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Good Neighbors, You May Be Sure
Courtesy UT Press

Highland Park and River Oaks: The Origins of Garden Suburban Community Planning in Texas
By Cheryl Caldwell Ferguson
University of Texas Press, $70

Cheryl Ferguson’s ambitious new book,Highland Park and River Oaks: The Origins of Garden Suburban Community Planning in Texas, describes an important period in the development of the contemporary suburban American city. While historically, the typical European-American city from 1492 on was a fairly compact, pre-planned grid-iron affair, perfectly illustrated in the seemingly endless parade of checkerboards in John Reps’ classic book, The Making of Urban America (1965), after a several hundred year run, this pattern was superseded by a new model, first appearing on a large scale in the early 1900s. Ferguson’s new book examines the emergence of this kind of development, which she calls the “garden suburban community,” particularly as it appeared in Dallas and Houston between the 1910s and 20s.

Characteristics distinguishing the new garden suburb—often called “additions” since they literally were just that, extensions of the existing city grid—from the old model included their increasingly large size, their street patterns that included curved and cul-de-sac streets, sophisticated advertising campaigns, and extensive restrictive covenants. According to their backers, these highly controlled developments, usually located beyond the boundaries of their host city, were a place of escape “from the pressure, congestion, and corruption of urban life.” They were presented as models of modern planning for fast-growing American cities in the era before zoning became widely adopted. Ferguson begins the book with a concise history of planning in both Houston and Dallas as well as with a discussion of important real estate developments in both cities from the 1850s up to the 1920s. She intersperses these chapters with references to such model suburban communities as Roland Park in Baltimore, Beverly Hills in Los Angeles, and the Country Club District in Kansas City, which directly influenced developments in Texas.

 

  

The first example of the modern garden suburb in Texas was Highland Park in Dallas, developed on a tract of 1,326 acres four-and-a-half miles from downtown that was purchased by John S. Armstrong in 1906. In 1907 he, along with his sons in law, Hugh E. Prather and Edgar L. Flippen, commissioned the Los Angeles landscape architect Wilbur David Cook, Jr., known for planning Beverly Hills, to plan the first section of Highland Park. This section was the first in Texas to be planned as an enclave rather than as an extension of the existing city street grid. It featured a pattern of winding roadways that followed the picturesque bends of Turtle Creek. Later sections that included a comprehensive system of parks and parkways were planned by the St. Louis landscape architect, George E. Kessler. In Houston, this model was first successfully adopted in 1924 when Will and Mike Hogg and their associate, Hugh Potter, bought out the nearly bankrupt County Club Estates subdivision, designed by Houston landscape architect Herbert A. Kipp about three-and-a-half miles west of downtown, and increased its size from 178 acres to 1,100 acres. Throughout these chapters, Ferguson includes sections pertaining to the design of significant houses and commercial buildings in these developments. The final chapter examines garden suburbs that used Highland Park and River Oaks as their model in other Texas cities, including Forth Worth, Wichita Falls, Amarillo, Corsicana, and San Antonio.

While the book is a good reference and contains a lot of detailed information that should be of interest to the inhabitants of these communities, the general public, and other historians, it has some shortcomings. One is the jumpy organization. Rather than breaking up the sections by subject, it might have been better to organize them chronologically. Ferguson, for example, discusses Country Club Estates in Houston because it is included in the general overview of planning in Texas before Highland Park, even though it was actually planned about 15 years later and was influenced by its Dallas predecessor in ways that the reader does not know until the next chapter. Another is the generally mediocre quality of the illustrations. Especially when compared to the captivating photographs by Richard Cheek for Stephen Fox’s The Country Houses of John F. Staub (2007), about the most prominent architect to work in River Oaks, or to those by Steve Clicque for Virginia McAlester’s The Homes of the Park Cities, Dallas (2008), the photographs is this book, most of which were taken by amateur photographers, seem to fall flat. Also, in an age of easy scanning, it is surprising to see so many hard to read maps and plans.

 

Although the garden suburb seems to have a lot to offer as a model for urban planning—good looks, nice houses, attractive winding streets, strong property values—all of these come at a substantial cost. The logic of the garden suburb is ultimately that of the enclave. Rather than reforming the fabric of the existing city, which was the method used prior to the 20th century—Baron Haussmann’s reconstruction and modernization of the historic core of Paris from the 1850s through the 1870s is perhaps the best example—the garden suburb, instead, casts the host city as an incorrigible “other” that because of inherent organizational flaws cannot be repaired and must be abandoned. The garden suburb achieves superficial success as an alternate model precisely because of its homogeneity, which is the carefully orchestrated result of its highly restrictive legal and physical restrictions. As an advertisement for River Oaks knowingly explained, “You will have good neighbors, you may be sure… neighbors who are your kind of people.”  Blacks and Hispanics were banned outright from purchasing property in the wording of the restrictive covenants. To provide minority service workers for Highland Park, Flippen and Prather developed the nearby Booker T. Washington Addition, while in River Oaks, property owners complained to Hugh Potter that “the lack of adequate bus service created a serious shortage of servants.” Jews, Whites of Southern European ancestry, and Asians were frequently prohibited from purchasing property by unwritten “gentlemen’s agreements.” While there were sections of Highland Park and River Oaks marketed to somewhat less affluent buyers, minimum construction cost requirements combined with restrictions on duplexes and apartments effectively prevented anyone of less than upper middle class income from living in either community. Finally, their distance from major employment centers and lack of public transportation made them difficult to access for those who did not own a car.

Although this book effectively ends with the Great Depression, it logically could have continued into the New Deal and Postwar years, when many of the fundamental planning and legal concepts pioneered by these developers were adopted on a national level by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) and deployed on a large scale across the country. In Houston, for example, Garden Oaks, inaugurated in 1937 as the city’s first FHA-insured subdivision, aped River Oaks, not only in its planning and restrictive covenants, but also in its advertising campaigns. After World War II and continuing right up to the current period, where the restricted enclave—first seen in Highland Park and River Oaks—has become the basic planning unit for all new urban expansion, American cities have changed in profound and not altogether satisfying ways.

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Overland Unclogs Historic Plumbing Warehouse

San Antonio firm transforms vacant industrial building into sunlit workspace.

Dissatisfied with their two-story office, San Antonio architecture practice Overland Partners recently went looking for a new home. They found it in an unexpected place: a long-vacant plumbing supply warehouse within the city's burgeoning arts district. The 1918 Hughes Plumbing Warehouse offered the firm exactly what they wanted—a large open floor plan—in an architecturally refined package. The timber-framed, brick-clad building "is simple," said project architect Patrick Winn, "but it's really elegant and beautiful when you're able to look at it." The problem was that years of disuse had left their mark. "When we first viewed it, it was really far gone," recalled Winn. The original windows had been broken up, and the roof had flooded. Undaunted, the architects took on an extensive renovation project, with the result that today the former plumbing distribution center is a boon not just to Overland, but to the neighborhood as a whole. Prior to renovation, Hughes Warehouse was entirely encased in a double-width brick wall, except for a few garage door openings and two levels of clerestory windows. While the clerestories, approximately 16-20 inches and 20-25 inches in width, provided a good dose of daylight to the interior, they did not provide views out, nor did they facilitate the transition from parking lot to studio. "At Overland we really enjoy blurring the line between the outdoor, natural realm and the indoor, built realm," said Winn. "Right from the get-go we said: we have to cut a courtyard into the building and elongate that entry sequence." Overland carved out approximately 2,000 square feet of space for the new courtyard, which is faced with a custom glass and steel curtain wall. The transparent opening floods the office interior with light and frames views for the occupants. It has also become a de facto community space. "What's been nice is that runners' groups and cycling groups are starting to use our courtyard as a hub for activity," said Winn, who notes that live music and other events at a neighboring coffee shop are an additional draw. "It's brought a lot of life and energy into our space from the courtyard." To secure the courtyard after hours, the architects designed custom steel gates to replace the original, graffiti-covered garage doors. To tie-in to the warehouse's arts-district location, and to pay homage to the graffiti, Overland looked to Jackson Pollock for inspiration. They pixelated photographs on Photoshop before transferring the file to AutoCAD and sending the pattern on to Rivercity Industries, who laser-cut the design into the doors. The doors themselves were fabricated by Overland Workshop. "From the exterior, especially when the lights are on, when you drive by, there's almost a twinkling effect," said Winn of the perforated gates. "They're really neat."
  • Facade Manufacturer Overland Workshop, The Beck Group, Sharp Glass, Tower Steel
  • Architects Overland
  • Facade Installer The Beck Group
  • Location San Antonio, Texas
  • Date of Completion December 2012
  • System Existing brick facade with custom steel and glass curtain wall, glass and steel punch windows, clerestories
  • Products custom steel and glass curtain wall, high-performance windows, Lutron automatic shades, custom gates by Overland Workshop
The architects punched additional windows into the remaining brick facade. "We decided to honor the old brick building," said Winn. "Any new insertion is done with steel and glass." To mitigate solar gain, the new windows are extruded about a foot on the east side of the building, and about two feet on the west. The clerestories and courtyard curtain wall are equipped with automated shades. Though the original steel frames around the clerestory windows would only accept 1/4-inch laminated safety glass, the new windows feature one-inch-thick high performance glass. Additional sustainability measures include a complete board insulation system over the roof. "We loved having brick on the interior, so what we couldn't do there in terms of insulation, we made up for on the roof," explained Winn. "We over-insulated it." A rooftop solar setup offsets about 60 percent of the office's energy consumption. In addition, the architects re-used original materials wherever possible. They built the interior stairs out of old joists, and the contractor saw-cut discarded concrete into pavers for the abutting alley. Even the brittle roof decking found a second life as board forms for the building's cast-in-place concrete elements. The Hughes Warehouse building has exceeded the architects' expectations in terms of bringing the office back together, said Winn. "It's done wonders for us from the standpoint of office culture. People seem to really love working here—it's not a place that's a drag to work in, it's very comfortable." He noted that in less than two years the firm has grown from just over 40 members to about 70, and recalled several recent events, including art shows and a courtyard holiday party, held in the renovated space. "I have to say that Overland's been elevated to a whole other level."
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The Forefront of Design
PARA-Project's Haffenden House in Syracuse, NY.
Courtesy respective firms unless otherwise noted

AN is proud to sponsor New Practices New York, one of the city’s leading showcases of design talent. We extend our congratulations to this year’s selected firms. Their work are on display at the Center for Architecture.

La Casita in Syracuse, NY.
 

PARA-Project

Based in New York, PARA-Project’s work includes cultural, institutional, residential projects, as well as events. The firm is committed to research and multidisciplinary collaborations.

Principal: Jon Lott


 
Walls of Wax Michael Bastian store for Boffo (left). Ice Palace in Winnipeg (right).
Evan Joseph
 

Bittertang

Bittertang is a Manhattan-based studio that seeks to cultivate pleasure through vibrant and unexpected designed environments. Organic and biomorphic forms and unconventional materials are combined to create new kinds of objects and spaces.

Principals: Antonio Torres and Michael Loverich.


 
BQE Trench Reconnection Strategies for Brownstone Brooklyn (left). The Gowanus Sponge Park (right). 
 

dlandstudio architecture + landscape

Based in Brooklyn, dlandstudio has been at the forefront of innovative green infrastructure projects, working with public and community groups to develop local solutions to environmental problems.

Principal: Susannah Drake.


 
EPS Grotto in Seoul, South Korea (left). RW Concrete Church in Byeollae, South Korea (right).
 

NAMELESS Architecture

With offices in New York and Seoul, NAMELESS Architecture’s work ranges from temporary pavilions to permanent buildings influenced by Eastern and Western contexts.

Principals: Unchung Na, Sorae Yoo, and Kiseok Oh.


 
Sushi-teria in New York (left). Brooklyn Mosque (right).
Amy Barkow
 

form-ula

This New York–based form examines the culture of performance and the performance of culture through architectures at a variety of scales, including installations, prototypes, interiors, and speculative urban concepts.

Principals: Ajmal Ismail Aqtash, Richard A. Sarrach, and Tamaki Uchikawa.


 
The Street Exhibition in Shenzen (left) Proposal for a velodrome in Medellin (right).
 

Fake Industries Architectural Agonism

With satellite offices in Barcelona, Sydney, and New York, Fake Industries Architectural Agonism is a speculative and provocative studio that extends and blurs the boundaries or architecture.

Principals: Cristina Goberna and Urtzi Grau.

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HiWorks Architecture Redesigns Houston's Rocket Park, Without Being Asked
When I was a boy growing up in Houston, Texas, one of my favorite field trips was the drive down to Clear Lake to tour NASA's Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center. One of the highlights of the visit—in addition to seeing Mission Control, eating astronaut ice cream, and picking up a new zero-gravity pen in the gift shop—was the enormous Saturn V rocket, lying on its side in sections, that greeted you as you approached the facility at the corner of Saturn Lane and 2nd Street. In my day, the gargantuan moon rocket was outdoors, perched above the green grass on steel struts, exposed to the elements, proud and naked for all the world to see. This, understandably given Clear Lake's marine environment, led, over the years, to some corrosion. So, between 2003 and 2006, the space launch system was restored and a climate controlled enclosure was built around it—basically a blind metal shed building. The age when American children grew up expecting to spend their adulthood exploring the next frontiers of space has indeed given way to an age when they grow up fretting about the wellbeing of walruses on the North Pole, and, in my view, there is no better signifier of this sad shift in horizons than the fact that the machine that represents one of humankind's greatest achievements ever is now hidden from view in a building that, in its outward aspect, might as well be full of lawnmowers. Well, I wasn't the only child in Texas who wanted to become an astronaut but didn't. There was at least one more, and he became an architect: none other than Brantley Hightower of San Antonio practice HiWorks Architecture, 2nd place winner, along with colleague Erica Goranson, of AN's Reimagine The Astrodome competition. He is now also an AN contributor. Like me, Hightower was inspired by his youthful visits to the Johnson Space Center and was similarly impressed by the nude Saturn V. Furthermore, he was disappointed, if not downright depressed, upon a recent visit to the facility with his own children to find that the monolithic totem of human achievement had been covered in an underwhelming shroud. “You have no idea that the pinnacle of 20th-century engineering is sitting inside that metal building,” said Hightower in a statement. “It’s like they entombed it and in doing so took away so much of the power it has to inspire. It’s not that the building needs to draw attention to itself but what exists now is not appropriate. Its not good architecture.” Back home in San Antone, Hightower got to thinking about a better solution for protecting and exhibiting the Saturn V. Though nobody asked him to do so, he sat down and bent his mind to the job and came up with an idea that NASA's administrators, if not the President of the United States himself, should give careful consideration. Here's the notion, from Hightower's mouth:
The geometry of the proposed building allows the vehicle to be seen in its entirety from the corner of Saturn Lane and 2nd Street just as it was before it was enclosed. Internally, the building’s volume provides visitors with the necessary distance to experience the scale of the vehicle while also providing space for exhibits, lectures, and other special events. A series of elevated catwalks allow the vehicle to be viewed from above – a perspective never before possible. The building’s appearance reflects the mid-century aesthetic that defines the rest of the Johnson Space Center campus.
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Off the Rails
Ted Eytan

The recent trend in streetcar reintroductions and expansions across the US have hit a political speed bump. Most recently, on August 5, voters in Kansas City, Missouri, turned down a proposal to expand the funding mechanism for the city’s downtown streetcar starter line to partially fund a $472 million, 7.6-mile expansion project. Backers of the plan hoped that generating approximately half of the total funds would position the City for federal funding. At a news conference after the defeat of the measure, Mayor Sly James did not concede. “This issue is not over by any stretch of the imagination,” he said.

Kansas City is not alone. Earlier this summer, the San Antonio City Council scuttled plans by VIA Metropolitan Transit, the region’s transit agency, to build a 5.9-mile streetcar line downtown. Confronted with a strong anti-streetcar backlash, the mayor and city council are tabling the streetcar discussion into the update of its long range transportation and moving forward with a Charter Amendment next May 2015 that would prohibit the City from funding any streetcar project or allowing streetcar’s on their right-of-way without voter approval.

VIA Board Chairman, Alexander Briseno, explained, “Although we are disappointed that the value of the modern streetcar was not understood or realized by many, we remain optimistic and are committed to continue with our 2035 Comprehensive Transportation Plan.”

Similarly last year in Cincinnati, Ohio, the city council halted $42 million in funding for a $147.8 million, 3.6-mile streetcar project while it was under construction. Then newly elected Mayor John Cranley felt his anti-streetcar stance meant people agreed with him on the subject. An independent audit determined it would cost the city as much to cancel the project as to finish it, and local business leaders stepped in to provide partial funding.

But these setbacks are exceptions to the national trend. There are over 40 streetcar projects nationwide in stages from planning to completion. The quiet revolution that started over a decade ago in Portland, Oregon, and spread to cities across the country has received significant support from the federal transit administration with the appointment of former Charlotte, North Carolina, Mayor Anthony Foxx to Secretary of Transportation in 2013.

By the end of 2014, both Atlanta and Washington D.C. should have new streetcar lines. In 2015, Kansas City will open its 2.2-mile $100 million starter line, followed by Cincinnati’s line in 2016. “It behooves us to recognize that our infrastructure is not going to get better,” said Kansas City Mayor Sly James, “unless we find [local] ways to pay for it.”

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Product> Street Seen: Top 12 Landscape Furnishings
Whether used to enhance the identity of an entire community or an individual institution, street furnishings present a primary opportunity to engage the public with design.  Here's our pick of products—created by Zaha Hadid, Yves Behar, Antonio Citterio, and others—for seating, lighting, and other outdoor accoutrements that have exceptional architectural appeal. Belevedere Spot Double F3 Flos Galvanized aluminum with a coppery finish, this fixture is also offered in a single-head configuration. Designed by Antonio Citterio with Toan Nguyen. MultipliCITY Litter Landscape Forms Defined by a graceful, cast-aluminum spine and top wing, this container comes in one- and two-bin models. Part of a collection designed in collaboration with Yves Behar and fuseproject. Serac Bench Lab 23 With a ridged, curving form inspired by crevasses in a glacier, this bench is made of a matrix of quartz and resin. Designed by Zaha Hadid. Montana Santa & Cole This design allows bikes to be secured at two points on the frame and wheel. Made of AISI 304 1 1/3-inch stainless steel. Model TF7072 Belson Outdoors Made with ¼-inch steel rebar and Portland cement, this ADA-compliant drinking fountain features a second spout and bowl for animal use. Available in numerous colors and finishes, some LEED eligible. Fin Huntco Made of three-inch mild steel flat bar, this bike rack resists pipe cutters. It can be surface-mounted or installed in-ground. Knight Bollard Forms + Surfaces Powder-coated, 43-inch-tall aluminum column light; security bollard optional. Compact fluorescent or HID lamp; wet-location rated. Coda Bench Woodhouse A kit of parts, the basic concrete bench form can be fitted with wood seating platforms and any combination of steel armrests to create consistent yet customized schemes. Designed by Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands. Break 4100 Vibia A 13W triple tube shines through the acrylic diffuser of this 32-inch tall resin-bodied bollard. Rated for wet locations; three finishes. Designed by Xuclà & Alemany. Henge Table HENGE Described as “playable sculpture” by the manufacturer, this concrete table is built to International Table Tennis Federation specifications. In two finishes; steel nets are customizable. Filo Bench StopSpot Extruded, anodized aluminum makes up the seat and backrest of this bench. In 70- and 94-inch lengths, it is lightweight yet made to withstand high traffic. Quartz Series Planters Kornegay Design In natural grey concrete, or custom hues from Davis Colors. In 27-, 30-, 39-, and 45-inch heights.
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The Belle of Bellaire
Evelyn's Park will be constructed in phases as funding becomes available.
Courtesy Lake|Flato and SWA

Bellaire, Texas, one of the many smaller cities engulfed within Houston’s metropolitan area, is set to get a new public green space. Evelyn’s Park, as it is called, will soon be built on the site of the historic Teas Nursery, formerly located on the 4400 block of Bellaire Boulevard. After years of complicated maneuvering, the project is slowly inching closer to fruition, with construction expected to begin by January 2016.

Edward “Papa” Teas established Teas Nursery in 1910. It continued operating on the same site until the death of his grandson, John Teas, just shy of its 100th anniversary. To make a long story short, in 2009, when the land officially hit the market, brothers Jerry and Maury Rubenstein, owners of Texas Pipe and Supply Company and residents and civic supporters of Bellaire since the 1980s, quickly began negotiating with the Teas family before they could sell to another developer. The Rubensteins and the Teas came to an agreement to sell the acreage to the Jerry and Maury Rubenstein Foundation for an undisclosed sum with the intention that it would eventually become a public park named in honor of their mother, Evelyn Rubenstein. In 2011, the Rubenstein family created Evelyn’s Park Conservancy, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization with a board made up of members appointed by Bellaire City Council and the Rubenstein Foundation, to administer the park and coordinate its delivery to the city. The Rubensteins and the Bellaire City Council each gave $100,000 as seed money to Evelyn’s Park Conservancy to begin planning. Later that year, Houston-based landscape architecture firm SWA Group, along with San Antonio-based Lake|Flato Architects, were hired to design the park and supporting buildings.

   
The design for Evelyn’s Park includes a great lawn, a monumental shade structure, a creek and lake, as well as a café and event space.
 

The scheme for Evelyn’s Park is typical of the program-heavy small urban park model that was inaugurated in the 1992 rehabilitation of New York’s famously decrepit Bryant Park by Hanna/Olin and Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer. In the Houston area, this model has been used extensively, notably for Discovery Green in 2008 and Market Square Park in 2010.

The SWA and Lake|Flato design transforms the oldest of several Teas family houses that once existed on the property—a two-story wood-framed bungalow ordered from a Sears catalog and built in 1910 as Edward Teas’ own residence—into a café. Directly behind the café is a barn-like annex that can be rented out for additional income. Behind it is the main parking lot. Just east of the café complex is a “stream fountain” that mimics, in miniaturized form, the many bayous that snake through Harris County. It drains into a small lake at the rear of the park. The lake faces a “Great Lawn” that extends almost to the park’s southern boundary at Bellaire Boulevard. This end of the lawn is demarcated by what the architects call the “Trevillion” (trellis + pavilion), a 200-foot-long, gently curved, steel framed pergola that is intended to be the park’s landmark. In addition to these features, there is a small plaza and water feature in front of the café, a children’s garden and play area, butterfly gardens, a donor wall and donor plaza, a bog garden, a memorial garden for Evelyn Rubenstein, and a “native restoration buffer” planted along the northern boundary of the park to screen views of the Lovett Homes houses.

 
Phase 1 site plan (left) and the full build-out plan (right).
 

After the schematic plan was approved by City Council in 2012, the citizens of Bellaire overwhelmingly supported a $5 million bond for improving the park site in November 2013. Although this is generous, it is not quite a third of the park’s total $16.5 million estimated budget. Construction will be completed in stages. The $4.9 million phase one omits the stream fountain, the lake, and the trevillion, but includes the café complex and great lawn.

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Julian Castro Sworn In As Secretary of Housing and Urban Development
Julian Castro, the former mayor of San Antonio, was sworn in Tuesday as the country’s next Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Castro succeeds Shaun Donovan who was tapped to head the Office of Management and Budget. During Donovan's tenure at HUD, he oversaw the Rebuild by Design competition, which selected its winners earlier this summer. Among his many responsibilities in his new role, Castro will likely be heavily involved in the execution of those projects, which include work from BIG, SCAPE, Penn Design/OLIN, OMA, Interboro, and MIT.
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Grid Shell in the Park
Doug Fletcher

This summer, San Antonio’s Travis Park—a newly revitalized green space originally established as Travis Plaza in 1870—is playing host to an architectural installation by 14 graduate students from the UTSA College of Architecture. F2, as it is called, is a grid shell prototype that spans more than 50 feet with only 2 inches of material thickness. It evolved from a research project studying minimal surfaces, inflatables, branching, cellular structures, and centenaries.

   
 

F2 is made from 4,800 linear feet of ½-inch-by-2-inch spruce timber sections and 760 CNC cut Coroplast folded panels. The assembly is bolted together into a grid shell with more than 1,000 galvanized nuts and bolts and 2,600 washers. The footings are water jet cut from ½-inch steel plate, welded, and attached to 30-inch screw piles. It took two weeks to fabricate the individual parts and the graduate students installed it in five days with the help of 13 volunteers.

 
 

The project was designed and fabricated under the direction of Andrew Kudless, Director of Matsys and the 2014 Dean’s Distinguished Visiting Critic at UTSA, and Kevin McClellan, Co-Director at TEX-FAB and lecturer at UTSA. David Shook of SOM San Francisco provided structural design support during research and Datum Engineers did the final design engineering.

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Spurring Development
The architects hope the new transit center will activate the western end of Downtown San Antonio.
Courtesy Perkins Eastman

In late June, the board of directors of VIA Metropolitan Transit in San Antonio, Texas, approved plans for the Westside Multimodal Transit Center at the corner of Frio and Houston streets. The city hopes that the project, which broke ground on July 14, will spur development in this somewhat sparse and dilapidated area just west of downtown. The neighborhood is currently home to such differing facilities as a University of Texas at San Antonio campus and the Bexar County Jail.

Designed by New York City–headquartered EE&K, a Perkins Eastman company, with local help from architecture firm Ford, Powell & Carson and landscape architecture studio Bender Wells Clark Design, the transit center taps into San Antonio’s rich history of urban squares. It will service the city’s growing network of city bus and VIA PRIMO bus rapid transit service, expand its B-Cycle bike share system, and may accommodate future rail service as well.

 

Perkins Eastman has plenty of experience with this kind of project. The firm previously worked on Houston’s Northern Intermodal Facility and Los Angeles’ Union Station. “We got the job because we knew how to take a transit project and turn it to a civic purpose; use the same dollars to create a plan around the facility that will make it a center piece of future redevelopment,” said Perkins Eastman principal Stan Eckstut. “We started by looking at the streets, instead of looking at bus facilities, and said ‘lets’ purchase a whole block, turn it into a square with busses on the perimeter, and make it a wonderful place to wait for busses or arrive for work, with lots of shade, landscape, art, and cafés.’”

The design of the transit center takes its cues from the adjacent International–Great Northern Depot (1908), a historic train station designed by Harvey L. Page in a fantastical Spanish Mission style, which was converted into a bank in the 1980s. The depot’s circular dome, as well as the turning radii of busses, inspired the circular, 20-foot-high canopy that rings the site.

 
 

While primarily composed of a simple palette of structural elements, the design team added tile mosaics to the column covers, “to add a little more beef, so there’s something to look at,” said Eckstut. The canopy is topped by a photovoltaic array that will generate much of the power needed to light the project. A stand of cedar elm trees fills the expansive interior of the 90,000-general-square-foot plaza. Permeable pavement and an underground retention system control stormwater runoff. A light tower installation by San Antonio artist Bill Fitzgibbons is planned for the plaza entrance to make it easily discernible from long distances.

 

As a security strategy, San Antonio opted to stay away from cameras. Instead, the city and the architects opened up views across the facility, in the hope that once the site is activated there will be enough activity to keep it safe. “They were willing to take a positive views of their riders and people in area,” said Eckstut. “There are at least a dozen development sites nearby that are vacant, or parking lots, or one story buildings. It could be major place for people to live and work near downtown.”

Currently Perkins Eastman is putting together a manual for future transit stations in San Antonio. “It’s full of lessons on how to approach each transit facility,” said Eckstut. “It advises to think beyond stopping and going, to expand the idea of the platform to be a public environment.”

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Land of the Cotton
Courtesy HiWorks / Urbanist Design / Studio Outside

At the end of March, faith-based non-profit Link Ministries and Urban Tech, the downtown studio of the College of Architecture at Texas Tech University, announced plans for High Cotton Genesis, a homeless assistance facility on the 5-acre site of a former cotton gin in Lubbock, Texas. Designed by San Antonio architecture studios HiWorks and Urbanist Design and Dallas landscape architecture practice Studio Outside, the master plan provides a framework for phased development of new service buildings and a chapel, the adaptive reuse of existing agricultural structures, and landscape elements that will soften the harsh West Texas environment.

High Cotton has already been in operation on the site for three years in a military-like array of tents, which has become known as “Tent City.” It was set up after the Lubbock City Council made it illegal for the homeless to occupy the city’s central library as a 90-day assistance program geared toward helping the housing impaired to get back on their feet, find a job, and move into their own residence. “We came at it not trying to be nice to anybody, we were just trying to get them out of downtown,” said Urban Tech director David Driskill.

 

Link Ministries, which owns and operates several community centers in former cotton industry buildings in the area, donated the property. The facility—the first of its kind in Lubbock—turned out to tap quite a need. “Every day I get at least one call from a potential resident that I have to turn down because we’re at capacity and have a waiting list. It’s a good sign that our services are helping people in the community, but it’s also a sign that it’s time to grow,” said Link Ministries director Les Burrus in a statement.

To determine how best to improve the project, Link Ministries and Urban Tech formed an advisory group (the High Cotton Core) and held an information gathering session in January 2012. In the fall of that year, Lake Flato Architects led a design charrette with the High Cotton community to further flesh out a vision for the site. In fall 2013, the stakeholders reached out to the design team, inviting them for a two-day site visit and two more charrettes. In order to get a better idea of the experience of residents, Brantley Hightower, founder and principal of HiWorks, spent a night in Tent City.

 

The master plan builds on the assets that High Cotton has in place, making strategic additions to diversify and improve the level of services offered so that it can help a broader range of the homeless population. One key element that was maintained is Tent City. “The whole idea of using tents started because that was all they had,” said Hightower. “But what they found is that they were nice enough and permanent enough to be an improvement over the street, but you didn’t want to stay there forever.”

“When you start getting into physical architecture for this kind of use it has to be durable and can get dehumanizing pretty quick,” said Jonathan Card of Urbanist Design. “The tents are no substitute to your own house, but they do offer some dignity.”

The most prominent architectural aspect of the project is the chapel, a 45-foot high extension of the existing cotton gin building, which will become a landmark in the flat landscape. The lower-slung service buildings and a perimeter wall, based on a Spanish Mission precedent, are planned to be constructed from rammed earth.

The landscape design mixes various drought-resistant grasses and other arid plants with windbreaks and lusher vegetation to create a soothing retreat from the surrounding windswept plains. “We ended up blending orthogonal lines and letting nature eat its way through the site to give it more interest,” said Tary Arterburn of Studio Outside. “The client said that part of West Texas is like walking into a definition of hell and wanted it to be an oasis for residents.”