“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