerously close to the shapes which were jutting out at him. I saw his mother pull him away, and say something to him, probably, “Don’t touch.” But I wondered if Frank Stella would mind if the boy grabbed on. It seems like he wants you to be a part of it all.

The highlight of the exhibit is what I called “The Grey Room”, which featured many of his large scale sculptures, such as “Raft of the Medusa: Part 1,” and many smaller scale models that looked like toys. What was so clever about this section was that its use of the collected dark colors—there’s essentially no color in the room except black and grey—amidst the backdrop of the Department of Sanitation station that lies across the street and is very visible from the window. And what’s beyond the Department of Sanitation? Something far more gross, detestable, and ugly: New Jersey. It’s hard to believe that this wasn’t an intentional choice.

Frank Stella: A Retrospective shows the artist’s great diversity and range as an artist. It’s wonderful proof that he is an important American artist, and a world-class sculptor. It’s also wonderful fun, and will be at the Whitney until February 7, 2016.

By: David Plick

IMG_0821We all know that Austin is a great place to live—a place to settle down, get some cute kids and chickens and feed your cute kids chicken eggs. This is your home, and there’s no dollar amount that can measure that feeling. But, you also do want to feel that you’ve gotten a good deal, and that there’s the potential in your home for a profit because, let’s face it, you never know when your company’s going to move you to Dallas. So, here’s five neighborhoods in Austin where you’ll get bang for your buck.

Windsor Park

While Mueller’s identity has already been established, its neighbor to the north, Windsor Park, is still being defined. There are three things that make this a hood to watch: the 1950’s designed ranch homes that have great potential for expansion and improvement, its proximity to major highways (I-35, 183, and 290), and its location in East Austin, next to the ultra-charming Hyde Park. It’s in East Austin, guys. You can tell people you live in East Austin.


Yes, this neighborhood is already established and coming with a high price tag, but those values are still just going up up and up. With its proximity to downtown, its walkability to Town Lake, South Congress, East 6th Street, and anywhere else you’d typically hang out in Austin, it’s the most easy-livin’ livin’ in the city. On top of that, everywhere you look Austin architects are building dynamic and funky looking modern homes. This is where going artsy pays off.


This is the three L’s and a W of Austin real estate: Location, Location, Location, and Weird.

The anti-Westlake right next to Westlake, where you can get all of the advantages of being close to Zilker Park and downtown, yet still live weird and free, right on the water. Don’t let the mobile homes scare you. That’s just the soul of Austin refusing to die.

Central East Austin

Throw a coin in the air and you’ll hit a cool modern home. Driving around this area, it is astounding how many exciting new projects there are—Chris Krager or KRDB alone has several in the works. And if the value isn’t doing it for you, the location will. From here you can walk to anywhere downtown, to UT, and Franklin’s is right there, so you can be the first one there in the morning.

Western Trails

Here’s an important Austin tip: go where the Central Market goes. And Western Trails has not only that, but an Amy’s Ice Creams, yoga studios, and a Hyde Park Bar & Grill. Wait, what? Hyde Park? Is this neighborhood the next Hyde Park?

Just south of Ben White, which means it’s convenient for highway access, Western Trails has the amenities of Hyde Park without the congestion. You can live your laid-back Austin lifestyle, and not feel like you have to fight for your space with 50,000 UT undergrads. But, this space also means there’s plenty of room for development, so watch this neighborhood for expansion and rising property values.

By the way, median home price in Hyde Park = $630,000

Median home price in Western Trails = $430,000

By: David Plick

Contemporary AustinAustin is widely known for its live music—concert festivals such as Austin City Limits and Fun Fun Fun, and also the local music scene that flourishes everyday. But visitors to Austin have so much more art and culture to sift through than indie rock bands playing for wobbly twenty-somethings deep into the night. This fact is exemplified no better than in The Contemporary Austin, the city’s premier art museum.

Centrally located at Congress Avenue and 7th street, right around the corner from the historic Driskill Hotel, and the infamous 6th street Alamo Drafthouse (where the ever so lovable Master Pancake call home), The Contemporary Austin is a cultural institution enriching the local artistic life while also connecting Austin to the present-day art world. Their mission is to “reflect the spectrum of contemporary art through exhibitions, commissions, education, and the collection.”

Currently at The Contemporary is the thought and soul-provoking exhibit, Strange Pilgrims, inspired by Gabriel García Márquez’s short-story collection, which is the museum’s first multiple location, thematic group exhibition, and which invites the viewer to consider themselves as travellers, pilgrims, and the relationship between their memory and fantasy, between their own fiction and reality. It is an interactive exhibit and viewers are encouraged to get involved, which means getting a little dirty.

This experientially focused exhibit is centered around a few themes—Environment & Place, Performance & Process, and Technology & Information—and has newly commissioned works, site-specific refabrications, and already existing works by artists: Charles Atlas, Millie Chen, Phil Collins, Bruce Nauman, Yoko Ono, and many more. There are experimental films, mixed media video installations, and a sculpture by Andy Coolquitt entitled, no I didn’t go to any museums here I hate museums museums are just stores that charge you to come in there are lots of free museums here but they have names like real stores. All designed to make you question the reality of your memories, mind, and consciousness.

The exhibit is on display at three Contemporary Austin sites: the Jones Center, Laguna Gloria, and at the Visual Arts Center in the Department of Art and Art History at The University of Texas at Austin, and is showing until January 24, 2016.

By: David Plick

6101415124_7e87da0cd8_oSustainability is on everyone’s mind these days, especially with global leaders coming together for climate change talks in Paris earlier this week. And there are many ongoing debates towards the most efficient efforts in combatting global warming, which is why sustainability has become a priority for architects, and why there is much criticism about a building’s performance and energy efficiency. In Texas, sustainable architecture has seen continued awareness and growth. The Lone Star State ranks in the top ten in the US for LEED-certified (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) green buildings per capita, and is second overall in the total number of commercial buildings that are LEED-certified and pursuing LEED certification.

Particularly in Austin, there are many LEED-certified buildings. At the University of Texas at Austin alone there are thirteen LEED-certified buildings, including eight gold certifications.

So what makes a building LEED-certified?

Well, there are many different classifications depending upon the type of building it is. The different groupings are: Building Design & Construction, Interior Design & Construction, Building Operations & Maintenance, Neighborhood Development, and Homes. Once a building is classified it is evaluated in different ways, such as: indoor environmental quality, neighborhood pattern and design, water efficiency, materials and resources, location and transportation, amongst others. After the building is evaluated it is given points depending upon the many different criteria. The points are added up and the building is given a level of certification: Certified, Silver, Gold, and Platinum.

You may recognize these LEED-certified buildings in Austin.

Austin City Hall



Frost Bank Tower



Now, here are all the others:
Austin Resource Center for the Homeless
Biomedical Engineering Building, UT Austin
Capstar Plaza
Combined Transportation Emergency and Communications Center
Dell Pediatric Research Institute
Frost Financial Center at Mueller
George Washington Carver Library
George Washington Carver Museum & Cultural Center
IBM Tivoli Systems – Building 1
Lakeway MUD W-3 Operations Office
Lance Armstrong Foundation
LCRA Dalchau Service Center & Office Building
LCRA Emergency Operations Center
LCRA Western Maintenance Facility
Lowe’s – Southwest Austin
Mexican American Cultural Center
Norman Hackerman Building, UT Austin
Office Depot
PeopleFund Headquarters
Ronald McDonald House Charities
Student Activity Center, UT Austin
TSU Round Rock Higher Education Center – Nursing Building

By: David Plick

Via Flickr by Alec Perkins

Via Flickr by Alec Perkins

Now, it just would seem plain-old dumb to tear down a starchitect’s first project in NYC, wouldn’t it? Thank goodness the Durst Organization had better ideas, The New York Times reported.

“It’s aged very well,” Douglas Durst said, speaking of the cafeteria Frank Gehry designed for the Condé Nast building. “There’s no feeling that it’s from a different era at all.”

The year was 2000, and Frank Gehry had just achieved the impossible with his Guggenheim Bilbao. His friend, S.I. Newhouse, Jr., who was the chairman of Condé Nast at the time, asked Gehry if he would design a restaurant for the media empire’s employees. While this was a small-scale job for Gehry at the time, he took the opportunity so he could finally climb the NYC hurdle, something that remained elusive to him for years.

He approached the project in a similar way to Bilbao, and curved enormous glass panels that weighed 800 pounds giving them a billowing effect. In contrast to the glass, there are blue, rolling titanium walls surrounding the room. These waves in the titanium created seamless and flowing banquettes for groups of Condé Nast editors and writers to gather, eat, and gossip during their lunch break. To mix in more color, Gehry added stunning yellow tabletops.

Durst says they’re keeping Gehry’s designs intact because they want to use it to attract potential clients to their building. Good for them—what a perk it was to buy a building with an internationally famous artist’s work in it, right?

By: David Plick

IMG_0261America is weird. Its suburbs alienate intelligent, eccentric, or alternative minded people simply because they can’t launch a football, or tackle, or fight. Years of this belittling, isolating, pushing people to the fringes of the social order, does something to a person. That’s why in this country there are such strong underground counter cultural movements, from the hippies and punks to something far more interesting—cults. Jim Shaw, in his first major survey exhibition in New York City at the New Museum, The End Is Here, examines all this and more.

He’s the kind of artist that looks at America through a microscope, and what he sees through the lens looks like a fun house—a beautiful, nauseating, disturbing mess. He then takes this mess and organizes it into a fascinating collage, a study of what we’ve been, are, and never were, of what we could only be in our dreams. The End Is Here shows us what we’re capable of—and most of the times, this is shocking.

Shaw is the artist for the bored and intelligent who rot away in the American suburbs, who turn to comic books and fantasy to escape the reality that is the desired conformity of the small American town. This exhibit, aptly located downtown on the Bowery at probably New York’s most progressive and ultra-hip museum, will speak to anyone who counted the seconds until they could get out of that piece-of-shit town, all the while reading Allen Ginsberg or watching John Waters and David Lynch films and thinking, “Someone finally gets me.”

Someone does get you. And their message to you is this: get out of there. Run away from that oppressive town and never go back. Do like Shaw did—leave, and let your passion and work be your ticket and your guide. Shaw abandoned his native Michigan for California Institute of the Arts in the early 1970’s and has made Los Angeles his home ever since. He was an influential member of the LA art scene, and his work has travelled all around the world, to Paris, Denmark, Bordeaux, Luxembourg, and England, amongst many other places, and now back to New York City.

Jim Shaw’s imagination in The End Is Here occupies floors 2-4 of the New Museum. Through his theatrical backdrops, paintings, drawings, thrift store collectibles, sculptures, and even a film depicting the religion he invented called “O-Ism,” Shaw clearly shows a mastery of style, which is lovable and charming, yet grotesque and smutty. Perhaps most impressive is Shaw’s ability to not only work within many mediums, but also within vastly different scales—he has remarkable skill in producing an evocative 6×6 pornographic drawing, and also in a 30×20 foot magical and fantastic tapestry. He can produce an object that will fill a room, or have a tiny, shocking image that will shake you to your center. His body of work is so large, so complex and detailed, that it is virtually impossible to digest The End Is Here in a single viewing.

Certainly the treasure of this exhibit is his theatrical cutouts on the fourth floor entitled, Labryinth, I Dreamt I Was Taller than Jonathan Borofsky, which is where Shaw’s imagination, comedic flare, artistic skill, political seriousness, craftsmanship and showmanship are all on full force. This installation is a vast expanse of images which depict carnival performers, futuristic superheroes and landscapes amidst iconic historical and cultural figures including: Richard Nixon and the Watergate Scandal, Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso’s Guernica, Detroit rioters and Parisian protestors, and Casper the Friendly Ghost—his work employs collage, comic book fantasy, political satire, all in evocative yet gorgeous images that never sacrifice the composition and design of the art for its ideas. The work is suggestive, and the opinions are there, yet they remain subtle and subtextual. Walking through The End Is Here, I never felt the sense that Shaw sought for me to feel this way or that way—there was no intended message. Instead, he does something far better, and more skillful: he succeeds in creating a surreal world that you are free to inhabit, rather than feeling restricted to his vision.

And the work is intensely fun. It plays with the grotesque, creating villainous sea creatures, a skyscraper-tall vacuum cleaner that sucks up 1860’s Gold Rush land prospectors, mythical creatures and giant bugs, aliens having sex, and creepy small-town America sentimentality. In every room there exists an element of discomfort, and even of violence and danger, yet through the exhibit’s organization, there also remains the assertion that our horrible treatment of one another, in capitalism and our collective greed, in our laughing at and exploiting the little guy, in our perverse and exploitative sexuality—is hilarious. Jim Shaw shows that no subject matter is beyond ridicule. Everything and everyone can be mocked—especially cults, politicians, and the rich.

I know I said that there’s no one idea Shaw intends for you to get out of this, but get this: America is longing for an identity. America is longing for a place. We are begging for community, and we go to the strangest lengths to reach it.

The End Is Here is showing at the New Museum until January 10, 2016.

By: David Plick

skyline990Hailing all the way from Larchmont, New York, Kevin Alter isn’t from Austin, or even Texas, yet he’s one of the most influential artists pushing the city through its constantly evolving identity. He has been in Austin twenty-four years though, arriving in 1991 to teach as a Lecturer at the University of Texas School of Architecture and has made the city his home ever since. In addition to heading Alterstudio, his firm that has won over ninety-five design awards, including the 2015 AIA Austin Firm Achievement Award, and many AIA Design and AIA Home Awards, he has edited twelve books, and is currently the Sid W. Richardson Centennial Professor of Architecture, the Director of the Summer Academy in Architecture, and Associate Director of the Center for American Architecture and Design at The University of Texas at Austin.

In addition to creating successful public and commercial work, Alterstudio is widely acclaimed for its houses. And within that, it’s been the firm’s relationship with the married couple/design team of Anne Suttles and Sam Shah that’s brought remarkable artistic uniqueness—a lovable, charming quality amongst awe-inspiring, sleek, yet functional, eco-centric modern designs. Their first collaboration, the Bouldin Residence, delivered many awards, including a National Dream Home Award and a glowing article in Dwell. Later, Suttles/Shah and Alterstudio reunited with the Hillside Residence, inspired by Marcel Breuer’s Bi-Nuclear House, which brought this design team again much deserved recognition and was featured in the AIA Austin Homes Tour. In looking at both of these homes it’s very clear that while they are both works of art, they are made for living a laid-back, sustainable way of life that completely fits the pace and character of Austin. They are fairy tale homes built to live a simple life.

Most recently, Alterstudio has teamed up with Suttles and Shah on two new projects: the upcoming South 5th, and Montclaire. In speaking with Alter, it’s very clear that he has a genuine admiration for the couple. His feelings towards them are inspiring, and say a lot about him as an artist. It’s clear that he couldn’t be further from the narcissistic, power and ego-driven artist. He is, instead, a sincere and humble man—someone who is clearly brilliant, yet very generous. For example, in talking about South 5th, Montclaire, and other projects, he made it very clear to me that he wanted to give credit to the partners at his firm, Tim Whitehill and Ernesto Cragnolino, for their creative vision in these projects. He said that Whitehill and Cragnolino were equal partners, and they were more talented architects than he was.

It’s rare to find this amalgam of qualities in an artist—someone who can lead—for he has several leadership positions in the University of Texas, in addition to leading his own firm—create, yet step to the side and listen, appreciate, collaborate with others. He’s the kind of artist anyone would dream to work with.

He came to Austin in 1991, and as he said, “He sort of always had a plane ticket in his pocket.” But that ticket fell through some hole, and now, lucky for us all, he’s here to stay. He’s going to see what this city becomes, and how he can contribute into making it a better place.

I spoke with Kevin Alter the morning after he returned from his lecture at Texas A&M in relation to the exhibition that the university is running about Alterstudio’s work entitled, “6 Houses.”


The Value of Architecture: So how’d the lecture go?

Kevin Alter: It was great. UT and A&M have a weird, acrimonious relationship. I never really quite understood it, but I had a couple students come up to me afterwards and say, “That was the best talk I ever heard.” They were super nice. There’s an exhibition there with some of the work. Anne and Sam’s houses were a part of it—both Hillside and Bouldin. I spoke a little bit about Hillside at the lecture.

TVOA: What kind of advice did you give the students?

Kevin Alter: I was saying at the talk when I was in school in a way we were all trained to want to have that ideal client with limitless budgets and just wanted to be your patrons, to support you in your artistic venture. And I say, that’s actually not what I’m interested in. I think the best projects come out of conflicting desires, and solving problems that don’t automatically seem easy to solve. Having different things being brought to the table, you end up with a solution that you never would’ve come up with on your own. I think those are richer. And a perfect example of that is the nice relationship we have with Anne and Sam. The end result is not something that could’ve come out of my office without them involved, or come from them without us involved either.

TVOA: You’re currently collaborating with Anne Suttles and Sam Shah on two projects—the Montclaire house and South 5th. These are two vastly different projects. Could you tell us about your creative processes in working with them on two very dissimilar ideas?

Kevin Alter: Anne and Sam are awesome. We did two other projects with them. I met Anne many years ago because she used to work for a friend of mine, Mark Word, an awesome landscape designer in town. And I met her because she literally was planting a little garden behind my old house, and she became to be quite good friends with my then one-year-old. She met Sam, moved to New York, and they moved back. They had to look for a piece of property, and we found this kind of interesting one on Mary Street in Bouldin, and we built this house for them. But then they wanted to keep doing it, so we made a spec for them for the house on Hillside. We got to know them quite well designing those two houses. Now, with Montclaire—Anne and Sam are contracting that themselves, and they’re doing a really great job. They have a tremendous eye for value, and saw potential in that house. And they made a house that looked very simple before so handsome and gave it a much higher quality. It’s very beautiful, very unexpected, and a great pleasure. The way they painted it, the way they landscaped it—it looks special—when you go inside it all unfolds in a way that’s really unexpected and very gracious with all the amazing finishes. I think it’s a very reasonable price point.

On our end in helping contribute to this project, we tried to minimize our architectural fees by acting more as consultants. We didn’t do a big set of drawings—we just tried to help, come up with a strategy. It’s not something we’d typically do with other clients. We just know Anne and Sam a long time now and enjoy working with them. She’s got great intuition, good eyes, and saw the potential in this place. It was really the two of them that gave it the character. We went over there with them when they just bought it and talked about the ways in which they could renovate it, came up with a plan. It was kind of a difficult house. She had certain visions, but reorganizing it with the existing layout for it to be compelling was challenging. But we like a challenge, so it was an interesting project. The other three projects we did together were much more collaborative though.

TVOA: How does your working relationship usually function with clients?

Kevin Alter: It’s always different. Some clients want us to do everything. Some clients want to play a really big role. And Anne and Sam want to play a really big role, but they have great intuition, insights into what would be compelling. They find beautiful products and have a really good eye for putting interesting things together. It’s remarkable because neither of them are trained architects, so we get to come in and help their visions become reality.

TVOA: What was the process like for South 5th?

Kevin Alter: With this project Anne found this really interesting site, but it had incredible challenges. My partner Tim Whitehill worked on this project most closely and knows more about it than anybody. But I’ll tell you that it was a very tight site—between the slope of the land and this big tree that’s there, and the code issues in Austin. With all of these elements it was like a Rubik’s Cube, a project where you had to fit all the little pieces together.

TVOA: You guys kept the tree there?

Kevin Alter: Oh yeah, that’s a big part of it. It was an unusual tree, one that is very rare in Austin that grows off of cliff sides. It was very big, and Anne and Sam really liked it. We went and measured it. We wanted to approach these things professionally, but they never work quite like you think. We needed to know exactly where the branches hung, so we could fit the building just underneath it without hurting it. It was an amazing puzzle.

It’s interesting—architects don’t usually have repeat clients. We build a house for them, and they stay in it. It’s very unusual to keep working with someone, and that’s why Anne and Sam are so awesome. They give us a huge amount of trust. It’s an ideal relationship with a client—something that’s been born out of the collaboration.

TVOA: When they give you comments what kind of feedback do they give you?

Kevin Alter: It’s different on the two different projects. With the Montclaire one there was some figuring out how to organize it because it’s an older house and contemporary needs have changed—the size of the kitchen or the master bedroom suite, so we’ll help on making the space work but they come in and give it character. With South 5th, because that was such a difficult project, we came up with two of the only designs that would work, so we came to them with that—and we do a lot of work on computer models, so we sat with them and showed them the 3D modeling of a couple different versions, and we got their feedback on what they liked about one, or the other. They have a lot of faith in us, but then they really go through very carefully room-by-room, looking at how we organized it. Not everyone can see spaces like they can, so they have very pertinent comments on what would make it work better for them, what they liked and didn’t like. Some things changed—originally I had a sunken living room in there, because I would love to be the architect that brings back the conversation pit into common practice.

TVOA: I love sunken living rooms.

Kevin Alter: Yeah, I know, me too, but that wasn’t something they wanted. And it was a reasonable comment, that the space is more usable if it’s all on one floor and things like that, but that just shows how they’re interested in the whole thing, so on some level we went through every part of it, from the window wall to the guard rail. For example, we were trying to maximize the space of this room, so we were going to make the guard rail for the stairs quite thin, and I think it was Anne’s idea to use painted perforated metal, which is really lovely material, and it would be really cool in there. It’s a small example, but it’s the kind of thing they bring to the table in our working sessions when we’d sit down brainstorming.

TVOA: You guys just seem to have a great symbiotic relationship.

Kevin Alter: I think the world of those guys. They’re doing these things, and of course, it’s for their home, and their making money, but it’s a real passion for them. And these things are special. I teach too, so I often tell my students that they’re 18-30 years old. They have thirty years of experience living in the world. They have a lot of great knowledge about architecture, but they’re not necessarily utilizing it. And Anne and Sam are actually able to utilize it. They recognize what they like. They don’t always know how to bring it to fruition, and we help them with that, but the vision and the ambition is something that very much comes from them.

For me it starts with trust. Like in anything, when you have someone’s trust you have an obligation to really work harder. It’s like, they’re trusting you. Their trust encourages us to give it our absolute best foot forward because you don’t want to betray someone’s trust. I’d like to think that in everything we do we put our best foot forward, but I know that when someone trusts us like that, it’s a different obligation.

TVOA: Artistic trust is an organic relationship.

Kevin Alter: Absolutely. Also, I have a twin brother, and I feel like collaboration is something I have a birthright for, and a predisposition. It’s actually one of the reasons why I focused on architecture. I have a background in fine art as well. I actually really like the collaborative aspects of my field—that it’s not just born from my vision. The best projects are the ones that can’t be easily deconstructed any one person’s vision, either architect or client.

TVOA: I wanted to ask you about your relationship with Austin. You’re not from there, but you’ve been living there for twenty-four years.

Kevin Alter: I moved here in ’91.

TVOA: So you’ve really seen a lot of the transformation in the city. And in terms of your designs—most of them live in Austin, right?

Kevin Alter: Most stuff—we’re doing a couple things in Dallas, California, New York. But most of it is in Austin, and I like that. I like living and working in a place that I know well, and can participate in. I came to Austin to teach at the university. For the first ten years I was here I sort of always had a plane ticket in my pocket. It was like that line from The Godfather, “You try to leave and it pulls you back in.” I actually was going to leave though. I had a job at Columbia, and I thought it was time to go back to New York, but I liked Austin a lot, and I preferred The University of Texas. Austin is a lovely town to be an architect in, to raise a family, and to live in. My partners and I are all really committed to the place, and participating in making it better.

TVOA: Can you describe the architectural changes you’ve seen in Austin throughout the years?

Kevin Alter: I really didn’t start practicing until the very end of the 90’s, 2000 maybe. There was nothing modern in Austin then. Now you throw a rock and you hit a modern building or a modern architect. They’re not all very good. In fact, most are really not. But I think it’s exciting to be in a place that is embracing a modern way to live. I think it’s all too often seen as a style here, meaning clean lines and things like that, rather than a lifestyle. Modernism was amazing because it radically changed the paradigm of houses. Instead of objects on a pedestal—these were buildings that were integrated into the landscape, that integrate one room into the other, embrace light or serendipity, using materials for their character rather than decoration or shapes. Austin is the kind of climate that you can build in that fashion. There’s something about modernism that’s also inherently, or potentially inherently casual, and Austin has that too. There’s a beautiful photograph of one of the buildings we did of the Lakeview House, and in the image there’s the client with her son, and she’s wearing flip-flops. It’s a fancy house, but she’s wearing flip-flops. It’s very Austin. It’s very nice to live casually—indoors and outdoors. I’m very excited about Austin architecture—mostly in housing. I think the most interesting work is coming in housing. The big buildings are still very, very conservative here.

TVOA: Do you think Austin needs more modern, big buildings?

Kevin Alter: For sure. There’s one building that’s been built recently by Mack Scogin Merrill Elam—the Federal Courthouse. That’s a very fine piece of work, and it really shows how beautifully a well-done, modern piece of architecture can fit in the city. The W is a handsome building—in some ways it’s more postmodern than modern, but it’s a really beautiful piece of architecture. There’s so much building in town, but most of it is kind of conservative. It’s a young, intellectual, energetic crowd in Austin. I think it could be a little more ambitious with its architecture. But it’s getting there. The architecture is far more interesting at St. Edward’s University than the University of Texas. Things take a while to change, but they are changing. It’s just a little slower. It’s not San Francisco. But there are many things about Austin that are not San Francisco.

TVOA: Well it’s in the center of Texas.

Kevin Alter: And there’s no ocean. But things are happening here. If you live in a compelling, modern house, or see modern houses in your neighborhood, you might want the same thing for the place you work in. There are some developments happening. It’s actually happening more in private development, rather than in institutions.

TVOA: Besides big, modern buildings, are there any other changes you’d like to see in terms of urban design in the city? Any changes that you could see architecture being an influence in that?

Kevin Alter: Sure, first, it’s very distressing that Austin as a city has consistently voted down light rail and things like that. The problems with traffic congestion are serious now, and they would’ve been radically alleviated had we actually looked for public transportation in a serious way other than buses. I think the original light rail plan was to split through South Congress and come up to the university. That would’ve been awesome. I think it was local stores that didn’t want it because it would have taken up parking, and now you can’t park anywhere near that part of town. In larger, infrastructural planning, the presence of public transportation would be a huge improvement. I-35’s presence is a real divider of east/west, and there are some interesting plans to sink it, do what they did with the Big Dig, which radically changed and transformed Boston. Similar kinds of things could happen in Austin. It’s 2015. You can’t not think about a sustainable way to grow.

I don’t like terms like “green architecture.” I feel like it’s just one of the many things. If you do things beautifully, you have to do things sustainably. I feel like we are terribly short-sighted with things that are being built. Austin is hip and happening right now, but I’m not sure that the larger plan is in place to make that growth sustainable. We don’t have the New York subway system, but that really allowed for New York City to become an incredible city that allows for diversity. You may remember how terribly segregated the city of Austin is. It’s ridiculous. You go to Houston and Dallas, which are hardly as liberal, and they’re much more integrated. I think there are larger planning issues that really need attention, and sadly, I don’t think the attention is not there. The neighborhood associations have too much power. They tend to be vested in things remaining the same.

TVOA: And Austin’s not staying the same. Austin is growing.

Kevin Alter: It is, and I wonder must a house must be built on a big lot. There are all these rules in place to make everything feel quite small. I think we should come to grips with the fact that it is getting to be a proper city and maybe we should allow for a little more density. In Bouldin, they should be allowed to build denser. But there’s a short-sightedness in Austin, and a lot of factors trying to keep it a little town. I get it. I don’t like that people are rude on the road, not letting you merge into traffic. I feel like there are many things about Austin that I lament, but it’s a growing, awesome city. It’s nice to have growth, but I do wish Austin was as progressive with its policies and really sustainable growth as it is with other things, like cool houses.

By: David Plick


Via flickr by Payton Chung

Via flickr by Payton Chung

New Yorkers love speaking their New Yorker dialect about their city. They always notice when someone pronounces Houston Street like it’s Houston the city, or when someone is confused when they are told to take the BQE to a neighborhood called DUMBO. For them, all this stuff is common knowledge.

But sometimes New Yorkers take it too far, like when they give every three-block radius its own distinct nickname. Some of these have become famous and commonplace such as SoHo or Tribeca, but there are many other lesser-known ones like NoHo (North of Houston) or NoLita (North Little Italy) or Bed-Stuy (Bedford-Stuyvesant). And further still, there remains acronyms which are obscure and should probably stay that way. In this quiz, let’s see if you can distinguish the difference between a NYC neighborhood acronym and a species of bacteria.


  1. ViBrio
  2. BoCoCa
  3. NoCarDia
  4. GoCaGa
  5. NoBat
  6. CoCCI
  7. ProCro
  8. FiDi
  9. BrucElla
  10. Peptostreptococcus


1. No, ViBrio isn’t between Gramercy Park and Stuy-Town. It’s a type of gram-negative bacteria commonly found in salt water. Duh. What were you thinking?

2. Ahhhhhh, you may think BoCoCa is a species of facultative anaerobes, but it’s actually a neighborhood at the intersection of Boerum Hill, Cobble Hill, and Carroll Gardens. Not only is it not a bacteria, it’s really pretty too.

3. NoCarDia sounds like it would be uptown, right? North of Columbia and Riverdale, maybe? But no. It’s a bacteria found in rich soil.

4. GoCaGa . . . Ahhhh GoCaGa, just rolls off your tongue. And what a neighborhood. The intersection between Gowanus and Carroll Gardens has the Whole Foods closeby, and the oh-so amazing shuffleboard club, Royal Palms. No bacteria here, guys (except in the canal itself, these things take time).

5. NoBat sounds seriously scary. I don’t think I’d go near it if it was a bacteria or a neighborhood. But, it’s actually not so bad. It’s just North Battery Tunnel. Basically Battery Park City, or if you’d prefer, FiDi.

6. CoCCI—ahhhh, wouldn’t you just love to raise your kids in CoCCI? But I’d actually think twice. It’s the term for any round-shaped bacteria. Yikes. Keep the kids away.

7. ProCro won’t kill you guys (well, maybe in the 80’s it would have). It stands Prospect Heights/Crown Heights, and it’s one of the most trendy neighborhoods in Brooklyn.

8. FiDi stands for the Financial District. It probably would be better if it was a bacteria.

9. BrucElla sounds pretty chic. It probably has an old Italian charm to it. But no, it’s a gram-negative bacteria cause of brucellosis which is a zoonosis (I have no idea what that means).

10. There’s no way you thought Peptostreptococcus was a place. Please don’t tell me you considered it.

So how’d you do? Do you know the difference between obscure NYC hoods and bacteria? Oh, and if you have a B.S in Biology, no fair. You cheated.

By: David Plick

thumb-austin-mediumKeeping up with the Joneses is a time honored American tradition, but let’s remember that it has no place here at the AIA Austin Homes Tour. Sure, we all know how easy it is to fall prey to that very human emotion, envy, but the AIA Austin Homes Tour is not about bragging about life’s accomplishments—both for the architect and the client—it’s about art. It’s about spreading ideas, and coming together because we all share in a common love—for design, for a lifestyle that promotes joy, comfort, and shared space, and for the city of Austin.

AIA Austin makes Austin a better city. The architects in Austin make the city a more beautiful place to live. We’re really so lucky to live in a place where local architects get to have a hand in bringing their city into its future. And the Value of Architecture is so lucky to be able to welcome these artists into its life.

So instead of keeping up with the Joneses, let’s come together this weekend—October 24th and 25th—to celebrate the home as a work of art with our local home artists:

Dick Clark + Associates, 3018 North Lamar Boulevard

“For over thirty years the office has been influenced by the creative environment and technology that have driven Austin. Dick Clark + Associates was formed here, but has grown parallel with the city to expand our influence and work. Creative and engaged in the community, the staff continues to draw inspiration from Austin for work that contributes to the shaping of central Texas and beyond. Local knowledge, creativity and an ability to work openly and collaboratively produce our results.”

FAB Architecture, 1402 B Hillmont Street

“Founded in 1996 by spouses Patrick Ousey and Pam Chandler, FAB Architecture LLC has established itself as one of Austin’s leading design firms.  The office is committed to spirited design, integrity in construction, and efficient project management.”

KRDB, LLC, 1704 Karen Avenue

“KRDB was formed in 2001 as a design-build firm distinguishing itself with an entrepreneurial approach to the discipline that creates opportunities rather than awaits them. By developing our own project we’ve been able to explore and test design while achieving our goal of making extraordinary buildings that are financially accessible.”

Webber + Studio, 3401 Mount Bonnell Drive

“Webber + Studio seeks to find diverse architectural answers to a broad range of architectural problems. Using our four core values: Functionalism, Expressionism, Regionalism, & Minimalism, to guide our process, we have established a design voice that reflects the uniqueness of our clients’ programs and sites with thoughtfulness, creativity, and rigor.”

By: David Plick

St EdsWhen people in Austin say “the campus” that automatically means UT, but there’s another campus in this city, and it’s got an impressive building to show for itself (oh, and it’s on SoCo too—prime locale). That’s right, St. Edward’s University—a small liberal arts/Catholic college and their nickname is the Hilltoppers. Not only does this school boast some phenomenal views of this city (hence the Hilltopper nickname), but there’s also the work of Pritzker Prize judge and award-winning Chilean architect, Alejandro Aravena. He was a visiting professor at Harvard GSD, and he built the elegant Residence Hall for St. Edward’s, which opened in 2009, and won the Silver Lion Award for promising young architects, and favorable reviews from The Architectural Review in London, The Plan in Italy and Texas Architect.

The complex is 119,000 square feet and houses 300 students. A four-story building made with Mexican brick and a reinforced concrete block structure, it has a cafeteria/dining hall on the bottom floor, a coffee house, health center. and public space that weaves through the buildings, allowing an area for students to congregate. Because it is a Catholic university, the design is influenced by monasteries. There are stunning red glass panels projecting color into the common areas in the center. It’s an elegant minimal design while offering brightness and comfort to hard-working college students.

How do you get there?

Take South Congress down to Woodward Street (it’s Lightsey on the other side, which is really confusing). Make a left, and you’ll see that you’re at a college campus. Make the second left onto campus—you’ll see the baseball field to your right. The building is actually straight ahead, but make the first right and park at the parking garage right there. There’s plenty of spaces for visitors. Enjoy!

By: David Plick

Via Flickr by ms.akr

Via Flickr by ms.akr

Don’t underestimate the importance of a great billboard, business sign, or neon. It’s the little flourishes like that that build the unique atmosphere of a place. Let’s face it: when you think of Whataburger, you think Texas. When you see a sign for an HEB there’s no questioning where you are. All cities should have recognizable elements that exist only in that place. It gives it the local flavor that you can only experience there.


Here in Austin, there’s a special atmosphere that only exists here. Sure, there’s Whataburgers and HEB’s like the rest of Texas, but here’s some signs that are uniquely Austin.

The White Horse Saloon

This place is just the best. The rockabilly, hipster atmosphere is simultaneously contemporary with brilliant musicians playing fusion music—sometimes it’s a real mixture of jazz-rock/bluegrass, yet, you can still get your squaredance on in your cowboy hat. This place is so cool that it doesn’t seem to know it. And the rustic sign is a big part of creating that feeling.

P. Terry’s

P. Terry’s is a great reminder that Austin is in the west. It’s Texas, but with the shiny, colorful neon sign, this place looks like it’s right out of a surf movie. I just want to dust sand off my flip-flops, sit down in my bathing suit, and replenish all the lost vitamins from being out in the sun all day with a burger (man, those are some good burgers) and a tall, icey Coke. Man, that’s the good life.

The Austin Motel

Equally famous because of its prime location on South Congress and its likeliness to a penis, the Austin Motel is a symbol for “Keep it Weird.” Plus, the orange glow ain’t so bad either.

Dan’s Hamburgers

Everyone in Austin knows that Dan and Fran (RIP, Fran’s Hamburgers) got a divorce, and now it’s just Dan’s. But that only makes the story that much more important. There’s the burgers, and the sign, and the story behind it all. It’s a part of the bigger story that is Austin.

I Love You So Much

This is the Instagram capital of Austin right here. In fact, did you know that it is a required Texas State Law that all visitors of Austin must take a selfie in front of this mural and post it to Instagram within 48 hours of being in the state capital, or they are expelled for forever? For college students, though, it’s slightly more flexible given their studying (drinking) schedule. They have until the end of their first semester. If not, they’re expelled. “I love you so much . . .” It’s just so . . . irresistible.

Jeremiah the Frog

This iconic image was drawn by the artist/musician Daniel Johnston. It was commissioned in 1993 by the Sound Exchange, a popular record store. The frog was originally on one of Johnson’s album covers.

Pho King

This gem up north of 183 is quintessentially Austin—a quality product that doesn’t take itself seriously. Has it ever been confirmed whether or not this sign/name of the restaurant was intentional? I’m not sure which I’d prefer.

By: David Plick

51B9q0pgZ0L._SX333_BO1,204,203,200_“Architecture is all around us,” announced Curbed editor-in-chief, Kelsey Keith, at the beginning of the Brooklyn Book Festival’s panel entitled “The Culture of Architecture” featuring Pulitzer Prize winning architectural critic, Paul Goldberger, and architect and author, Witold Rybcznski. A perfect location to say this as we sat in Downtown Brooklyn in the shadows of DUMBO, the cranes hoisting up Bjarne Ingel’s World Trade Center Two, and Frank Gehry’s 8 Spruce Street.

It was a good crowd. They laughed at all of Paul Goldberger jokes about Frank Gehry and Philip Johnson. They oo’d and ahh’d at Rybcznski’s brilliant ideas about the role of the critic in the construction (or destruction) of buildings, how globalization could be ruining the local architecture and feel of a place—a great line he said was, “You can’t just parachute into a city and understand it.”

Another highlight was both of these men’s beliefs that architectural contests are unfair and immoral—both for the architects themselves and the general public. Goldberger complained that these contests exploit architects by forcing them to do work for free—a great deal of work goes into their designs, which could easily be discarded without any form of payment. Rybcznski also criticized contests saying the judge panels are mostly formed of non-architects whom do not have the background and/or education needed to make informed design decisions.

“The Culture of Architecture” asked many questions—what is the role of the critic in the starchitecture system? Are architects famous, and does that matter for the future of their designs? But throughout all of this inquiry, there was the very noticeable energy in the room that these questions would always continue as criticism does, but perhaps more importantly, that this moment in this room was to be shared amongst a group of people inspired by this timeless art with two experts who were immensely passionate about the subject. It was a time to celebrate the form, which, yes, is underrated and underappreciated, but that everyone in that room was in on a little secret: that architecture still is a part of our everyday lives. It was there with us during our drive to work today, during our train ride, during brunch on the weekend—every time we visit a new city and notice the differences. It’s the blueprint of our past, our present, and our future.

Which is why the conversation continues, as it does for these two men right here: Goldberger’s book, Building Art: The Life and Work of Frank Gehry, is out now from Knopf; Rybcznski’s Mysteries of the Mall: And Other Essays has been released by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

By: David Plick

Anne and SamWhen talking to Austin couple Anne Suttles and Sam Shah about their life and work you start getting the sense that maybe they have thirty-six hours in a day to get things done, instead of twenty-four. Both of them balance multiple artistic interests in addition to being design/builders who have been featured in Dwell Magazine, as well as other prominent magazines and blogs. Their properties have won numerous design awards and were featured on the AIA Home Tour. They work multiple projects simultaneously, and also, by the way, have a three year old daughter. You have to wonder how they do it.

I started thinking as I spoke to them that maybe it was their fondness for each other that further ignited this drive. Their affection for one another comes out in in simple, honest and direct statements like, “I really liked Sam . . .” and “we just get along really well . . . “ It’s clear that they are united in their love for art, and each other.

They are both artists in every sense of the word, which is probably why they are so hesitant to accept compliments. When I would say to them that they were contributors to the beautification of Bouldin, they were reluctant to accept that. Because, why compliment yourself or feel good about something you’ve done when there’s always some other project to take on, another adventure to lift you back up into your artistic heaven? They’re proof that humility is still the finest quality for an artist. It always keeps them working.

For Sam and Anne, it seems like it’s the process that excites them the most: the process of acquiring a property, of finding the right design to match the landscape, the right layout and materials for a space, the details that would make the space not only livable but a joy to live in. Since they met in 2004, their relationship has been one process after another. The process of meeting and falling in love, detaching from other serious relationships to make space for one another, of moving—from Austin to New York, then back to Austin again. And then, once they were in Austin, of moving five times in seven years. And now, for their most recent process, and perhaps the most challenging of all—of raising a child.

From an outsider perspective, Anne and Sam’s life seems damn exciting. Intoxicating even. They’re the kind of people you meet and wander—how do you find time to do it all?


The Value of Architecture: You guys met in Austin at SXSW, but you lived in New York for almost three years together. Do you miss it?

Sam Shah: Well, I grew up around New York City actually.

TVOA: Whereabouts? I’m from Jersey.

Anne Suttles: That’s so funny. It seems like everyone we meet is from that area.

TVOA: There’s a lot of people from that area.

Sam: I’m from New Rochelle. But after college I lived in Manhattan for sixteen years.

TVOA: What part of the city?

Sam: Midtown east. Most recently in a building called Sterling Plaza on 49th and 2nd Avenue.

Anne: The name is so luxurious. He’d still be living there if it wasn’t for me.

Sam: I don’t really miss it though. I go back and see friends and stuff, and I do love the unique character of some of the neighborhoods, but after a few days I’m ready to come back home.

TVOA: How about you Anne? Do you miss it?

Anne: I liked living in New York. It’s kind of a long story, and I think I’ll give you the G-rated version, but after Sam and I met, and developed a friendship over some months over email, talking about architecture and design . . .

TVOA: So when you guys first met you would talk about architecture even though you had yet to work in that field?

Anne: We both had a passion for it. When we met at SXSW at a concert instead of talking about music we spoke about architecture, design, and Dwell magazine.

Sam: I hadn’t read it, so of course Anne immediately bought me a subscription.

Anne: Anyway, he was living in New York, and I was in Austin working as a floral designer, and later, after we had been talking for a while, I decided to move to New York for a break.

TVOA: A break from Austin?

Anne: Austin, my boyfriend at the time . . . Yeah, I was looking for an adventure, and I really liked Sam, so after only spending probably a total of forty-eight hours together, I moved to New York.

Sam: We lived together for a couple years in New York, but we were actually going to buy an apartment in Williamsburg, next to McCarren Park with beautiful views of Manhattan.

Anne: But the place was a mess—way below code. All kinds of problems, and we had to get lawyers involved to get out of the deal. And then, it was July, we spent a week in Austin to see if we could live there.

Sam: I was already in love with Austin from coming to SXSW since 1999. I remember going to Guero’s on South Congress and thinking, “This is the best Mexican I’ve ever had.” I just fell in love with the atmosphere, and then with Bouldin it just made sense because I loved how walkable it was. We could walk to farmer’s markets, the lake, and South Congress. Coming from Manhattan, it was important to have a good walking neighborhood.

TVOA: Right. Bouldin has that great urban-Austin location. Close to downtown, but very much its own neighborhood.

Anne: We met with a bunch of brokers that week, and we found the property on Mary Street.

TVOA: Was Bouldin the trendy, artsy neighborhood it is today?

Anne: No, not at all. Back then there were gunshots and helicopters flying over South 5th.

Sam: At one point when we were building the house someone shot a paintball at me.

TVOA: Not exactly welcoming, is it?

Anne: Not really. We were a little nervous about building a house like that in that neighborhood. We didn’t want it to be this weird spaceship in the middle of these older houses and these trees. We really wanted it to work with the natural surroundings.

TVOA: And it certainly does. So, from what I’m hearing, you guys seem to be a major part of the beautification of this neighborhood. Because it wasn’t the place it is today.

Anne: That’s very generous of you to say. A very small part, that’s for sure.

TVOA: So how did you guys meet Kevin Alter?

Anne: I had known Kevin already from when I lived in Austin through my friend Mark Word, a brilliant landscape architect who I used to work with. I worked with Mark on Kevin’s property, his bungalow in Clarksville, and I basically decided that these were a group of people I wanted to get to know.

Sam: So when we were in Austin Anne showed me Kevin’s work, and I was just blown away by it. When we met with him it was immediate: let’s do this. The apartment closed in New York, and we moved.

Anne: We also got married in this process as well.

TVOA: That makes sense. If you’re moving across the country, buying and selling property, why not get married too?

Anne: It’s just been like that with us. It’s been a crazy time.

TVOA: Can you describe your collaborative process with Alterstudio?

Anne: They’re amazing. Everything they do is so clean, and when you have a problem they’ll immediately come up with five different solutions to the problem. They give us a lot to work with.

TVOA: How does the design process work? Do you go back and forth on designs, making critiques, etc?

Anne: Absolutely. It’s always a process. I’m someone who receives a design and I start to envision living in that space. So when they send me a design I usually come back to them with: what about this wasted space right here? Why is the kitchen situated like that?

Sam: Anne’s attention to detail is incredible. She just sees everything. It’s amazing.

Anne: Or annoying, depending on how you’re looking at it. But yeah, collaborating with them really works for us. They have such innovative designs, but it’s almost a little severe, and then I think I come in and make them more human, more livable.

TVOA: From what I can see, it seems like Alterstudio makes striking art which has that “in a museum” feel, and you guys come in and help make it a space that’s a home for people to live in.

Anne: That seems about right. I’m a homebody. I love being at home. So when I envision a place I really love to get a sense of what it would be like to live there.

Sam: It’s all about balance.

TVOA: How many times have you guys collaborated with Alterstudio?

Anne: After Bouldin we found this property on Hillside Avenue in Travis Heights. We actually were going to flip that property, but after Bouldin got attention, we started attracting people to our house and they started coming and taking pictures. Five people a day were coming onto the property to take photos.

Sam: It was pretty weird.

Anne: That was when we decided to sell Bouldin and move into the Hillside property instead.

Sam: It was a more established neighborhood, and there was more privacy.

TVOA: What can you tell us about the process in the Montclaire home?

Anne: This was such a creative adventure for us. It’s a different process when you have to work within an existing structure. Because we kept all of the exterior of the house basically intact. On the outside it has that classic look—we didn’t want to change that because that’s essentially the look of the neighborhood. We also preserved the Live Oak trees on the property, and it was really important to us to have the design work within the existing environment. It ends up being this amazing puzzle to solve, and it was so fun.

Sam: But the inside of the home was a disaster.

Anne: Oh, it was one of the worst interiors I’ve possibly ever seen. The worst.

Sam: There was an odd configuration for the steps. There was no master bedroom, no master bathroom.

Anne: So we completely re-did the interior. It took a lot of work, going back and forth on designs, but it was so worth it.

TVOA: It seems like you just know what you want when you see it. You feel the process through.

Anne: Exactly. A lot of it is doing a design, seeing it, then making changes. We never get it right the first time. But I really do feel like this is our best work yet. It’s almost finished.

TVOA: What’s next for you guys?

Anne: Things are a little crazy right now. We’re working on our South 5th house, which we’re planning on moving into, but who knows in this market. We have another property one block south of West Mary, then we also have the Montlcaire home we’re finishing.

Sam: This is the first time we have two projects going simultaneously, so it’s been a pretty hectic time for us.

Anne: Also, with our daughter getting older I don’t want to move anymore. In the next couple years I’d like to settle down somewhere.

Sam: I’ve lived in Austin for seven years and moved five times.

TVOA: Are you guys getting out of the design & build business?

Anne: We’re not sure. But if we continue, we’ll definitely work with AlterStudio.

TVOA: Are you still in the music industry, Sam?

Sam: I have a couple of music projects I’m working on, but I don’t represent musicians anymore. I haven’t done that in a couple years.

TVOA: What do you see yourself doing, Anne?

Anne: I don’t know. I was thinking of getting into quilts, working with fabrics. I just love all kinds of creativity, so I could see myself doing all kinds of things.

By: David Plick

Via flickr by Philip Kromer

Via flickr by Philip Kromer

Ok, let’s just say it: Bouldin is the best neighborhood in Austin. We’re sorry, East Austin hipsters. We’re sorry, Hyde Park hippies. We’re sorry West Campus, frat boys. Bouldin is the best. Case closed.

Well, maybe you’re right. Maybe we’re biased here at TVOA because Bouldin, Mary Street, and the Bouldin Creek Café are our home. But hear us out.


From Thai Fresh to Elizabeth St (which has some of the best pho and baguettes in town), the gelato at Dolce Neve on South 1st, the Torchy food trucks (which sport outdoor ping-pong tables, by the way), and the landmark Bouldin Creek Café, which not only has great hipster ambiance, but also a super healthy “mostly vegan” menu, Bouldin offers maybe not the most high-end restaurants in Austin, but certainly the ones with the most character and delicious food for the price. Also, all of those places I just mentioned are within walking distance of one another. Which leads me to the next reason why Bouldin is the best. Walkability.


Not many neighborhoods in Austin are walkable, but Bouldin is. In fact, some streets even have sidewalks. Because of the centralized location, you can walk to all those great restaurants and bars on South 1st, South Congress, and you can even walk (or run) to Town Lake, Barton Springs, downtown, dirty 6th–but don’t walk back if you’re doing what we think you’re doing at dirty 6th . . . Bouldin is downtown, yet feels very separate, unique in its own world.

Artistic inspiration:

Bouldin has some of the most wonderfully peculiar, Americana art galleries in Austin, and the country. There’s The Turquoise Door for jewelry, Yard Dog on South Congress for folk art, the South Austin Gallery, and the iconic Roadhouse Relics where Todd Sanders makes his vintage style neon signs. If you want to sit back and be inspired by artistic activity, look no further than Bouldin.

Design, Design, Design:

Driving, or even better, walking around Bouldin feels like you’re going through a modern art museum. There’s cutting edge design everywhere. Bouldin Castle on West Mary Street transformed an orthodox church into an architectural and design fantasy world. Design masterminds David Clark and Adam Young recently put their thumbprints on West James Street. Finally, designers Anne Suttles and Sam Shah built their dream home, a sleek, elegant, and sustainable modern home on West Mary Street with Kevin Alter and Alterstudio Architects. The inspiration in Bouldin is in the air the people breathe, the streets they walk on, and in the homes they inhabit.

Look, no one likes polarizing, sensationalist journalism—those top ten lists that say which is the best and worst. But this is a blog, so what do you expect? And we’re here to tell you that Bouldin is the best neighborhood in Austin. And also, that we’ve disabled the comments box below, so you can’t fight with us about it.

By: David Plick

Penn_Station3“Any city gets what it admires, will pay for, and, ultimately, deserves. Even when we had Penn Station, we couldn’t afford to keep it clean. We want and deserve tin-can architecture in a tinhorn culture. And we will probably be judged not by the monuments we build but by those we have destroyed.”

“Farewell to Penn Station,” New York Times editorial, October 30, 1963


Last week I was catching a train to visit my family in New Jersey, so where did I have to go? Penn Station, of course. It’s in midtown, situated between 7th and 8th avenue and 31st and 33rd streets. From the outside there’s really no semblance of it being a train station. It looks more like a non-descript office building with the vague markings of an arena around it. The station is underneath all of this in the basement.

Taking a train in Penn Station is a grotesque experience. I try to time it precisely so that I can immediately get on my train the second I get in there. If I have to wait in line for my ticket, I always get overcome by this empty, anxious nausea. Sometimes I have trouble breathing because of the lack of ventilation, and there’s always yelling and screaming, whether it be from homeless people, or an arguing couple. I look around just counting the seconds until I can leave.

But there are . . . amenities . . . There’s a KFC, Jamba Juice, Starbucks, Planet Smoothie, or, if you’re feeling extra chic, TGI Friday’s.

To push me deeper into my depression, I am always reminded, such as in this recent Mashable article, how stunning, how utterly magnificent, the former Penn Station was. It was in the Beaux-Arts tradition and composed of pink granite. The primary waiting area was modeled after Roman baths, and was over a block long with a glass ceiling 150 feet over your head. The concourse had an arching glass and steel greenhouse roof. It was the kind of place, as art historian Hillary said, that “made you feel important.”

Today, tourists flock to Grand Central to bask in its glory, in its history. But, it’s common knowledge that the old Penn Station was far more impressive. Yet the only people who flock to Penn Station now are angry commuters from Long Island and New Jersey, and they’re counting the seconds, like I always do, to get the hell out of there.

Let Penn Station be a lesson to Austin, Los Angeles, and all major cities. Let’s not let our homes be destroyed for immediate economic gain. Let’s demand a better future than the cookie-cutter one we’re heading towards. Let’s leave monuments that are legacies for our collective cultural heritage, that give future generations a sense of society, that they come from somewhere. Our future needs a past, so let’s demand that we have one.

Now that talks have begun for the destruction of Madison Square Garden, there is a resurgence in the conversation to bring the old Penn Station back, or at least something a lot better than the gruesome version we currently have. I, for one, will be on the picket line to bring the old Penn Station back.

By: David Plick

IMG_1033Currently showing at MoMA PS1 in Long Island City, Queens is The Young Architects Program, a partnership between The Museum of Modern Art and MoMA PS1 that seeks to support groundbreaking design research and advance the careers of emerging talent. In addition to choosing a winner at MoMA PS1, the competition occurs in several other major modern museums throughout the world including: Istanbul Modern, Rome MAXXI, CONSTRUCTO in Santiago, Chilé, and the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Seoul, South Korea.

Currently in its 16th year, the Young Architects Program at MoMA and MoMA PS1 challenges emerging superstar architects to design an outdoor installation at MoMA PS1. Their designs must tackle environmental issues, most importantly sustainability and recycling.

Here’s the list of finalists for the Young Architects Program  at MoMA PS1:

Drones’ Beach by Brillhart Architecture

Principal: Jacob Brillhart

Based out of Miami, Brillhart Architecture brings us Drones’ Beach, an installation designed to provoke the senses, and which seeks the boundaries of space to change it entirely. Brillhart’s use of a beach as a setting promotes the playfulness and audience interactivity.

Roof Deck by Erin Besler

Principal: Erin Besler

Chicago’s Erin Besler offered up Roof Deck, which repositions MoMA PS1’s existing roof into the courtyard, where it becomes an area for socialization, including yoga to partying. Besler’s design reflects our time period with our current fitness craze, and the summer. It is simultaneously aware yet always seeking further awareness.

Phenomena by Dillenburger/Hansmeyer

Principals: Benjamin Dillenburger and Michael Hansmeyer

Dillenburger and Hansmeyer collabaorated to create something truly unique. Their design is a performance space with a beautiful, glowing fountain, and contains a projection screen for video art and for reflecting daytime sunlight. Experiencing Phenomena the same way twice is impossible.

Gels by The Bittertang Farm

Principal: Michael Loverich

New York’s own Michael Loverich entered Gels into the competition, which flows water throughout the design to give it all life. Water is taken in many ways across the installation to make living things. One of the main materials is bundled hay, which will grow wheatgrass and wildflowers. This installation, which is a living and growing thing, will eventually wither and die.

Young Architects Program Winner:

COSMO by Andrés Jaque / Office for Political Innovation

Principal: Andrés Jaque

Andrés Jaque, and his Office for Political Innovation, made COSMO, which is inspired by NYC’s water system, and constructed out of irrigation parts. This installation takes once hidden pipes and makes them visible, and it is built to purify 3,000 gallons of water over a four-day cycle.

By: David Plick

Lous VuittonRight outside the périphérique in Paris, in the chic banlieue Neuilly-sur-Seine, lies the Fondation Louis Vuitton, an art museum designed by Frank Gehry, which is dedicated to the spread and cultivation of arts and culture. It is also the home of the personal art collection of Bernard Arnault, the chairman of LVMH (Louis Vuitton / Moët-Hennessy).

Approaching Fondation Louis Vuitton through the Bois de Bologne (Boulogne Woods) is probably very similar to the experience of finding a shipwrecked spaceship in the forest. In one moment you’re walking through nature enjoying the simple comfort of trees and leaves, flowers blooming, birds chirping, and then you come upon a shocking and imposing glowing image. This might be a good time to remind yourself that you’re in Paris, and not the Yukon Territory.

In the distance as this structure becomes larger and more imposing, Paris’s financial district, La Défense, reveals itself to you with its futuristic skyscrapers. Really, if there’s anything that “works” in accordance with Fondation Louis Vuitton, it’s these images off at the edge of your vision. And while it is true that Frank Gehry’s design does not seek to blend in with its surroundings, but rather, tries to defeat them, it is still an elegant and fluid building. The movement of the fragmented outer shell created by the twelve glass sails gives the feeling of movement, as if the museum could fly away, and the system of steel and wood beams do give it a sense of calm. The most enjoyable experience as a viewer of this museum is certainly the top floor outdoor terraces with its patches of nature intertwined with sculptural art pieces. It’s a place of Zen where you can be in the city but away from it. You have the feeling of being in the middle of it all, yet completely separate.

Viewing art, on the other hand, can be a struggle. As I navigated through Fondation Louis Vuitton I found myself not knowing where to go, and a couple times I literally thought to myself, “Where is the art?” which is probably not a good question to be asking yourself in a museum. The layout is very unclear once you do succeed in finding art. Once I was walking through an exhibition space in the wrong direction and a guard stopped to tell me I should be going the other way. And finally, I lost the group of friends I was with.

Perhaps this was Frank Gehry’s intention when he designed the building. Maybe he didn’t want the art inside to take away from his elegance? Or maybe he wanted to design a building you could get lost in? Perhaps there is something kind of charming about that type of artistic experience.

When I exited Fondation Louis Vuitton I saw someone had written in the guest book something that best sums up this museum’s experience:


(sometimes it’s hard to think about the actual people inhabiting the building, but give it a try . . . )

By: David Plick

IMG_0552About two hours south of Paris—a simple yet serene drive through countryside and small, quaint towns and villages—lies the Loire Valley. In visiting the Loire Valley, there are two things that people commonly associate with this region: wine and chateaus. And while this is true, this area offers so much more than that. In visiting the Loire Valley you have the idyllic French atmosphere: thin, windy alleys with bistros at the end where the chef is the mother and the father serves you the most delicious meal of your life, dogs wandering with their owners far behind, families with proud fathers teaching their children about how precious and rich their heritage is, and, of course, because it’s summer, the many closed shops saying: Gone for the Summer . . . bonne vacances ! Also, as an American, you will be one of the few non-French people there because in the interior of the country, it is mostly the French themselves who are soaking in their culture and wine (which is actually ironic: the two things the country of France was against: the aristocracy and the power of the religious state, are the things they want to visit the most in their chateaus and cathedrals). Here are a few tips in visiting the Loire Valley:

Stay in Blois:

When in the Loire Valley, I highly recommend staying in Blois. It is simultaneously quaint and convenient. It’s a compact yet stunning medieval city-town with a grand cathedral, chateaus, and gorgeous winding streets. In Blois, you will feel transported to another time. You will think that a joust between two knights could erupt at any minute, when in fact, what will happen is you will just get some amazing crepes.

Chateau de Chambord

About twenty minutes by car from Blois, this chateau is one of the most important in the world because it embodies French Renaissance architecture, which combines French medieval forms with classical Renaissance structures. It is also the biggest chateau in the Loire Valley, which was first intended to be a hunting lodge for King Francis I. It is rumored that Leonard de Vinci, an inhabitant of the region during the time period, was involved in its design.

Chateau de Chenonceau

Depicted in the photo above, this place is the most exquisite chateau I’ve ever seen. The Chateau de Chenonceau sits atop the Cher River with its foundation in the river bed with designs by the French Renaissance architect Philibert de L’orme. In addition to the stunning castle, the gorgeous manicured gardens–one named after Catherine de Medici and another for Diane de Poitier–give both solace and amazement. At the Chateau de Chenonceau you feel the absolute power of the beauty of architecture. It’s a reminder that building something extraordinary, something that can sit for centuries and centuries, only begins at the enjoyment of the builder and user–it really goes far deeper than that. It’s a cultural gift for us all to enjoy.

By: David Plick

21In this day and age of digital machines the DIY is a dying breed. And it’s so sad because there’s something so invigorating about someone who chooses to use their body, mind, and spirit to create something. And in the case of 908 W James Street, there’s not one but two DIY geniuses crafting everything in the most natural of ways–with their hands (and also their souls, but I’ll try to not be too esoteric).


Genius #1:

Adam Young is a woodworker. He came to Austin in 1994 for skateboarding and punk music, but like many of us who come to a city with a dream, we end up doing so much more than the original thing that brought us there. In 2010 he founded Old Crow and built projects such as the Yellow Jacket Social Scene and Javelina. For any of you that aren’t familiar with these places, he makes these gorgeous, rustic Americana pieces. He makes Clint Eastwood the bar of his dreams. Adam Young takes his dreams and makes them a reality.

Genius #2:

After being a graphic designer for five years in San francisco, David Clark realized his passion was in building things you could touch, interact with, and sit on, which is why his company, Kartwheel Craftsmanship, specializes in custom designed furniture. In addition to many well-known projects, such as Photo Studio and Angelina, he also has had art galleries show his work, including the show Wood Home.


These guys are so Austin, it’s crazy. Two DIY guys who build with their hands, while utilizing spare parts if they can find them. They’re artists and entrepreneurs, that rare combination of creativity, ingenuity, and innovation, all the while blending their talents with an Americana aesthetic. The chemical reaction of all of these qualities could only happen in a city like Austin, which through its openness and dedication to thoughtful design, gives them the artistic range to allow their work to grow.

908 W James Street isn’t just a house. It’s a piece of Austin’s cultural and artistic history.

By: David Plick

heymann_beautifulTo truly love Austin means to give to its culture, and not simply take from its advantages. It means not blindly supporting expansion, especially given its mindlessness at times—for more opportunity, more money, and growth for growth’s sake—but rather, the thoughtful and conscientious expansion that would benefit all Austinites regardless of their economic distinction. This purer love, of humanity, of art and its relationship to urbanization and a city’s occupants, and of course architecture, is at the heart of University of Texas Professor in Architecture David Heymann’s short-story collection, My Beautiful City Austin (John M Hardy Publishing Company, 2014).

In the book, which consists of seven sometimes absurd, yet painfully real short stories told by a protagonist/architect named David, the narrator recounts different experiences with various dimwitted clients around Austin. The thought process and decisions of his clients always baffle him, perhaps most notably an elderly couple whose main goal is to build a home that will entice their grandchildren to visit, so they essentially try to model it after a theme park. For anyone who knows Austin, the landmarks will hit home and these stories will resonate with that “I’ve always thought this, but didn’t know how to put it into words” feeling. You will read it with a smile on your face, shaking your head in equal parts befuddlement and identification.

As acerbic as this book is, Heymann clearly loves this city that he calls home. The way he describes landmarks such as Barton Springs and Lake Travis, and this city’s quirky residents, it’s clear that he has a sincere admiration for Austin, and seeks only a gentler, more sustainable future. This book is a charming and funny warning sign that Austin’s future is up for grabs, and it’s up to us to push it in the right direction.

By: David Plick

Photograph via Flickr by Ed Schipul

Photograph via Flickr by Ed Schipul

I love to run around Town Lake, for the bucolic atmosphere of the trees and water, the views of the hills off to the side, for the quaint bridges that people sometimes illegally jump from into the lake, the dirt trails that are easy on my body, and to watch the easygoing lifestyle of Austinites as they pass me by on paddleboards or in row boats. But I’ve also come to realize that my favorite part of all this is before and after my run, when I stretch and look at the Austin skyline. I always marvel at all of the cranes lifting up walls and pillars, working to build Austin up and out. I watch all of this fully knowing, like we all do, that this is a city of the future. That Austin has only just begun.

As noted in Urbanscale and The Statesmen, the evolution of the Austin skyline is drastic and obvious. One simply cannot look at the city and not remark on its rapid expansion and development. The newest addition that will enrich Austin’s skyline is The Independent, a 685-foot, 58-story condominium tower, which will overtake the Austinian—completed in 2010—as Austin’s tallest building. There is also the Bowie completed this year, and exciting new projects such as 416 Congress and the Kimber Modern Hotel. It’s a thrilling time for Austinites to view first-hand a city on the rise.

I’ve lived in Paris, New York, and Austin, and in all three cities I’ve sat back and observed the city from a focal point. In Paris, it was in Montmartre where I could see the scale and movement, the smallness of Paris being interrupted by structures such as the Tour Montparnasse, the Eiffel Tower, and La Défense. In New York, I’ve felt my smallness on Brooklyn rooftops as I awed at the sheer massiveness of Manhattan, and from Town Lake in Austin, I witnessed the action of the blatant morphology of a new and exciting city, changing right before my very eyes.

How important is a city’s skyline to its quality of life? For me, I love to sit back and watch a city in the present, but also to wonder about its future. I wonder what Austin’s skyline will look like in 2025? How about 2050?

By: David Plick

Photograph via Flickr by Daniel

Photograph via Flickr by Daniel

Full disclosure: I have no idea what I’m talking about. I don’t have a degree in architecture, and I’ve never studied design. I can’t draw, paint, or build anything. Except maybe books and stories, if you consider a novel to be something “constructed” (a lot of people do). I have an MFA in creative writing and learned how to talk about art intelligently though, so I probably didn’t struggle too much during my transition into speaking Talkitecture—the official language for non-architects to sound smart when discussing architecture. Speaking Talkitecture is a fun way to engage with other artistic and urban minded people, so if you are interested in further developing your fluency, here are a few pointers:

Already consider yourself an authority on the subject

You’ve heard the expression “fake it until you make it” before, right? Well, that’s what success in talkitecture (and life) is all about. No one knows what they’re doing at first, so you fake it until you do. It’s all about confidence. To quote George Costanza, “It’s not a lie if you believe it.”

Because the fact is no one really knows anything anyway (except architects, who build the stuff), so why not just be confident in your ideas? You’re a part of this city, this street, this world. You’re entitled to feel feelings and have ideas on things. Do you like this building? Do you feel that it works amidst the other buildings? I say, go with your gut, then fill in some fancy words around it to back that gut up.

Use Buzzwords

Here’s a list of buzzwords you can throw out there to solidify your architectural authority.

Daniel Libeskind and the “New York Five”

Le Corbusier


Functionalism and New Formalism



Zaha Hadid

Ok, so these are some terms. Now, where do you learn what they all mean? Wikipedia, of course.

Consider Wikipedia your university PhD in Talkitecture

First of all, you don’t need to know everything all at once. You only need to know enough to enter the conversation you’re currently in. Let’s say you’re going to a Deconstructivist exhibit at San Francisco’s MoMA. All you have to do is look up Deconstructivism on Wikipedia and read what it is, what it stemmed from, and who the key players and/or structures are. You probably won’t even have to read the entire page.

Don’t reference artistic movements you have yet to look up on Wikipedia

Let’s say the conversation jumps from formalism and aesthetics, to Marx, the Protestant Reformation, and then the Baroque period and the aristocracy, don’t feel the need to contribute. Intelligent people love being listened to. Just take this time to sit back and hear what the person has to say. Nod and say, “Right . . . exactly . . .” Trust me. They’ll just be happy you haven’t run away yet. It’s better to remain quiet than to say something untrue.

Don’t be specific about materials

Let’s face it. You don’t know the difference between a brick and concrete, and you know have no idea what Terracotta is. But that’s ok. You don’t have to. You’re not an architect. You’re a keen and thoughtful observer of the world around you and that counts for something. Don’t worry about not knowing materials. People probably won’t quiz you. And if they say something like, “As you know the floor was made of stone . . .” Don’t correct them. Just say, “Of course . . .” And move on.

If all else fails, use the expression, “I’m actually not familiar with that . . .”

Look, unless it’s something like Frank Lloyd Wright or Frank Gehry, or another Frank, it’s fine to not know it. Intelligent people love to teach other intelligent people things, especially in a museum or art gallery where they can be heard doing it.

By: David Plick

123Yesterday I went to the exhibit, “Latin America in Construction: Architecture 1955-1980,” at New York City’s Museum of Modern Art, which is “intended to challenge the notion of Latin America as a testing ground for ideas and methods devised in Europe and the US.” The exhibition is the second time the museum has investigated the design and architecture of the region, the first being in 1955.

As I entered the exhibit I got the sense of being projected into a different time period. The first room is highly sensory. The lights are dim, and there are black and white films and newsreels projected onto screens amidst models of schools and theaters. There is a map of Latin America on the floor, showing the major cities: Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paolo, Montevideo, Buenos Aires, and Mexico City, and as I stood in the middle of it all and watched the films, the exhibition absolutely made me feel the sense that I was in the middle of a rapidly changing world. The newscasters, which, all seemed to be American, called out for everyone to hear, “There was no place to go but up . . .” and announced wars and protests, coups and political tension. The images on the screen were haunting at times—of school children lining up to get medicine, of people hustling and bustling to work in urban centers, of wars, and of skyscraper after skyscraper getting thrown up with decisive quickness. I felt the power of this change, and considered the current context of the exhibit in New York City, a place which endures rapid change everyday from its fervent capitalism, and which also runs on the blood, sweat, and tears of Latin Americans.

Amidst the lingering feeling of the harshness of city and urban life, there remains an enduring optimism, in the innovative designs that were birthed in Latin America, and in the spirit of its people. The second room in the exhibit connects the history of this region to the architecture and design practices. The exhibit bounces from city to city, showing photographs and models of government buildings, concert halls, stadiums, schools, residential and office buildings, and airports. Structures such as Brasilia’s Palácio do Planalto and Congresso Nacional, Aula Magna in Caracas, Museu de Arte Moderna in Rio de Janeiro, Escuela Nacional de Ballet in Havana, the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, amongst many others, all presented within the notion that these advancements came from necessity. These Latin American cities were among the fastest growing in the world, and because of this there was the enormous demand to house, employ, educate, and support these rapidly growing communities. “Latin America in Construction: Architecture 1955-1980,” is an amazing study of design and architecture’s place in urban development, and how this largely comes from necessity—economic, political, and social. The 20th century’s best and brightest were showing off their work in Latin America because this is where their ideas had a chance. As opposed to Europe, which was already established and set in their ways, there was a greater willingness in Latin America to experiment and innovate.

As the world continues to watch Latin America grow and develop economically, this exhibition, and the example set by Latin America’s greatest cities, argues also for the value of architecture, that it is not only worth the time and money to make a place both efficient yet also comfortable and beautiful, a place for people to grow and prosper, but that it is also imperative for a culture’s growth and future.

By: David Plick

Brooks Calavan's Craftsman on 13th Street in East Austin.

Brooks Calavan’s Craftsman on 13th Street in East Austin.

For twenty years Brooks Calavan has embodied the spirit of Austin ingenuity through his ability to be innovative and forward thinking, while at the same time showing a professional flexibility as he never fears branching out into different types of business projects. The consummate entrepreneur, Calavan founded Microchip Computers in 1996 in his garage and succeeded in securing major clients to keep his business thriving: the Mexican government and the Texas Workforce Commission. Later, he founded another tech company, Mission IT Services, while simultaneously venturing out into real estate acquisition as he founded yet another company: Texas Capitol Investors. In this project, Calavan’s company acquired, developed and managed hundreds of residential and commercial real estate properties around the central Texas area including property in Austin, Cedar Park, Round Rock, and San Marcos.

Most recently, Calavan teamed up with one of Austin’s top creative designers—the design and build architect Chris Krager of KRDB—to create affordable modern homes in East Austin. The new homes are on 15th street, and going to go on the market very soon, so be on the lookout when you’re driving around.

Calavan’s ability to see opportunity and act on it is very impressive. When I asked Calavan how he got into the computer manufacturing business, he said, “I just kind of fell into it.” A modest answer, but is it that simple? Calavan’s maneuverability, his ability to “figure it out,” through these various enterprises shows that he has no fear—he goes into all projects with the same passion and business acumen, the spirit of the place that he calls home. Austin is a great place for economic opportunity, but Calavan is proof that it’s really the people who live here that make the opportunity.


TVOA: You founded two tech companies, Microchip Computers and Mission IT Services. What was it about computers and technology that initially interested you?

Brooks Calavan: Really, I kind of fell into it. I was in school, and I was looking for some kind of business because I didn’t want to just go and get a degree I felt like I wouldn’t use, so I just happened upon used computers. A guy told me he was making a few thousand a month buying used computers at old school auctions—this is before eBay was around—and selling them in the newspaper. This was 1996. I said to myself, “I could do that.” And it just kind of grew from there.

TVOA: So you can fix computers?

Brooks Calavan: I didn’t, but I learned how.

TVOA: That’s impressive.

Brooks Calavan: Thank you. What happened was there was a shop selling computer parts, but they weren’t above board, so I learned where they bought from, took those contacts, and started marketing computers—building new computers with warranties and it grew from there. We got some US Army contracts, Mexican government contracts, Texas Workforce Commission contracts. We basically built and competed regionally with Dell. Now, we weren’t sold all over the country and the world, and we didn’t have a big presence or marketing or anything like that. It was only twenty-two people. It wasn’t huge, but it was worth twenty million last year. We were the largest custom computer shop in the Texas area. I sold that company, and then went into the services business because I had a couple clients ask me if I knew the service business, which I didn’t, but I just took a couple technicians and figured it out.

TVOA: Seems like you’re good at figuring things out.

Brooks Calavan: My background, my knack, is more in sales and marketing, and just taking care of people.

TVOA: So how did you get into real estate?

Brooks Calavan: There were some challenges with Mission IT—people not showing up to work, and so I always looking for alternatives for investment. When a company came in from Houston looking to buy us, I sold it. But I still wanted to move cash that I was making from my businesses, so I was looking at real estate and oil and gas, and invested in both. The more I worked in it, the more I learned about the intricacies of those deals.

TVOA: So once again, you figured it out.

Brooks Calavan: Yeah, I had a realtor when I was working with Microchip Computers, and she was showing me properties that I didn’t think were a good deal. So I kept pushing her to find me a better one, and she found me some properties in East Austin. When I saw them I thought to myself, “I could do that. I could build those things.” It was like, cinder block construction. So I decided I would start buying lots and build my own. I don’t know how to build, but I’ll figure it out. So that’s what I did. I hired a builder and we built thirty-two homes. Then I was finding enough deals that I couldn’t do them all, so I partnered up with a mentor of mine and we did some condo projects together under Texas Capital Investors. And ever since then, I’ve been focusing on real estate.

TVOA: Seems like you have some great people around you.

Brooks Calavan: I always partner up with people smarter than me.

TVOA: That’s a good idea.

Brooks Calavan: I try not to do it all on my own. I can strip down a deal, find the best value for what we’re going to do, but when it comes to what we’re going to do with it, I find a good partner.

TVOA: Which is what you did with Chris Krager.

Brooks Calavan: Exactly.

TVOA: What’s the secret to making a good deal?

Brooks Calavan: Everybody in a deal has to win. That’s the key. That doesn’t always mean price. For some people, it’s a quick close, get their cash, do what they need to do. So winning always means something different. For me, it’s always value. If I can get value out of a property, and make the other person win, that’s the deal I try to do. I always try to find a way to offer them something. For the past fifteen years, with all my businesses and everything, I’ve built a reputation with people that if I say I’m going to do something, I do it. I’m very honest and upfront, and I pride myself in that. Because of this, sometimes people bring properties to me, because the other person, the seller or the broker, need a buyer, and they need somebody who’s going to close. That’s why a lot of my acquisitions are off-market. They also know that I won’t just flip the property. I’ll build something on it.

TVOA: You want to do something with the property.

Brooks Calavan: I really never try to look for quick money. The best yield for me is to develop the property.

TVOA: You seem like you really care about the personal relationships.

Brooks Calavan: I live in Austin, and have been here for over twenty years, and I don’t want anybody talking bad about me. I want to have good relationships with people. That’s why I’m always honest and upfront with people. Maybe they won’t do a deal with me at the time, but they usually come back. That’s the most important thing.

Also, my philosophy is: I don’t need anything, but I’ll buy anything. If someone came to me and said, “I have a thousand rugs for sale.” And if it’s a great enough value, I’ll buy it. I also don’t need them, so I won’t force the transaction with you.

TVOA: Can you tell us about your newest project on 15th Street with Chris Krager?

Brooks Calavan: I lived in that neighborhood about fifteen years ago. I knew Chris. He lived there too, and he did a couple projects for us. I’ve always admired his architecture, and thought he did a good job. He makes a real quality product, which is why when I work with him I can keep my mindset of pushing the market wherever the market is, and building a really great product, rather than stamping out something really cheap. I don’t like that “sell cheap” mentality that’s out there—people just trying to get rid of property. Ultimately for me, it’s about yield and reputation, and that comes from having a quality product. That’s why I picked Chris to be my partner.

We’re building high-end, quality homes: beautiful tile and bathtubs, stained concrete floors, free-floating stairs, custom cabinetry. Things that cost much more to build, but there’s a quality difference. And the location can’t be beat. You can’t get a lot in that neighborhood anymore. Plus, the design is beautiful. I just let Chris do his thing. Similarly with other professionals that I partner with, I don’t argue with him about what he thinks is best. I just sit back and let his creative genius do its thing. I love this project, for sure, and I’m sure the buyers will too.

By: David Plick

© RPBW, ph. Stefano Goldberg / PUBLIFOTO Genova

© RPBW, ph. Stefano Goldberg / PUBLIFOTO Genova

Renzo Piano is the great champion of public space. Whether the visitors and citizens of the city are aware of it or not, he improves their quality of life by sharing with them a living space designed specifically for the cultivation and dispersion of ideas and the enrichment of civic life. He’s the architect who cares about the individual’s experience of a building, who cares about how people interact with the space, and how the space then interacts with the world. At the Whitney Museum of American Art, much like the Centre Pompidou, or Beaubourg as he would say, he showed this by including a large area in front—a “piazza” he calls it—for people to meet, congregate, chat, and even loiter. He’s somehow simultaneously innovative and selfless. And because of this, he can masterfully fuse form and function, creating beauty for himself because he loves it and thinks it will save people, yet it all means nothing to him if he can’t share in this emotion with others.

Renzo Piano is Italian, but he is a citizen of the world. He made his home in Paris, but also has offices in New York and Genova. And today, it’s hard to visit a major international city without being able to experience the joy of a Renzo Piano space. There is a Renzo Piano “piazza” in Fort Worth, Texas at the Kimball Art Museum, in San Francisco at the California Academy of Sciences, in Chicago’s Art Institute, in Amsterdam’s NEMO Science Museum, in Rome at the music auditorium Parco della Musica, in Paris, Los Angeles, London, and now in the Meatpacking District—New York’s center for international art and fashion.

When I initially contacted Renzo Piano’s office for this interview, I didn’t expect a response. I thought he was far too internationally recognized and busy changing the world with beauty to speak with me, but I was remarkably and joyously surprised to hear that he not only would do the interview, but he would prefer to do it over the phone. I thought to myself, “That is so Renzo Piano. He would prefer the more human connection of a phone call, rather than emailing back and forth.”

Right now, I’m writing these words on the seventh floor terrace of the Whitney Museum of American Art, and what do I see? I see people congregating out front, sharing ideas and uniting to celebrate art and beauty. I see people peering over the edge of the terrace, interacting with the space. I see movement—the citizens of this city and the world moving up and down the stairs of the terraces and throughout the outdoor sculpture parks in this magical building that really looks like it could just get up and fly away, which was Renzo Piano’s wish because “the destiny of any architect is to fight against gravity. Actually, it is the destiny of everybody to fight against gravity.”

To anyone who hasn’t embraced this man and his work, do yourself a favor and not only experience his buildings, but listen to him speak. Listen to his genuine passion and sincerity when he speaks of beauty, art, and the poetry of architecture. Listen to him when he speaks of humanity and the joy of the collective experience. In his Whitney dedication speech he called his design “a bit impolite,” but nothing could be further from the man himself—who is gentle, kind, and sincere. Renzo Piano is not just an architect who makes mesmerizing buildings—he’s the kind of artist the world needs to bring us closer together, to share in the simple joy of a piazza.

TVOA: Your building workshop in New York is located on Washington Street, which is right around the corner from the new Whitney. When they approached you with the project eight years ago, had you already an intimate relationship with the Meatpacking District? Did you already have an idea of the style the neighborhood needed and demanded?

Renzo Piano: Actually, when we started, it was more than that. It was twelve years ago.

TVOA: It was twelve years ago? In your Whitney dedication speech you said that the process took eight years or nine years.

Renzo Piano: Well, for two or three years we were working on Madison Avenue and 75th street to make the extension on site, but this didn’t work because it was too much—too much trouble, too much work, too much money for too little result because it was impossible to have enough gallery space, so then we started and the client started to struggle about finding a new site, possibly downtown, because this is where Gertrude Whitney came from. And then, I remember, we went down to see three sites in the west part of the city in Chelsea. I got the impression that this site on Gansevoort and Washington Street was the best one so far, because it was at the end of the High Line. It was in a position where you could connect with the rest of the city. That was about eight years ago. And at that time, just walking in the street I saw the office to be let upstairs on Washington Street, so I said, “That’s the perfect place for our office to be.” I don’t know if the office came before the site, or the site before the office, but it was at the same time. So, that was the moment when we started thinking about that place, and the opportunities that that new place offered to the new Whitney. Of course, when you go there, even eight years ago, it was changing very fast—and clearly it was going to change. Because it’s a typical thing happening all the time, when you have an industrial place like that, it’s an inevitability—there’s going to be a mutation in the city, and that was attracting everybody, including me.

TVOA: What were the advantages of that space over the previous Upper East Side location?

Renzo Piano: Well, the reason why we fell in love with this place and immediately started to work there was to have space on the ground floor. That’s the most important thing that Breuer missed in the design for the building on Madison. He missed space in front of the building, to connect to the street. But in our case, we immediately thought we needed the space on the ground for pedestrians to come to enjoy the space, to make the building accessible, to create that sense of urbanity and openness. That was the most important thing in that moment.

Nowadays, when you think about a cultural institution like the Whitney, you think of something else. It’s no more like a fortress. Now, it’s more accessible. It’s a big revolution, but it took about forty years. When we designed Centre Pompidou, Beaubourg, it was ’71, so it was about ten years after Breuer made the Whitney. Beaubourg was one of the first public centers which had the idea that a public building should be accessible, not creating intimidation, but just openness.

I feel that a public building, generally speaking, especially when they are a building for culture, but even any public building like a library, school or university—they need to have this quality of openness and accessibility because this is what makes a city a better place to stay or to live. Cities are based on this. Cities are not cities when they are based on buildings that take possession of the land. They don’t talk to the streets. When you make buildings for public use, it’s the opposite. You have to make something that talks to the street, that creates a sense of communication, a sense of belonging to the community. In some ways, it was quite inevitable to move from uptown to downtown, to create a place that is more in this logic. Of course, the Breuer building is a great building. I love that building. I think it will always be there. Good quality architecture can survive forever, but the time had come now for the Whitney to have a different dialogue with the city.

TVOA: You mentioned the High Line before and that an advantage of the Gansevoort Street location was that this park terminated right at the museum. But, the High Line wasn’t completed or opened yet when you began your designs of the new Whitney.

Renzo Piano: No, no, it was not yet open. It was still in work. Actually, we collaborated in the design of the Maintenance and Operations Building of the High Line that is located exactly there at the end. So, we finished that about one year ago, but back then, at that time, The High Line was just a promising idea. It was just on paper for the moment. But it was clear that it was a fantastic and inspiring element that can happen in a city like New York—inspired from the strong, frank willingness—inspired by the industrial quality of the manufacturing. The High Line was inspiring in many ways. It’s a public space, elevated, inspired by our tallness in certain ways. Also, the form of the High Line, the language of the High Line, the semantics of the High Line, became part of the inspiring elements of the building. That’s for sure.

TVOA: Did you know what the design of the High Line at its termination near the museum would look like? Did you have the plans in advance?

Renzo Piano: Yes, the plans were done at that time. Diller & Scofidio made the stairs going down, so we knew that. We met with them, and they already made the project for the garden. So we knew everything. We knew everything.

TVOA: So, it was really inspired by so many different elements, not just a single vision.

Renzo Piano: When you make a project like this, you cannot just say, “I was inspired by this.” We were inspired by one hundred different things. The High Line was certainly one of those, but so was the street life. The other was the fragmentation of west Chelsea as a structure of the city. It’s not massive in that part of the city. It’s actually broken into little pieces. The buildings are not very tall, so the idea was that our building would be in dialogue, talking to that part of the city with the idea of breaking the scale of the buildings on the side coming down to make a transition to the High Line. And also, not to take the light away from the High Line. Because that’s the other point. In the afternoon, we are able to keep the sun and the light on the High Line for a long time. That was part of the idea.

And also, scale—the scale of the buildings coming down became part of the fragmented west Chelsea. And at the same time, with the fantastic location on the west side towards the Hudson River, it is exactly the opposite. The dialogue was not with the city. It was with the high-speed traffic of the highway, and then of course, the vastness of the Hudson, and the vastness of the rest of the country. You can feel it. You can feel it through New Jersey, feel the vastness of the sunset. The building is so reactive to each different direction. On the south side, the building must be in dialogue with the big buildings built in the 70’s—the big building right there on Gansevoort is just massive. And also, we got the sun. We decided to put an opaque wall there because you don’t want to have too much sun in the gallery. You can’t. But on the east side, you have this dialogue with the city. On the west side you have the dialogue with the vastness of the country. On the north side you have a dialogue with probably an extension. It may happen because the piece of land on the north of the Whitney is open to transformation. Because we are not using all the meat market space, of course, we are all only using the south part of that land. So, there’s extra land there. We felt from the beginning that this site was talking to a very different gravity in each direction—north, south, east, west, in a very strong, almost contradicting condition. On the north, it’s growth. On the south, it’s value. On the west, it’s the vastness of the sunset. On the east, it’s the fragmentation of the city. So the building had to react to all those things.

TVOA: Did the art itself influence your design decisions?

Renzo Piano: The collection was always in mind. The Whitney collection of American art is a fantastic collection: brave, strong, and free. I’ve said a number of times—freedom is what you feel when you look at that collection. Generally speaking, when you look to American art, it’s about freedom.

TVOA: Are there any works currently at the Whitney that you’re inspired by or pique your curiosity?

Renzo Piano: Mark Di Suvero is a great friend, and he has a beautiful piece on the sixth floor, I think. And Jasper Johns is great. I saw him in those days of the opening. He’s a great man. I have such a long list. American art is something that has always been inspiring. I’m Italian, living basically in Europe my whole life. For people like me, we grew up with the idea that freedom was coming from many expressions of American art. From literature—Kerouac and Steinbeck. All of this is about a sense of freedom. In theatre and music—John Cage and all those people. In theater, cinema, dance, ballet, the poetry of literature. It’s fundamentally the sense of the big prairie, the big space, for us. When you grow up in Italy, you have the double inspiration: one of course is gratitude for the history that has been feeding your family and your subconscious, but at the same time, you have this love for rebellion and freedom. So, for me, this idea of working on American art, and making a building for American art, is giving homage to this sense of freedom.

TVOA: How much did the history of the Whitney Museum and Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney affect your process?

Renzo Piano: It’s very difficult to make a good building if you don’t have a good story to tell. It’s also difficult to make a good movie when you don’t have a good story to tell. It’s difficult to make a good novel if you don’t have a good story. Of course, you have to be a good writer. You have to be a good moviemaker. You have to be a good architect, but at the end, you need a good story. Otherwise, you are in trouble. And the Whitney is a great story, from the beginning with Mrs. Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney. She was a collector this lady. She was somebody rich in art, but free in art. She set up this funny club, a meeting place for artists. That’s another story. As an artist you had to pay one dollar to be a part of the company. At that time, it was 1920, or something like that. Downtown, not uptown. So, for forty years the Whitney was growing and feeding interest and exchange, emotions, in the southern part of the city. And then they moved uptown in 1961, and Mr. Breuer did a fantastic job. I always loved that building. It’s so strong, so brave.

TVOA: So you loved the brutalist design of the previous Whitney?

Renzo Piano: Forget the brutalism, it was a building with character. It’s a miracle because when you go inside, it’s quite perfect from that point of view. And many of the inspirations for the new Whitney came from there. I actually wanted to talk about this because inspiration is not like mimicking. Mimicking is wrong, but stealing inspiration is good. For example, in that building you used to take the elevator, and when the elevator was opening, you were right in the middle of the gallery. And this is what we also did, in a different way of course. And also, Breuer’s sense of flexibility, openness, the unpretentiousness of the space, for the gallery, is something we tried to preserve. And also the roughness of the material—Breuer used stone for the floor, and we used pine. But the pine we used is a special kind of pine that was recycled from old factories. And this recycled pine is almost like saying, “Artists, come and lay down whatever you want to lay.” That’s Breuer. That’s Breuer.

TVOA: To what extent did you collaborate with the Whitney staff? How involved were they in the process?

Renzo Piano: Oh, very much, from the top to the bottom. It’s immense work. We made this project in our office in Genova.

TVOA: That’s interesting that you actually didn’t make it New York. I would’ve thought that.

Renzo Piano: Well, people were traveling a lot—up and down, to New York, then to Genova, making prototypes, and doing a lot of testing in Germany. Architecture is a teamwork. And Adam Weinberg, of course, has been a constant presence. But other people, like Bob Hurst, Scott and everybody on the board, Mark Di Suvero, Chuck Close, who was a member of the design committee, and so many others—collaboration was essential. They first called me in 2001 or 2002, maybe. I was on site at the Morgan Library, and they invited me for a coffee at the Whitney, and I went for a coffee, but it wasn’t a coffee, it was a design selection committee.

(We both laughed.)

And when you say “Whitney,” you really mean those people: Adam Weinberg, Donald, Carol, the board, the curators. Architecture is a teamwork, and it’s hard to say who had the idea, but when you have a good client you don’t really keep account of what you did, what they did. It’s a nice game where you get together. Without a good client, of course, there’s very little hope that you can do something good. A good client, and a good story, and then eventually you can do something good.

By: David Plick

The Jackalope Ranch in Dripping Springs, Texas

The Jackalope Ranch in Dripping Springs, Texas

Architect Chris Krager knows something of sustainability, especially after having to sustain a design and build career during the financial crisis of 2008. How did he do it? First of all, instead of passively waiting for projects to come to him, his firm KRDB sought projects out and developed them themselves. As Krager has said, “It is not uncommon to hear an architect lament the paltry number of buildings that are designed by members of our profession; we intend to act rather than protest.” And act he does. He collaborated with Sallie Trout in the captivating Jackalope Ranch, and has proven time and time again that he’ll put his money where his mouth is. From SOL to his ambitious modern pre-fab modular homes project called MA Modular, Krager combined his business acumen with his vision in design, along with current sustainability trends and technologies, to fund his own innovative projects. SOL, located in East Austin, is “a community of Modern homes with open floor plans, high ceilings with windows that provide plenty of dynamic natural lighting, and private outdoor spaces. SOL is a holistic approach to sustainable development. The homes are 100% electric and capable of achieving Net Zero* energy – meaning they can produce as much energy as they consume.”

Chris Krager is a unique combination of artist and entrepreneur. And it’s this combination, as The New York Times reported, of intelligent business practices and design skill, which gives him this special freedom to create work that is simultaneously economically affordable, design driven, yet also environmentally and socially conscious. Some may have thought his ideas were too big, too dangerous, too ambitious, but Krager made it work. Most recently, SOL sold out of all of their homes, and KRDB shows no signs of slowing down. After proving they can survive the economic crisis and the housing bubble, Krager and KRDB have only just begun.

By: David Plick

View from the kitchen in the Pine House.

View from the kitchen in the Pine House.

Modern Austin homes should reflect modern Austin feelings, and Faye and Walker embody this spirit. This firm is about as far you can get from the stereotype of the old, cranky, passive-aggressive architect with his T-square and general sense of longing. Think: mindfulness mornings, quinoa/foraged grass smoothies, holistic remedies, the Tao Te Ching, being self-aware and observing your feelings. Think . . . Austin.

Because let’s face it, we don’t live in the Mad Men, machismo, Leave It To Beaver America anymore. We’re Austinites who drink hemp milk, put coconut butter on our raw grain flagel, and eat eggs that our chicken, Eleanor Roosevelt, laid in our backyard. We seek modern Austin homes, not cookie-cutter, mass-produced-in-a-warehouse misery factories.

And Faye and Walker—otherwise known as Sean Guess, an architect who is so modest he names his company after other people—want to build these homes for you through communication and collaboration. He seeks “to contribute to the emotional capital of [his] community through considerate manipulations of the built environment.” He “works to create spaces that are experienced not just physically or visually, but emotionally and intuitively . . . and encourages clients to learn more about themselves and how they interact with the built environment.” Sean Guess sees architecture as a contributor to your emotional capital—how you feel and interact with the world, which in turn affects the work that you create. He seems to consider design, in its simplest state, just one part of the greater cycle of life.

So, what is emotional capital and how do you achieve it?

Quoted on his site from the French economist and psychological researcher, Dr. Bénédicte Gendron, who, by the way, has nothing to do with the field of architecture, “The concept of emotional capital is the set of emotional competencies which constitute a resource inherent to the person, useful for the personal, professional and organizational development and takes part in social cohesion, to personal, social and economic success.”

This belief in the interconnectedness between an individual and their space, their surrounding environment, and the work they produce, is epitomized in Guess’ Pine House, which focuses on how the inhabitants utilize the space. It incorporates an open plan and numerous built-ins, benches and cubbyholes, all thoughtfully and ergonomically placed. Pine House shows F+W’s ability to take something inexpensive and small, and turn it into something miraculous and inspiring.

Sean Guess of Faye and Walker is more than an architect—he’s an emotional capitalist. He’s a designer who is sensitive to his environment and the feelings of his clients. As Guess’ site says, “It is [his] goal to identify the factors most important to the users of spaces and bring them into harmony through thoughtful design . . . and achieve a formal and spatial solution.”

Harmony, thoughtfulness, self-reflection. The life in these modern Austin homes sounds just about right.

By: David Plick

Whitney PhotoStep One: Reserve your tickets in advance. Or, better yet, buy a membership, because the line is very long (with a membership, it took me five minutes to enter from the outside, use the bathroom, check my bag, and get to the top observation deck. Five minutes. And the Whitney Museum just opened).

Step Two: Take the A, C, E, or L train to the 14th street and 8th avenue stop. Be sure to admire the sculptures in the station, because this is NYC, and art is everywhere, even in the dirty subway stations. Walk over to 9th avenue and the Meatpacking District. Feel that air of superiority as tourists scurry around you with their selfie sticks to wait in line for the bathroom at Starbucks—all the while avoiding that pang of inferiority as you scurry around fashion models and Mickey Rourke—because you’re not one of them. You’re going to the Whitney, damn it.

Step Three: Stop to eat at the Gansevoort Market at 52 Gansevoort Street. They have many purveyors of food including: Thai, Italian sandwiches, crepes, organic teas, falafel, and some of the salesman chat you up and are hilarious. You can sit at their bar and order quickly.

Or, if you’re in too much of a hurry to get to the Whitney Museum, you can bring food in. They don’t seem to search your bag (they didn’t with mine, and I asked a security guard, and he said it was okay as long as you don’t eat inside), so you can eat at one of the many outdoor terraces. It’s up to you. If neither of those options is appealing to you, you can eat in the museum, but be prepared to wait for a table.

Step Four: Look at the Whitney and all of its massiveness from Gansevoort Street. Take a picture if you want. Try not to be persuaded by what the architecture critics have said. Ask yourself, “Do I like this?”

Step Five: Start at the top and work your way down.

Now, maybe you do this anyway, but at the Whitney Museum it’s a particularly great idea because the top three floors are all linked with outdoor steps, so you can avoid taking the stairs or elevator. Instead, you can simultaneously take in the exhibition, America Is Hard to See—levels eight through five, which is a retrospective of the history of American art, while you enjoy the sculpture garden outside along with gorgeous panoramic views of New York City.

Level 8 Highlights: Ralston’s Crawford’s, Steel Foundry, Coatesville, PA, and Elsie Drigg’s, Pittsburgh.

Level 7 Highlights: Norman Lewis’, Untitled and John Chamberlain’s, Velvet White.

Step Six: Stop at the level six outdoor terrace and lay in this reclining chair. In the afternoon it faces the sun, and you can bask in the glow of NYC, art, your life, and repeat the words of Renzo Piano, “Beauty will save the world.” The chair also has perfect support for your back, so you can browse through the photos you’ve taken so far, and do some reading up on the art you’ve seen.

Step Seven: Back to the art, and America Is Hard To See.

Level 6 Highlights: Donald Judd’s, Untitled and Eva Hesse’s, No Title.

Step Eight: Reluctantly take the stairs or elevator to level five.

Step Nine: Go to the west side window on level five and notice that it looks directly at the New York City Department of Sanitation and a series of dump trucks. Appreciate the irony of this—they built a huge window just to look at that (side note: it’s hard to find a picture of the garbage trucks. No major media outlet seems to acknowledge this).

Level 5 Highlights: Chuck Close’s, Phil (which is not Lou Reed), Nam June Paik’s, V-raymid, Jeff Koons’, New Hoover Convertibles, Green Blue, New Hoover Convertibles, Green, Blue, Doubledecker, and Cory Arcangel’s, Super Mario Clouds

P.S. Level 5 is HUGE, politically oriented, and super sensory. It could just be called, America Is Dumb.

Step Ten: Go outside to the fifth floor terrace and peer over the edge to watch people walk on the High Line. Notice how much fun they are having, how they are beaming with positivity and optimism. Now, go over to the south side and look at Weichel Beef, and think to yourself, “Wow, they really do still pack meat around here.”

Step Eleven: Awkwardly stare at the Whitney staff working on level four in glass rooms and think to yourself, “Wait, am I lost . . . . ? Is there art here . . . ? What are they talking about . . . ?”

Step Twelve: Ask someone working there if there’s anything else left to see. They are all so polite and super helpful. They’ll tell you that there’s another gallery on the first floor, which is actually open to the public.

Level 1 Highlight: John Sloan’s, Backyards, Greenwich Village.

Step Thirteen: Step outside and stand in front of the new Whitney and consider your own feeling towards the design of the new building. Think about how the inside and the outside compliment one another. Think about how immense it is, how you could spend a whole day in there, and about its presence, in the Meatpacking District, downtown, New York City, and the world.

By: David Plick

Agave Home-FAB

Photograph via FAB Architecture

With a 12% population boom from 2010-2013, and more and more people moving here everyday, Austin is a city of the future and the present. It’s a modern metropolis which demands modern homes, yet there still remains a strong sense of its past. There’s this feeling in the air—of being Texan and its history of six flags, all the way up to becoming the home of “weird”, of being the state capital yet the live music capital of the world. Austin is always pushing forward, redefining what it is through the dynamism of their vibrant people, who come from all over, or are Texan, yet have been all over the world and back again.

No other group of people embodies this Texan worldliness than Patrick Ousey and Pam Chandler, founders of FAB Architecture (For a Better Architecture). They were born and raised in San Antonio and Houston, but they first started cultivating their design skills in the firms of Los Angeles, the design Mecca, where they worked with Schweitzer BIM, Jim Stafford, cofounder of SciArc, William Adams Architects, to name a few. It seems that it was this leaving and coming home, learning sleek, new forms while always retaining their Texan roots, that have separated themselves from the rest. From redesigning previously established spaces with the Robison Loft, designed for Dixie Chick Emily Robison in downtown San Antonio, to redefining Texas style with modern homes in Austin like Agave and Clifford, Ousey and Chandler have shown their ability to always push forward while remaining conscious of their past and present. Their work embodies the city that they call home.

For almost twenty years FAB’s modern homes in Austin have made its fingerprint on the look of this energetic city, and they will be an integral part of its look in the future.

TVOA: Your work is simultaneously modern and sleek, yet also bucolic and timeless.

FAB: Thank you for this assessment of our work. Pam has a quote displayed at her desk attributed to Frank Gehry – “Architecture should speak of its time and place, but yearn for timelessness.” This is at the heart of what we strive for in every project.

TVOA: What time periods and styles are you most influenced by?

FAB: We enjoy studying many time periods of architecture and style. As a matter of fact, this is what we see as one of our strengths that we bring to our projects. We enjoy embodying our clients natural aesthetic—making sure to avoid creating cartoons by sourcing real materials and having the spaces speak to the clients needs, not some pretense.

TVOA: You two have been collaborating for twenty years. Can you tell us about the first project you worked on together?

FAB: The first project that represents our full collaboration is referred to as The Hillside Residence, completed in 2006. It is located in Westlake Hills with a panoramic view of downtown Austin. Our largest ground-up project to date, as well as one of our more traditional, it was a very gratifying project for many reasons. We were able to develop custom trim details that rise and fall depending on the formality of the space, as well as a palette of materials that will withstand the test of time (knowing that this house will be standing when we are all gone, gives us great pride). In addition, we had a client with a very traditional aesthetic rooted in the Georgian architecture of Louisiana. It’s subtle, but we were able to push their sensibilities to incorporate detailing and materials that allowed the project to reference architectural typologies while at the same time speaking to its time and place.

TVOA: FAB advocates sustainability in their designs. What do you think is the predominant social and/or environmental issue that will shape the design and operation of future buildings?

FAB: This will surely vary depending on where you are building.

TVOA: How about in Austin? Since it’s such a booming city, and also where most of your work is.

FAB: Austin has obviously done a great job revitalizing downtown and its surrounding neighborhoods. Now the trick will be to accommodate all those who want to be a part of it, and provide them with the means to move around without jeopardizing the quality of life that everyone is here to experience.

An additional trend, more and more of our clients are thinking about, is providing accommodations to age in place. And with the City of Austin’s new visitability guidelines, more homes will be built with many of these accommodations built into them.

TVOA: Both of you have had tremendous successes reconstructing previously well-known structures. If you could re-design something in Austin, what would it be? What would you do to it?

FAB: Our observation when moving back to Austin twenty-one years ago was that compared to many other cities, Austin does not have many of these significant structures as part of its fabric. However, we have winced as we have watched a couple of old gas stations along South Lamar, with their streamline awnings and simple masonry garages, get re-purposed, and in doing so—tarted up (yes, that’s an architectural term). We would love to see the clean lines of one of these gas stations re-developed in a way that capitalizes on its natural connection to its site by opening up the masonry walls and adding landscaping to create a revived environment while maintaining its original spirit.

TVOA: What does Texas have that every other place doesn’t?

FAB: Texas, for good or bad, has a sense of bravado in many of its leaders as well as citizens that we haven’t seen to such a degree anywhere else.

By: David Plick

0c408dcf721ea40f4b537009e80faeab1424797018Cara Lee and Stephan Mundwiler are Los Angeles modern architectural design innovators, and artists in every sense of the word. Their work, from the plans for the Iraqi Ray of Hope, to their modern homes, breathing buildings and the Dapeng Geology Museum and Research Center, is simulteanously visually stunning, culturally relevant, and forward thinking. It is both globally conscious yet deeply intimate and human.

Most recently the couple’s studio was a WAN Awards Winner for Civic Buildings, for the Dapeng Geology Museum, but recognition was not new to them. They have won AIA awards for urban design, housing, and in 2011, they won the Emerging Practice Award. They have been successes in their industry since the mid-1990’s, yet because they are so visionary, it seems like they have only just begun.

The Value of Architecture is currently teamed up with Lee+Mundwiler in selling their award-winning Coconut House in Mar Vista, and had a chance to talk with the couple about their past, present, and future in LA architectual design, and the rest of the world.

TVOA: You two met in the mid-90’s while pursuing Master’s degrees in architecture at SCI-Arc. Did you collaborate on a project while studying? What was the first project you collaborated on?

Lee+Mundwiler: The first project we collaborated on was the Hornli Cemetery, Riehen, Switzerland in the summer, 1994. By then Stephan already had won the competition of the Swiss Government Piazza collaborating with graphic designers from Basel. Stephan and I met at Vico Morcote in Switzrland, SCI-arc’s branch campus in 1993. It was my first semester and his last semester doing his thesis. The following year after two semesters of staying in Vico, I needed to come back to LA to take the rest of my classes to get the degree. I was in a hurry to finish my education that I decided to take a summer course as an independent study, which SCI-arc gratefully allowed. I was looking for a subject for the independent study at that time and Stephan mentioned one interesting competition—a cemetery near Basel needed to be redone due to being old and running out of burial space. It was a fascinating subject to us that involved urban planning, building and landscape design, all in one pot that had to be dealt with human emotion; morbidity, death, grief, reflection within architectural content and context. The city was looking for the best solution for that matter and we were up to this challenge!—just kidding, I was just happy to utilize the material to get on with my studies.

While I was in LA and he was in Basel, we’d communicate design progress through fax; a dawn of civilization. And it was one week before the due date when we made our decision to enter the competition for the heck of it, so I was losing my sleep for one week to wrap up the design to meet their submission requirement, and sent it out to Stephan. He had to translate it into German and deliver it to the city in person: no Fedex overnight. We took our vacation afterward, and completely forgot about the competition. When we got home Stephan almost fell from his seat when he heard the voice from the answering machine: the guy from the city directly called and informed that unfortunately they chose another project as a winning but our project was compelling enough to give out as Archive, which was a higher prize money than 2nd prize.

TVOA: So your first project together never ended up being made?

Lee+Mundwiler: No, but they really appreciated our design. Their regret was our project wasn’t developed enough to build the cemetery right away, which would take months to work on details and they were in hurry to build for the need. We were disappointed yet elated by the validation of our design approach. The concept was to contour all of the cemetery land, which was located on a hillside, as a gradual descendent and ascendant approach respecting existing topo. The distant view of Basel city as descending and the forest view as ascending was the magnitude of people’s field of view to calm the mind/body down. The slow and gradual move was sync’ed with people’s emotional and physical condition. The chapel and urn storage were tucked in under this landscape as earthy touch/consolation. I imagined myself in it, how my body would slow down if I were in shock. For visitors, mainly elderly in wheelchairs, it would be easier to access with this approach. We still think the design is the best solution even if the cemetery was built with the other one, but I still hope it has a second chance someday.

TVOA: Your firm, Lee+Mundwiler, has worked on a total of 88 projects. Do the two of you always collaborate on every project? Are there times when you work individually, but still bounce ideas off of each other? Is it always different or do you have a “process”?

Lee+Mundwiler: Our blessing or curse on some occasions is we both have a similar taste in liking things around us, yet there could be a rebel coming from either side. In sum, we are turned on by an object, concept, and ideology that get to the point. We know by our experience, the conciseness is intrinsically different from simplicity or being minimal, that how it is to be that way needs to be thought out in a much deeper level to resonate to intellectual latitude with no frilled appearance. That said, we are the cruelest critics during our design process and we both are pretty much in it for the design process all the way; some with no drama, some with a huge commotion, a project gets done while one smiling, one grieving.

TVOA: Your Swiss Pavilion project seeks to “simulate the way a living organism’s skin, or a living cell would respond to environmental stimuli.” You also are interested in the way a “Thing Breathes.” What is your interest in cellular biology and organisms breathing? How does it relate to architecture?

Lee+Mundwiler: While most of our projects are in line with the lineage of established architecture, progression has been always in our mind. Yet, we are not interested in installation or sculptural objects. As much these can be footing for the next development in architecture, for most cases, these are the architect/designer’s end goal rather than their first goal.

The way the public responds, thus diluting their understanding of architecture, has been a trouble for us to digest. At the same time, we are conscious about the fact that the architecture field hasn’t progressed much more than on the conceptual level with few viable new building materials. Thus, at the right given time, we’ve tried to experiment with our idea of “what if?”.

The first one we were into was the sand panel with House of Sand—that’s another story. 2006-2007 was our prolific time before the 2008 economic downturn. In 2006, we were participating in another competition—the Swiss Pavilion for the 2010 World’s Fair in Shanghai. We won two AIA National Awards and we were recognized at the AIA national convention in LA. Coconut House was awarded the AIA National Housing Award and included in the convention tour for architects. Soon, it was published in The New York Times as an Eco Green building. Plus, Bundesplatz, Swiss Government Piazza, also won the honor award. This was in about ten years of our practice and after four years of Stephan’s California architect’s license. We got deep into our vigorous process of making buildings 24/7, at least for the two of us. Around this time, we went for the test of our “what if”.

We’d been developing a design concept: what if a building being static, becomes dynamic, responsive to its environment in same way a living thing animates by nature? And we explored this premise step by step from a very elemental stage to a complex setup. We thought of the World Fair, the global event of introduction, of assumingly the most progressive technology and ideology among nations, as the optimum platform to introduce our idea. We plugged this concept into the real project proposal—the Swiss National Pavilion. Our design was chosen to be one of the twelve finalists and went on to the 2nd stage that engaged in serious level of reality. The outcome of the competition was, ours was the highest scored but took 3rd place with a mysterious reason: still we don’t know the answer. We were very disappointed by missing an opportunity for R+D on this concept. A German magazine nominated our design as one of the most advanced façade technologies right after the competition. We were told that our idea was ten years too early. Again, we are hoping to get into serious R+D with this concept and are still waiting for a right opportunity.

TVOA: As you just mentioned, your work is futuristic and progressive minded. What do you think is the predominant social and/or environmental issue that will shape the design and operation of future buildings?

Lee+Mundwiler: Both of us are more into getting to the point, and believe that the level of talking and reasoning of many in the architecture field is deceptive, and misleads the public in a damaging way. This should be stopped, especially with the sustainability and environmental issue. We need to see the big picture, cause and effect, not just prescriptive measures. Many do this for economic and political gain, and not for collective interest. The issue we are talking about should be a given thing for architects from the beginning, not an opportunity for flaunting. Further, what architects should engage actively in is any aspect in the process of making. Currently, the majority, in my opinion, underestimate their power and influence as an architect. I always believe that the intensity of architecture education can get anyone through any complex situation and I wish school teaching and practicing architects were involved more in bigger scales than of object making: in infrastructure such as the Mojave Desert Solar Power Station, water conservations, community building, city making, name a few. Further, many should be into the R+D in architecture based on reality.

TVOA: You have offices in both Basel, Switzerland and Los Angeles, California. In your opinion, what does America need to learn from European design, and vice-versa?

Lee+Mundwiler: One thing US can adopt from Europe is leveling the playing field. There is no system of opening up to truly talented designers unless you are a big firm or established name. These are very few and they are loaded with resources, while the rest are just getting by. Now, Europe is changing as well that RFQ, Request for Qualification, or invited competition, is usually only for a few. You can name them, and it becomes a norm.

I am very sympathetic to the talented yet struggling architects that we’ve been lucky enough to have a footing in due to Stephan’s home base. Also, I think if you could build a good residential building, you can build a museum, a hospital, an education facility, etc, with an army of consultants around. The fundamental issue for an architect/designer is the same as of a single family home: sensitivity to human condition. I am always muted by the question, “What kind of buildings do you design: residential or commercial?” Duh . . . I don’t know, if I said we design everything, they look at me suspiciously, and I am OK with that.

TVOA: Who’s the tougher art critic out of the two of you?

Lee+Mundwiler: Both. We don’t let the other win. It’s either the project gets built with one window or no window! And we call each other BS and shallow or “Bobby Trendy.”

TVOA: What are some museums you love to frequent—for the design of the building, or the art hanging on the walls, or inspiration?

Lee+Mundwiler: Dia Art: Beacon . . . envious of that space!!

TVOA: Where is your favorite travel destination?

Lee+Mundwiler: Any place related to good food.

By: David Plick

In honor of the beginning of summer, deasy/penner & partners’ blog, MY HOME AS ART,  takes a look at some incredible pool designs — MY POOL AS ART :

[SlideDeck2 id=6097 ress=1]



By: Brian Linder

In honor of the official start of summer this Saturday, we take a look at some architectural spins on the classic mobile home —

Chamfer Home Mobile Home Architecture

Chamfer Home :: S-Archetype

Mobile Home Architecture -- Deasy/Penner Blog

Atelier Tekuto :: Mobile Smile Project

Mobile Home Architecture

Rolling Hut :: OSKA Architects

Mobile Home Architecture

Blob VB3 :: dmvA Architects

Mobile Home Architecture

Hank Bought A Bus :: Architecture Student

Mobile home architecture

Joshua Tree :: Hangar Design Group

Mobile Home Architecture

Portable House :: ÁBATON Architects

Mobile Home Architecture :: floating house by dymitr malcew

Floating Housing :: Dymitr malcew

Mobile Home Architecture :: pop-up camper that looks like Sydney Opera House

Opera Mobile Holiday Home

Mobile Home Architecture:: up-cycled port-a-bach shipping container home by atelierworkshop

Port A Bach Shipping Container :: Atelierworkshop

Mobile Home Architecture :: walking house by N55

N55 :: Walking House

Mobile Home Architecture :: Nomadic Sledge project by rob sweere

Nomadic Sledge Habitat :: Rob Sweere

By: Brian Linder