Search results for " The University of Texas at Austin School of Architecture "

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Elizabeth Danze appointed interim dean at UT Austin School of Architecture
                                          Elizabeth Danze, FAIA, will take over the University of Texas at Austin's School of Architecture as Interim Dean. Her previous roles at the school include associate dean of graduate programs, professor, and associate dean of undergraduate programs. She's an alumna of the University of Texas at Austin's School of Architecture and the Yale School of Architecture. Danze co-edited the book Architecture and Feminism. She has also authored CENTER 17: Space and Psyche and Psychoanalysis and Architecture (volume 33 of The Annual of Psychoanalysis). The school's former dean, Frederick “Fritz” Steiner, left his post earlier this year due in large part to new state laws that would permit licensed students, faculty, staff, and visitors to carry concealed guns into campus buildings. These new rules go into effect as of August 1, 2016. Steiner has moved to the University of Pennsylvania's Penn Design, where he will start as Dean on July 1, 2016.                
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Eavesdrop> Sources give new details of University of Texas Architecture Dean’s departure
Shots fired! Fritz Steiner, the University of Texas at Austin‘s architecture dean, says that he is leaving his post because of the state’s new campus carry laws. “I would have never applied for another job if not for campus carry. I felt that I was going to be responsible for managing a law I didn’t believe in,” Steiner told The Texas Tribune. National media have sensationalized the story, and Steiner has even appeared on NPR to tell his story, which includes a new deanship at UPenn active July 1. Sources tell AN that the real reason Steiner left Texas is because of feuds with the president of the University, which included a lack of support for a new architecture school building. Steiner claims that the president “hung him out to dry.” However, sources say that the real reason UT won't be getting a new architecture school building any time soon is Steiner’s inability to raise the funds to do so. He claimed that he was angry and hurt by the president. They described it as an ungracious performance that came off as undignified. While Steiner left the school citing the gun law, sources say that he was silent for the six months of debate over the law, when he really could have had an impact on its implementation. "Yes, there are other reasons relating to the state support for public research universities in Texas, but there is no 'feud' with the president. He’s someone I admire and respect greatly," Steiner told AN via email.
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Texas gun laws prompts Fritz Steiner, dean of UT Austin’s architecture school, to decamp for Penn
Shots fired! Fritz Steiner, the University of Texas at Austin's architecture dean, says that he is leaving his post because of the state's new campus carry laws. Under Steiner, the UT-Austin architecture school has ranked among the best in the country. According to The Texas Tribune, Steiner said that "I would have never applied for another job if not for campus carry. I felt that I was going to be responsible for managing a law I didn't believe in." What's Texas's loss is Pennsylvania's gain:  When the University of Pennsylvania School of Design approached him last semester about an opening, Steiner was receptive. On July 1, Steiner will become dean of University of Pennsylvania School of Design. For the past 20 years, it's been perfectly legal to carry concealed guns onto campus, but not into campus buildings. Although new campus carry laws were ratified last year, the laws don't go into effect until the first of August. In a state with some of the nation's most liberal gun laws, it's worth noting that the new law does not allow open carry on campus; students, faculty, staff, or visitors must have a handgun license; and the gun owner must be 21 or older. Public universities are allowed to create some limited "gun-free zones," but those zones can't include classrooms. Students for Concealed Carry, a campus group that supports gun rights, criticized Steiner, stating that, essentially, the only thing to fear is fear [of the law] itself. For his part, Steiner is looking forward to returning to the institution from which he earned three degrees: "Penn is a great institution and I am very happy to go to Penn, but I was approached ... and, if it wouldn't have been for campus carry, I wouldn't have considered it."
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University of Texas at Austin is transforming Speedway into a pedestrian mall through campus
The so-called Speedway in Austin, Texas, is being slowed to the pace of the pedestrian, thanks to a redesign by PWP Landscape Architecture. The road is not a racetrack as its name implies, but a street used heavily by cyclists and motorists as it cuts through the University of Texas at Austin. The project, called the "Speedway Mall," is a move by the university to improve the area and boost its usage. Construction on the mall, to be located between Jester Circle and Dean Keeton Street, will be carried out by the university starting soon on October 26 with the project set to cost $36 million. The project will convert the predominantly urban area into one that is made up of 70 percent green space, a move that will transform the space making it a social hub complete with trees, tables, study areas, and Wi-Fi access. According to the Daily Texan, Pat Clubb, the university operations vice president, stated that the scheme should free up the space for university and educational needs with outdoor learning, campus festivities, performances among other student enterprises. “[Speedway] is a wonderful asset that is not being used, and this project allows us to turn a dull, ugly — this place that students just walk past — into a true activity center,” Clubb said. “I think it will transform the student experience. It will become a place of learning, become a place of social activity. All of the things that will be possible are going to enhance the students’ experience.” “The idea is to transform it to make it safer, to make it more environmentally hospital, to make it more accessible and more usable to students,” Frederick Steiner, dean of the School of Architecture, told the Daily Texan. Steiner has confidence that the Speedway Mall, when finished in 2017, will evolve into an area that students, faculty, staff, and alumni will love about campus. “Where 30 years ago, the Main Mall was sort of the center of campus, now Speedway is sort of the center of campus and it should change to reflect that. There’s an old Joni Mitchell song about tearing up paradise and putting in a parking lot,” Steiner continued. “Well, we’re going to be tearing up parking lots and putting in paradise.”
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Season of Change
Courtesy Random Wanderings

We have reached the end of summer: Labor Day has come and gone and New York architects are back into their daily routines as if summer four-day work weeks never happened. The familiar routine of openings, exhibitions, trade shows, and lectures that make the architecture scene in New York so exciting is back on—and so are the project deadlines put off in August.

If you are a design teacher, you are surely back to long afternoons in the studio and lecture hall. Several of our best design schools have new leadership and hopefully creative ideas about education and practice. Cooper Union—after several years of temporary leadership (ably carried out by Elizabeth O’Donnell for two academic years)—finally has a new dean in Iranian-American architect Nader Tehrani, who will lead the now-tuition-paying student body. Tehrani’s old design collaborator at Office dA, Monica Ponce de Leon is now directing the small architecture program at Princeton. It will be exciting to watch these schools change and evolve with this new leadership.

Here at The Architect’s Newspaper we also have a new team of writers and editors that will invigorate and transform our news-gathering—how we think about what is important in architecture and how we present it to our readers. Aaron Seward—a valuable contributor to the paper for eight years, and the first editor of our southwest edition—has left and moved “back home” to Austin, Texas where he will edit the state AIA magazine. Matt Shaw will assume the role of Senior Editor. In addition, Henry Melcher, our news and urban policy editor, is moving to Late Night with Seth Meyers where he will help produce guest segments. At AN, Melcher wrote and produced videos on projects like the Barclays Center’s green roof, the transformation of Brooklyn’s Empire Stores, and a Jeanne Gang-designed boathouse on the Chicago River—his last piece before he starts interviewing the Donald and Ted Cruz.

Many of our East Coast readers have also noticed that our long-time West Coast Editor Sam Lubell has left the left coast and has been replaced by Mimi Zeiger who is already putting her own unique and critical voice on AN’s West Coast edition. Sam Lubell has moved back to his native East Coast and will contribute to the paper from New York City.  In Chicago, Chris Bentley has just edited his last Midwest issue as he is moving to Boston. Matt Messner, who trained at the University of Illinois-Chicago in their MAD-Crit program, will be stepping into the Midwest Editor position. We are confident that he will invigorate this edition of the paper.

We are excited about all of the changes here at AN and hope you—our readers—will continue to tell us what you think and how we can make the paper better serve the architecture and design communities of our four regional editions.

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Visions of Plasticity: TEX-FAB 2015 probes into new digital fabrication technologies
This year’s TEX-FAB symposium in Houston continued the digital fabrication alliance’s exploration of new frontiers and technologies in the field by investigating the latest developments in 3D printing and composites. The three-day conference ended on March 26, where top designs from TEX-FAB’s Plasticity competition were identified and displayed at the University of Houston Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture, with a spotlight on winner Justin DilesPlasticity Stereotomy. The project explores cohesion and stacking of stereotomic blocks traditionally used in masonry. Enlisting FEM software, Diles, assistant professor of architecture at Ohio State University, created asymmetrical “bricks” from fiberglass composites to explore different volumetric tessellations. “The brick is the most obvious stack. He’s looking at a different strategy of stacking,” said Kory Bieg, TEX-FAB co-director and assistant professor at the University of Texas at Austin’s School of Architecture. “Because of the form it distributes the load differently and you don’t need the joints and glue that a brick uses. It’s also very lightweight.” Keynote speaker Ronald Rael, CEO of self-described “make tank” Emerging Objects, presented his latest experiments with using concrete, wood and even salt from the San Francisco bay in 3D printing. “Because they brought the price down so much they’re able to print [items] on an actual building scale,” said Bieg. This year’s digital fabrication and design workshops for students and practicing architects aimed to present the latest research on parametric modeling within academic, professional and fabrication communities. Sophisticated new software, such as Monolith, enables architects to generate 3D models that contain instructions for fabrication, thereby eliminating the disconnect between ideas that look great on paper or on AutoCAD and those that hold water once fabricated. “You can draw circles all day in CAD but you don’t know if the location in space is correct in relation to the other parts. The way this software works is it uses a node-based computer language or interface. What that means is instead of drawing a circle using AutoCAD, you create the circle based on parameters. And because you input all the data precisely into the design of these forms and shapes, the computer will give you feedback along the way and tell you if something’s wrong in the algorithm,” said Bieg, who taught a workshop called Introduction to Grasshopper.
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Voices of Architecture
Lawrence W. Speck and others get down to the collaborative business of architecture.
Courtesy Page

We asked some of our favorite architects from across the United States to answer eleven questions about the state of the practice today. The following selection of responses was assembled to fit the space available while presenting a sum of the many and sometimes conflicting perspectives.


What are the forces and philosophies driving architecture today and how do they mesh with your approach to design?

The current focus seems to be on envelopes, form making, and the use of technology. There’s quite a bit of creative and good work going on in a more generic path, but the things that seem to be in the limelight and which so many young architects are striving to achieve have to do with works of architecture that are iconic in their use of technology. That as an agenda seems to throw out the baby with the bathwater when it comes to creating useful and socially engaging work. The place of architects in terms of placemaking and taking advantage of the impact their building is going to have on the surrounding environment I think is diminishing. It reflects an increasing isolation of the architect from an engagement with the city as a whole and becoming more and more engaged with the machinery of design. This doesn’t match with our design approach. We’ve followed in the wake of people like Aalto and Eames and people who saw architecture and design as a sophisticated and entertaining way to engage with the environment and with the people that use it.

Craig Hodgetts, Hodgetts + Fung

The ones we are most tapped into in our practice have to do with making. There is a general movement towards making, and that is not just design in terms of architects but also in learning and in other fields like education. We set up our studio as both a design studio and fabrication practice and it has very practical advantages and, more importantly, an ethos about the virtual and the physical, and I think it ties into larger forces connected with design. The honeymoon with the purely digital is over. There is a workflow and continuity between the physical and the digital.

Bradley Samuels, Situ Studio

Obviously sustainability is the major driver in design today. I think where that meshes with our design approach is when accountability is brought into the picture. It involves hard questions that we all have to consider; the simplest being, is it appropriate in a given situation to build or not, or should we even as a firm get involved. To me there needs to be more of an acceptance that construction is a destructive and resource-intensive undertaking and with that acceptance should come the desire to treat the process with respect, great care, and responsibility.

Craig Steely, Craig Steely Architecture

There are forces that push “object” buildings, there is a commercial architecture fueled by developers and financial gain, and there is a growing interest in what is being called architecture of resilience. Our practice has believed in work that, in many ways, is in opposition to the first two forces. Although we do not articulate our work as being “green” this is an underlying principle of all we do.

Billie Tsien, Tod Williams Billie Tsien


Is technology shaping your practice in significant new ways?

Yes, the technologies that we have in the office are really influencing how we design and how we visualize our work. Then there are the tools—3D printers, MakerBots, etc.—all have allowed us to explore design more deeply earlier in the process. We’ve been doing Revit for more than a decade now. What’s been interesting is that some of the younger employees have brought Grasshopper and Rhino into the office. Those have allowed us to explore and visualize and express the building and look at the data of the building in different ways.

Scott Kelsey, CO Architects

We’re friendly to new technology but find that it’s important to try design with the most basic attitude towards technical innovation. For example, most of the issues of sustainable construction can be solved with proper orientation, ventilation, and insulation. We prefer to open a window than to turn on the air conditioner. We do try to anticipate technologies that will become practical as their costs come down. PV’s will surely become part of the standard repertoire of construction. So will green roofs and extensive planting. Likewise, rainwater capture. None of this requires great technical sophistication, but it does demand a shift in attitude.

Michael Sorkin, Michael Sorkin Studio

We thrive on new technologies that are opening up every day. We are really excited right this moment about a new chip that |has been designed for LED lighting that can make a regular interior light fixture shift color subtly through the day to match the color shift in the sun’s light. This color shift is important to set the body’s Circadian rhythms and to trigger production of melatonin late in the day so we sleep well. We are planning to use these lights in a medical school facility we are working on currently. Architecture can be such an important contributor to health through some of these new technologies.

Lawrence W. Speck, Page


What role does hand drawing play in your design process? Are you seeing a resurgence of interest in hand drawing among recent graduates?

I was trained in hand drawing. It’s central to all my work. The recent graduates I hire may be able to draw by hand but it is never their first recourse, even when a hand sketch is clearly more efficient. This is most apparent in CD and CA. The clarification detail I can rip out in 15 minutes—and they could too—takes them an hour or two (often more) in AutoCAD. I think a couple of things are at work in their young minds. First is a funny, almost moral idea about the inherent superiority of the accuracy of digital drawings: for them N.T.S.— that hallmark of the field sketch—is just wrong. Second—and I come across this a lot, but it may be endemic to my school—is the notion that in digital work you are primarily building an electronic version of the building—that is the effort—for which the drawings are just sloughed off by-products. That is quite different from making a set of drawings, which, because they are already twice removed, have to be thought about with primary regard for how and what they communicate. The hand drawing remains a brutally efficient way to communicate ideas; it is the need to communicate that is today I think less well understood.

David Heymann, University of Texas, Austin


Should the licensing process be streamlined? If so, how? If not, why?

Like by getting licensed from school? It’s a terrible idea. It’s a great way to justify these programs that are providing five-year masters degrees, but it’s a bit of a scam: Let’s conflate and compress education and professional licensure and act like nothing’s given up in the process. I’m not buying it. You know the way there’s a separation between church and state? There’s a reason we have a separation between the academy and the profession. Now, once you get out of school, I think you should be able to take the licensing exam as soon as you want, all at once if you wanted. But I still believe the internship is important to be in the culture of a firm, which is very different from the culture of a school.

Marlon Blackwell, Marlon Blackwell Architects

A national license would be nice and would save money for both the states and architects. It seems other countries manage this one.

Carol Ross Barney, Ross Barney Architects

Yes. I could go on and on here since I chaired a task force for Texas Society of Architects that looked into this. What is disturbing to me about NCARB’s current direction is that they seem to be reducing the duration of internships but still keeping all the intricate rules and bureaucracy. I think we should do the opposite—keep high standards in terms of duration, but allow more flexibility and less bean counting and box checking.

Lawrence W. Speck, Page


What can be done to improve the racial and sexual diversity of the profession?

I am so disappointed with the hollow gestures I see from our professions. The only way to attract minorities is to glorify what we do so they can see how it touches their lives, and show them how much money they can make to support their families. We are too invisible. We were taught to be a quiet gentlemen’s profession, but by being that, we are invisible to the general population. We need to go populist to really achieve diversity.

Thomas Balsley, Thomas Balsley Associates

I know with women, this is such a complex problem. One of the big reasons is just babies. We are working through the challenges of that now. You have to be flexible. If you have a new mom and expect them to get back six weeks after having a baby, good luck. I know I couldn’t. They [David Baker Architects] gave me a good maternity leave for five months, and then another month where they let me transition in. I don’t think only women should get that privilege. Firms should support equality of life and work balance. People are happier and more productive then.

Amanda Loper, David Baker Architects

Alas, racism and sexism are endemic to our society—just look at Ferguson. It’s still urgent that we all work actively to overcome this legacy. The schools seem to be doing pretty well in admissions and faculty diversity—a slower process—is catching up. But, as long as wealth and power are disproportionately in the hands of white men, things will never be as they should. The fight continues!

Michael Sorkin, Michael Sorkin Studio

The greatest difficulty in increasing diversity is the perception that architecture is not a secure profession. And unfortunately that perception is based on truth. Women might stay in the profession if there was a more accepting attitude in offices and if the government was more supportive of childcare. While we cannot control government practices we can control what happens in our offices. We need to be parent friendly. Childcare issues last a relatively short time, architecture as a profession lasts much longer.

Billie Tsien, Tod Williams Billie Tsien


What is an architect’s civic responsibility and how involved are you in your local community?

You have to get involved. We belong to the boards of several local organizations. One opportunity is to get involved in kids schools and activities. That allows you to be involved with family and community simultaneously. Lending your expertise and services to the communities that you are part of and that interest you is what we suggest. Everybody needs the architect’s ability to solve problems even if they are not specifically architectural.

Byron Kuth, Elizabeth Ranieri, Kuth Ranieri Architects

Every building regardless of scale, use, and type should have a civic responsibility. We define “client” very broadly: There is the specific client with whom we have a contractual relationship and there is the larger public with whom we have an ethical relationship.

In this era of global responsibility, we are reminded that architecture is a social art. As the public realm is increasingly eroded, we must work of necessity in hybrid terrains, no longer just adding the new and “novel,” but transforming sites at every scale to recast the terms of what serves the individual and the collective, and what is natural and what is public.

Michael Manfredi, Weiss/Manfredi

As a critic, I write extensively about local issues. As a teacher, my students and I engage city sites and issues that are in play. As a “theorist” I strongly advocate for the idea of the local as both a source of architectural particularity and as a medium of democratic practice. As researchers, we are directly engaged in seeking forms that support and encourage local autonomy. As a political person, I am active in local disputes and initiatives. As stewards of the environment, architects have a special role in ameliorating the places they live and practice. As citizens, architects have duties they share with others but which they must interpret through the medium of their special skills and practice. I am disgusted, for example, that the AIA cannot bring itself to urge its members to withhold their services from the purveyors of torture and execution. These are not architectural questions but we have some special leverage to resist this barbarism.

Michael Sorkin, Michael Sorkin Studio


Does your firm regularly enter competitions?

No. We’re too busy trying to make payroll. Are we suckers for them sometimes? Yes. There’s a book of suckers around here someplace. I mean, the pay is nothing and you do tons of work. I think they can be useful, if they’re run properly; if there’s more of a procedural and objective approach to how work is decided upon. If you could win a project based on ideas rather than what your RFQ looks like, that would be invigorating.

Marlon Blackwell, Marlon Blackwell Architects

Yes, I believe in anonymous competitions, and we do at least one per year. If New York City followed Spain’s successful competition structure we would build all public projects this way and create opportunities for talented architects, young or not.

Carlos Brillembourg, Carlos Brillembourg Architects

We sometimes enter competitions, although we do not believe they are the best way to select an architect. They are like “picture” brides—getting married based on an image. The image is hardly ever realized and the image is never really the right answer. We prefer a process-based and collaborative approach to find the solution.

Billie Tsien, Tod Williams Billie Tsien


Has your firm worked in emerging markets in Asia, the Middle East, or elsewhere? If so, what lessons have you learned or challenges have you faced in these markets?

For 16 years I also had an office in Caracas, Venezuela, that gave me a different perspective on the role of architecture in a society that is in the process of formation. Your building can have a very large impact for society at large in a developing country.

Carlos Brillembourg, Carlos Brillembourg Architects

We practice in many of these markets when invited to do so. Genuine cultural respect and understanding is critical, as is understanding the basics of the physical environment—the ways of means of construction—and seeking out the best in local collaborators.

Craig Hartman, SOM

I think the most important lesson is to get paid up front. Get a very large retainer that enables you to produce the first two submissions without losing money. Because they will always pay to get you started, then you may struggle to get paid after that. The other lesson is knowing that everything is going to be taken over by somebody else. You have to define the rules for the design. They need to understand the rules and the intentions, so they will change according to those rules rather than just changing.

Alvin Huang, Synthesis Design + Architecture


What is the future of the American city?

Generally the future looks good to us because people want to be around other people and not spend time commuting. Here on the West Coast and in Northern California specifically, we are enjoying a technology boom. The future of the city will be shaped by this growing population that embraces change.

Byron Kuth, Elizabeth Ranieri, Kuth Ranieri Architects

I think the future of the American city should lie in the belief that it has the potential to be “its own best city.” In other words, it is critical that (smaller) American cities grow and develop in a manner that embraces the notion that they are necessarily the best of their type through local and cultural idiosyncrasies—qualities that should be celebrated, strengthened, and hyperbolized. In my own particular city, it becomes disheartening when we internally base qualitative comparisons to other cities like New York City. New York City can never be Louisville.

Roberto De Leon, De Leon & Primmer Architecture Workshop

Cities are America’s and the planet’s sustainable future. Future cities will be denser and more efficient. I am a Rust Belter and our cities are relatively dense, but our infrastructure is desperately in need of renewal and can be infinitely more efficient.

Carol Ross Barney, Ross Barney Architects

We just finished a project about the future of New York, and I think one of the things that was quite clear is the future is unequal. Inequality is greater than it has ever been in cities—this is as true in New York as anywhere in the country, if not more so.

Bradley Samuels, Situ Studio

We must also question the idea of density as unmitigated good.

Michael Sorkin, Michael Sorkin Studio

I think the future of Sun Belt cities is very bright indeed. The best of them have bought into the idea of making themselves more compact, increasing density at the core, embracing mixed uses and pedestrian, bicycle, and public transit oriented transportation. Many have even started looking at rehabilitating the suburbs and changing their out-of-date building types and patterns of settlement in substantial and creative ways.

Lawrence W. Speck, Page


What are architecture students not being taught that they need to be successful practitioners?

I get back to fundamentals. This sounds stupid, but scale, proportion, insistence on mastering the language of the discipline, and understanding the canonical aspects of architecture and their relevance to today. I’m just dismayed at the level of talent that comes out of schools and runs through the profession. I’ve never had a client come to me and say, “what I want is an ill-proportioned, unresolved, expediently delivered project that underperforms, and I’ll pay you for that.” I’ve never had anybody say that. I would doubt that most people cranking out this shit have either. What are we doing in schools that permits that?

Marlon Blackwell, Marlon Blackwell Architects

One thing that I think is becoming a problem is the issue of understanding scale. That is a digital problem, and it comes from looking at things on the screen. So the translation of what’s on screen to physical dimensions and physical scales is often a big struggle. That’s why a lot of projects are being assessed as objects or images, because that’s the way they’re being designed. Ninety percent of the views you have when you are navigating a 3D model are from a helicopter.

Alvin Huang, Synthesis Design + Architecture

Architecture students need to be taught about the importance of interiors. After drawing in “scale-less” space on computer screens, students need to better understand human scale. They spend too much time on the outside and need to understand we all live our lives on the inside.

Billie Tsien, Tod Williams Billie Tsien


Are you satisfied with the AIA as your professional association?

The AIA I think would gain value if it fought for protection of intellectual property of architects. Architects should get the same amount of credit for the work as their photographer does. That’s one example where the AIA is way behind the curve.

Craig Hodgetts, Hodgetts + Fung

For me it’s doing a pretty good job, what I don’t know is if the AIA is meaningful to the next generation thinking about whether they want to go through the process and get something from it. I don’t know if the AIA is doing that as aggressively as it could. Maybe that’s contributing to the reduction of people going through licensure. Maybe the AIA needs to spend more time on how to advocate on behalf of people who have not registered yet.

Scott Kelsey, CO Architects

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John Peterson, founder of Public Architecture, to curate GSD’s Loeb Fellowship
Harvard's Graduate School of Design has named John Peterson, founder of the non-profit Public Architecture, as the new curator of the Loeb Fellowship. The fellowship consists of architects, landscape architects, journalists, and more studying the built environment. Peterson will step into the role in January, succeeding James Stockard who served in the position for 16 years and is an alumnus of the fellowship. "John has built an impressive organization and impactful career focusing on societal engagement through the agency of design,” said Charles Waldheim, Chair of Harvard GSD’s Department of Landscape Architecture and head of the Loeb Curator search committee, in a statement. “His capacity to articulate and enable design to play a role in the service of broader publics, often in very challenging conditions, promises to renew the Loeb program’s longstanding commitments in this area." Peterson founded Public Architecture in 2002 and led his own practice, Peterson Architects, from 1993 to 2010. He holds degrees from RISD, taught at the California College of the Arts as well as the University of Texas at Austin, and was a Loeb Fellow in 2006. In a statement, the GSD said, "Peterson has played an important part in defining the concept of “public interest design,” which has evolved in recent years into a significant field of practice."
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Lotus-Eaters Lost
Courtesy John Hardy Publishing

My Beautiful City Austin
By David Heymann
John Hardy Publishing, $24

David Heymann’s first book of fiction begins with a nostalgic description of Austin, Texas, as remembered by the unnamed narrator and central character, who happens to be an architect. The heart of the memory centers on a visit to the hill country just west of town, along the Colorado River above Redbud Isle, that he made during a summer in his high school years, in the early-mid 1970s presumably. The narrator and a group of friends, who have just driven in from Houston, explore this rugged terrain in their car, feeling that they’ve stumbled into a land that time forgot, little changed from the Pleistocene Epoch. Then the car dips down to cross a dry creek bed and they discover that there, among the scrub cedar and beneath the arching branches of live oaks, are modest little houses, shaded from the blazing sun by the encircling vegetation, responding more to the contours of the limestone-studded topography than the presence of the road. A joint is smoked and the group of teenagers pushes on until they find a place to pullover and park among some other cars and a path down to the slow moving, dammed up river. They clamber down the path surrounded by flitting birds, crossing land that seems to have no designation whatsoever, neither public park nor private property. At the river, they jump in the cool, clear water and swim with other swimmers and people floating languidly in inner tubes. No one challenges their presence or pays them much mind at all, except to offer informal greetings, “hey man, hey,” as Heymann records it. Later, on the banks of the river, the narrator is dumbstruck when he sees a beautiful young woman strolling unselfconsciously past, wearing nothing but flip flops and a beach towel rolled around her waist emblazoned with the likeness of Yosemite Sam.

And there you have it, the Austin of yore, or of myth anyway; the spaced out place where misfits gather to get high, have sex, and live close to nature; the unostentatious, come-as-you-are land of the Lotus-eaters; the final refuge from the “overstuffed burritoness of America,” in Heymann’s words. It’s not a vision the reader gets to enjoy for long.

Before the opening section ends (the book is marketed as a collection of short stories, but reads more like an episodic novel that follows the trajectory of one main character on a consistent thematic arc throughout) the narrator visits this landscape again, years later, and finds it utterly destroyed, not by the ravages of fire or some other cataclysm, but by the built environment. Where before there had been a primordial setting, dotted discreetly by small houses integrated within the landscape, he now discovers a jumble of oversized Italianate villas insinuating themselves preposterously within the Central Texas countryside. “Oh man!” writes Heymann. “There were kids in high school who would suddenly, from one day to the next, be assaulted by a kind of virulent, weeping, unrestrainable acne. Where before there had been a hot hairy emptiness, now as far west as you could see these steroidal houses, huge and tall and gross and unseemly and pretentious, were erupting out of the cedar forest like a horrid skin condition, an outburst of limestone whiteheads.”

From that point on you get the idea that the book’s title, My Beautiful City Austin, is, if not meant completely ironically, a perspective that takes more and more mental gymnastics to keep. The narrator, an architect who finds himself gainfully employed in designing houses for the new rich, struggles to hold onto this idea of what really makes Austin beautiful while perpetrating the same crimes against the landscape that he finds so despicable. Each story, or chapter, tells the tale of another commission and his attempts to convince his clients of new modes of living space, which his idealistic training in architecture school has prepared him to deliver. The clients, almost invariably, poo-poo his sensitive, environmentally conscious, modernist inspired notions in favor of constructing fantasies of the past—ersatz limestone ruins, faux 19th-century vernaculars. “They are conservationists,” he at one point decides, “though they are destroying a hope many architects secretly harbor, that architecture is a conduit to the real.”

Heymann writes with no shortage of humor. I found myself laughing out loud in several places. In person, as on the page, he comes off as a sort of Matthew McConaughey of Architecture & Letters, which isn’t to undercut his clear intelligence, but more to convey his laid-back swagger and the confidence with which he fires his darts. And his disappointment isn’t only leveled at his fictional character’s clients. He unloads on obstinate, dumb-headedness wherever it appears, even in other members of his profession: “Architects think people aren’t interested in buildings anymore, and don’t look at them, and consequently don’t, can’t, appreciate what architects really want to do, which is to make fetishized constructions to sit on the landscape like mechanical praying mantids, which will make people look at them some more.”

As an architectural journalist, it is refreshing to hear an architect tell the sort of stories about building projects, even fictional ones, that don’t typically make the press release. It’s no surprise, of course, that such frankness should be so rare. After all, who would hire an architect who goes around trashing his clients? Heymann, who is an architect himself, perhaps best known for the Crawford ranch house he designed for George W. Bush, and a professor at the University of Texas at Austin, is aware of this. He includes a disclaimer at the end of the book, “To my beloved clients: rest assured, you do not appear in these stories.” In spite of this assurance, Heymann has said his wife doesn’t believe he’ll ever get a commission again. If so, it wouldn’t be such a bad outcome. He’d have more time to write.

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Lagoon Taken
Courtesy Reed Hilderbrand

On April 11, The Contemporary Austin announced that it had selected Cambridge, Massachusetts–based Reed Hilderbrand Landscape Architecture to design a master plan for its historic Laguna Gloria site. The master plan will seek to reconceive the 12-acre estate on the shores of Lake Austin, which comprises woods, meadows, and waterfront zones, as well as the Italianate 1916 Driscoll Villa. The goal is to create an ideal art-in-nature experience that will include a new sculpture park.

“This is an exceptional commission,” said Douglas Reed, partner of Reed Hilderbrand, in a statement. “The historic character of Laguna Gloria is a legacy of its terraced landform overlooking Lake Austin, the villa, its gardens, and the site’s diverse ecology. It is already exceptional among America’s cultural sites, and we look forward to expanding its natural appeal to support the Contemporary Austin’s remarkable curatorial program. It is an honor to be called on to design the master plan for what will become a must-see location for the art world.”

Reed Hilderbrand was selected by a committee headed by Frederick Steiner, Dean of the School of Architecture and Henry Rockwell Chair in Architecture at the University of Texas at Austin. The Cambridge firm beat out two other finalists to win the job: Andrea Cochran Landscape Architecture of San Francisco, and Norwegian firm Snøhetta.

Trahan Architects of New Orleans, New York’s Lord Cultural Resources, and ETM Associates of New Jersey are also on the design team. Local Austin collaborators include Urban Design Group and the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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UT Student Installation Takes SXSW

A room-filling parametric design makes its way from the classroom to Austin's famous music festival.

When Kory Bieg and his students at The University of Texas at Austin School of Architecture began working on Caret 6, they had no idea that it would wind up at this year’s South by Southwest (SXSW) music and arts festival. But the rippling, room-filling installation soon took on a life of its own. Within months, Bieg’s undergraduates—who had little previous exposure to digital design—had designed and fabricated Caret 6, and assembled and disassembled it twice, first at the TEX-FAB SKIN: Digital Assemblies Symposium in February, and then at Austin’s most famous annual gathering in March. Caret 6 developed out of a research studio taught by Bieg, who is also associate director of the regional digital fabrication and parametric design network TEX-FAB. Selected to chair TEX-FAB’s annual design competition, Bieg knew that he would soon face a problem: how to display the winning entry in a gallery much larger than it. He put his students to work on a solution. “The idea was to create a kind of counterpoint to the winning entry. [We] needed to fill space,” said Bieg. At the same time, the studio would teach the fundamentals of digital fabrication. “It was really just an experimental exploration of what these tools could produce,” he said. Caret 6’s white and grey diamond-shaped cells cascade from a central catenary vault with three column bases. Two secondary vaults project from either side. The front face of the structure flows down to the floor. “The idea is, we didn’t actually know who the winner [of TEX-FAB: SKIN] would be,” said Bieg. “We wanted to design a ground surface that was modular so that we could replace some of the cells with bases for their models.” The 17 students enrolled in Bieg’s course first created individual study models of aggregations and weavings amenable to digital fabrication. In an internal competition, they narrowed the field to three. Bieg broke the studio into teams, each of which experimented with creating volumetric versions of the designs. In a departure from typical parametric installations, Bieg and his students decided to stay away from patterns that gradually expand and contrast. “Our interest was not [in] doing subtlety, but local variations that are quite abrupt, like going from a large cell to a small cell,” said Bieg. “So part of that was a result of the way we structured it. Instead of aggregating cells, we designed a series of ribs.” The primary ribs form the vaults’ seams, while the secondary and tertiary ribs divide the structure into asymmetrical pockets. Halfway through the semester, Bieg called Alpolic Materials, whose Aluminum Composite Material (ACM)—a thin polyethylene core sandwiched between two sheets of aluminum—he had worked with on an earlier project. Alpolic agreed to donate supplies for Caret 6, “so we refined the design according to the material we had,” said Bieg. He also drafted students from UT engineering to calibrate the structure’s thickness, scale, and cantilever distances. “It kind of just evolved from these different processes coming in,” said Bieg.
  • Fabricator Kory Bieg and UTSOA Design Studio V
  • Designers Kory Bieg and UTSOA Design Studio V
  • Location Austin, Texas
  • Date of Completion February 2014
  • Material Alpolic Materials ACM, polypropylene, high-density polyethylene, binder clips, bolts, o-rings
  • Process Grasshopper, Kangaroo, 3ds Max, CNC milling, manual assembly
Back in the studio, Bieg’s students used 3ds Max for form studies and Kangaroo, a Grasshopper plug-in, to fit the tessellated diamond pattern to the vaults. They also used Grasshopper to develop an assembly system of binder rings, bolts, and o-rings. Bieg and his team fabricated the installation using UT’s CNC mill. They cut the vault pieces out of Alpolic ACM. The elements closest to the floor are polypropylene, while the intermediary pieces are high-density polyethylene. The students assembled and disassembled Caret 6 manually. At first, they tried working with a QR-code system, scanning each component to determine its location. When this took too long, they projected a digital model of the form on a screen, then called out each piece by number. For SXSW, where they had only six hours for assembly, they subdivided the structure into sections that could be quickly recombined on site. Caret 6 travels to Houston in September, where it will rejoin the entire TEX-FAB: SKIN show. But while the installation has already moved beyond its original context, Bieg insists that it remains rooted in the SKIN competition brief, which focused on building envelopes leveraging metal fabrication systems. “[Caret 6 is] not really a program per se, but more of an experiment about the same concepts that were part of the exhibits at TEX-FAB,” he said.
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Prize of the Lagoon
Courtesy The Contemporary Austin

In January, The Contemporary Austin (formerly AMOA-Arthouse) announced three finalists in an invited competition to design a master site plan for Laguna Gloria, the museum’s 12-acre estate on the shores of Lake Austin. The three firms are Andrea Cochran Landscape Architecture of San Francisco; Reed Hilderbrand Landscape Architecture of Boston; and Norwegian firm Snøhetta, which has an office in New York City.

These three firms are not only leading innovators in urban and landscape design, but also have rich experience working with artists and arts communities. They all have impressive records of significant design and planning work,” said Frederick Steiner, dean of the School of Architecture at the University of Texas at Austin, in a statement.

In May 2013, Steiner led a committee that sent RFQs to 33 firms. Nineteen of the firms responded. The committee winnowed the list down to four semi-finalists—including Gustafson Guthrie Nichol, which has offices in Seattle and Washington, D.C.—providing each with $10,000 to prepare a presentation. On October 22, the committee entertained presentations by the four firms and further narrowed the list to the above three. It also determined to visit each firm’s studio and some of their completed projects. The committee will reconvene in mid-February to pick a winner, which will be announced in early spring 2014.

The museum declined to release details on the finalist firms’ proposals, citing their sketchy condition at this stage of the process. It did, however, reveal the main stipulations of the RFQ, which requested a comprehensive master plan that fully incorporates the 12 acres of Laguna Gloria, lays the groundwork for a sculpture park, and respects the site’s ecology and existing buildings.

Laguna Gloria was the home of Texas businesswoman, philanthropist, and preservationist Clara Driscoll and her husband Henry Sevier. It is the site of the 1916 Italianate-style Driscoll Villa, which was designed by San Antonio architect Harvey L. Page and is on the National Register of Historic Places. A 5,300-square-foot art school, built after the estate became an art museum in the 1960s, is also part of the grounds.     In May 2013, The Contemporary Austin hired local environmental planning and cartography company Siglo Group to conduct an environmental assessment of Laguna Gloria. Siglo produced a report analyzing the property’s natural and cultural history, delineating its qualities and features, and suggesting conservation and management guidelines.

Siglo Group made recommendations for how to increase the ecological resiliency of the site, locating places where there are erosion problems, picking out invasive species, and indicating what native plants might be increased. It also made suggestions on how best to improve the visitor experience by capitalizing on the existing view sheds and vegetative buffers.

One part of our evaluation was determining what was on the site and pinpointing some of the hidden jewels,” said Jonathan Ogren of Siglo Group. “Laguna Gloria is representative of the vegetation types of what you’d find in Central Texas. Near the water you have riparian forest with some beautiful cathedral like cypress trees. There’s a sloping oak savanna up top. Then there’s a large swath through middle that was converted to Bermuda grass in the 1980s. Those different ecosystems create different rooms, like rooms in a museum, that will work for different types of art.”