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In December, Seattle-based landscape architecture firm Gustafson Guthrie Nichol (GGN) unveiled designs for a new civic park within San Antonio’s 1968 International Exposition grounds, otherwise known as Hemisfair. Inspired by the city’s tradition of public gathering spaces and intimate relationship to its eponymous river, the 16-acre park includes plazas, plantings, and promenades, as well as a meandering water feature. Part of an ongoing redevelopment of the 90-acre Hemisfair site on the edge of downtown, the project integrates six new buildings, totaling over 600,000 square feet of mixed uses, and provides direct connections between San Antonio’s resurgent core, River Walk, and historic neighborhoods like Lavaca and King William.
“We did a lot of research into the history of San Antonio to find out the things that make this place special,” said Kathryn Gustafson, a founding principal of GGN. “What a great city. It’s such a party town. This is a civic park for people who naturally go out all the time.”
In addition to GGN’s research, a program put together by the Hemisfair Park Area Redevelopment Corporation (HPARC) from community input informed the park’s design. HPARC hired planning consultancy MIG, which conducted four months of public information gathering sessions in order to produce a programming document that was handed over to the landscape architects. “The way that the programming was developed was through public meetings and stakeholder charrettes and surveys,” said Andrés Andujar, CEO of HPARC. “MIG is very organized about how to get this information from the community. We ended up with eight programming sections that included our zocalo (plaza), a promenade, a lawn, an area where we had water and shade, which we are calling The Shallows, and so on. When GGN arrived we were available to provide a consultant-led community developed program for the civic park.”
“Andrés is one of the most professional clients I’ve ever had,” said Gustafson.
“It’s a luxury to have a client that comes prepared with a well-thought-out scope and program.”
GGN’s design is multi-layered, with specified zones for the different uses San Antonians said they wanted from this public space, and a variety of typologies that respond to the city’s diverse cultural and natural history. The plazas and a gently curved event lawn combined can accommodate 12,000 people around a stage for music and other performances. This function can be activated day and night with both local and touring acts to create a consistent draw. For the less extroverted, there are placid gardens grouped near the few historic houses that remain at the fringes of the Hemisfair site, quiet areas where “you can read a book or take your elderly parent for a walk,” said Gustafson.
The water feature emerges from a source fountain in a plaza at the northwest corner of the site and then travels along a tree-shaded promenade in a channel that refers to San Antonio’s historic acequias—the irrigation channels dug for the original Spanish mission that later helped define the grid of the modern city. In the southern half of the site the water gathers in shallow pools inspired by the natural limestone formations that collect water throughout the surrounding Hill Country. The water will be a mix of reclaimed municipal water and processed stormwater gathered on site.
GGN is leading a design team that includes local and national firms. San Antonio–based Alamo Architects is providing architectural and urban design services. Seattle engineering firm Magnusson Klemencic Associates is the sustainability and water management consultant. Construction is expected to begin in 2016 once the west wing of the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center, which currently occupies part of the site, is demolished.
Houston’s Rothko Chapel fuses art and architecture to create a contemplative space that some visitors experience as spiritual. Even the less spiritually inclined describe it as a highly intensified art viewing experience. Now a second artist’s chapel is coming to Texas, designed by another great abstract expressionist, Ellsworth Kelly. Originally designed in 1986 for a private collector, but never realized, the 2,700-square-foot structure will be the first-ever Kelly-designed building. It will be built thanks to the efforts of the Blanton Museum of Art at the University of Texas, Austin, which will also maintain the space and use it for study.
Blanton Museum director Simone Wicha paired Kelly with San Antonio-based Overland Partners to refine and execute the design. “It was developed conceptually, but not schematically. We have been working with Ellsworth to take the concept model and make it a viable building for a university campus public space, while making sure it remains true to his vision,” Wicha told AN. The Blanton has raised over $7 million to build the project, with a total goal of $15 million including an endowment.
Kelly’s chapel features a cruciform plan, each arm of which terminates with a colored glass installation that will bring multi-hued light into the stone interior. One installation features square windows, each of which is a single color, arranged in a grid. Another includes slit like openings arranged in a circular formation. A third has square colored windows positioned as diamonds arranged in a circle. Facing the entry, a niche will contain a totem sculpture.
Kelly, born in 1923, is known as one of the major American abstract artists working across painting, printmaking, and sculpture. His work spans Minimalism, Color Field painting, and pure abstraction without being bounded by any one movement. The chapel, however, evokes the six years Kelly spent in France in the late 1940s to the mid 50s, before he rose to international prominence. The artist was particularly taken with Romanesque architecture, which is clearly reflected in the chapel’s barrel vaults. In addition to being his first building, this will also be the first time Kelly, now 92, has worked in glass. The Franz Mayer studio of Munich, Germany, will fabricate the glass. Kelly and the design team will use a combination of two layers of glass to create the perfect color.
Though the granite-clad chapel was conceived for a location in California, Kelly rechristened the project Austin in recognition of the particular qualities of Texas light, which will change the experience of the space.
Though Austin is entirely Kelly’s design, Overland Partners is bringing essential expertise to the project. “In order to add insulation and create a cavity in the wall, the walls had to become thicker, so the building also became taller. We’ve worked closely with Ellsworth to translate his design intent,” said Rick Archer, a principal at Overland Partners. “One of the challenges of working with artists is learning to remove yourself completely from the design. This is Ellsworth’s piece.”
According to Wicha, the museum hopes to break ground on the project soon, and expects it to be completed in about a year.
In May of last year, The Architect’s Newspaper ran an essay about how the ongoing oil boom in Texas was impacting the built landscape. Since then the cost of a barrel of oil has plunged from a high in July of 2014 of $120 a barrel to less than $50 as of February 2015.
Despite dire predictions that such a price drop would shut down production in plays such as the Eagle Ford in south Texas, that has not come to pass. The boom is still alive and well.
To better understand what this means for the architecture of the region, the town of Cotulla is worth closer examination as a case study. Located in the heart of the Eagle Ford play midway between San Antonio and the U.S.-Mexico border, Cotulla was established as a stop on the International-Great Northern Railroad line in 1882. Its economy remained primarily agricultural throughout most of its history and for the majority of the 20th century its population hovered between three and four thousand. Since the 2010 census its population has ballooned as it has been overrun with individuals coming to work the oil fields outside of town. In addition to the RV parks and “man camps” that have sprouted up between the interstate and town, there has been a remarkable boom in the construction of chain hotels.
Five years ago Cotulla had two hotels clustered around the Interstate that runs to the east of town. Today it has closer to 30 with more under construction. They are some of the tallest structures in town and these 2-4 story wood-frame buildings are perhaps the most remarkable change to the built environment of Cotulla. Constructed as quickly and as inexpensively as possible, they exemplify the challenge of building for a boom economy. After the oil has been pumped and the legions of roughnecks leave, most of these hotels will be empty. It is an issue local leaders have already begun to consider.
“Everything that we do has to be with the end goal in mind of being sustainable for the future,” said Larry Dovalina, Cotulla’s City Manager. One use being considered for the surplus hotel rooms is to incorporate them into a free trade zone. Cotulla happens to be located such that truckers driving from the agricultural regions of Mexico can get to Cotulla on a single tank of gas. The hope is that the town could become an inland transfer point for goods entering the U.S.
Today there are really two towns of Cotulla. One is the bustling nexus of semi trucks, oil field workers, and cheap chain hotels along the interstate. The other is the still somewhat sleepy small town about a mile to the east. At first glance, the historic part of Cotulla looks much as it did 80 years ago. The depression-era courthouse still sits upon the hill. The commercial strip along Front Street still faces the old railroad tracks that represent the reason Cotulla came to exist in the first place. What is lacking is any ostentatious example of the wealth that theoretically has come to the area as a result of the oil boom. There is no lavish cultural center or unnecessary monorail. But Cotulla now has things that people elsewhere take for granted. The streets are paved. The schools are better than they have ever been.
This is a reflection of the measured approach community leaders have taken to develop a strategy to allow these two Cotullas to coexist. It remains a challenge to make Cotulla appealing for both a temporary worker who needs a cheap hotel room for the night and a family who wants a place to live in the future.
Some may think it strange that one of the most extraordinary and thoughtful design practices engaging the environment anywhere is to be found in central Texas, surrounded not by tall trees and mountains, or next to an ocean, a rainforest, or within an abundance of wildlife. On the contrary, San Antonio has low-lying hills, little water, scrubby brush, and arthritic trees with diverse yet sparse fauna. And yet, that may be exactly why Lake | Flato is the design practice it is.
The new book published by the University of Texas Press, Lake | Flato Houses: Embracing the Landscape, looks thoughtfully at that reality by bracketing the firm’s residential oeuvre broadly into six explicitly environmental categories: Bushland, Desert, Hillside, Mountain, City, and Water. Conceptually illustrated with 3 houses each, the categories neatly define the work. Section introductions by Frederick Steiner support the book’s thesis, showing the extent and variety of the firm’s work across the country.
Timothy Hursley; Aaron Leitz Photography
A preface by Lake | Flato with an accompanying quote by William Turnbull seems unnecessary, as the book’s introduction by Guy Martin thoroughly introduces the firm’s history and work in a conversational tone that better appeals to a reader with an affinity for conversation, good drink, and the effects of a well-designed home knitted into the landscape. However clunky it begins, the book’s subsequent pages open up a broad and refined catalog of projects that vary tremendously, while still maintaining a razor sharp approach that is characteristically Lake | Flato.
In its 30-year history, the firm has exemplified an attitude to architecture that may well live on more natively and completely in our ever complex and stimulated world than many may expect. Seeing the environment and its resources as prized pocessions which must be valued, used but respected as ever depleting, the ethos of Lake | Flato is keenly placed in its time, in a post-post-post industrial world—or maybe a “premodernist” world, as O’Neil Ford would have it.
What is most touching in this thick, yet small and intimate book, is that the role of material is so ever-present and deliberate that it jumps out of reach. What a strange thing that is, since we reside in a world ever more plastic and malleable, defined by digital technologies and ideas, verging on the immaterial to the point that farce plays like drama in pulse-taking pop-culture movies like Her. In short, the work is beyond its representation in both word and especially image, wonderfully lush as the pictures are, taken with the greatest care. The reader is certain to begin looking beyond the pages, eyes heading off the image’s border, further into the skies, waters, trees, and through the words on the page to desire the experiences the houses enable.
At the intersection of the environment and material, where Lake | Flato stands deftly, is an elemental aesthetic taking landscape and weaving it with an incredibly simple palette of wood, masonry, steel, and glass. Flipping through the book’s pages it is clear the 30 years of developing, exploring, and producing has yielded a rich body of work that can be easily identified and appreciated. But I am left wanting not only more of the experience, but also more variation. If imagining my experience, the houses do whisper with the wind, but what is also wanted and is needed is the dressing up.
Fashion is sometimes maligned in architecture, however it is what defines a culture, its tastes and soul, like a Mexican rebozo or Comanche headdress. And it is present in Lake | Flato’s work. We get glimpses of it, showing a level of sophistication that results only by mastering technique and developing a specific vocabulary.
On January 15, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH), unveiled plans for the redevelopment of its 14-acre campus, which includes new buildings by Steven Holl Architects as well as Lake | Flato Architects of San Antonio. Holl is contributing a unifying master plan, a 164,000-square-foot gallery space for 20th and 21st century art, and a new 80,000-square-foot facility for the Glassell School of Art. Lake | Flato is designing a state-of-the-art conservation center, which is still in the concept phase.
“This is the most important commission of my career,” said Holl at a press luncheon in New York where he presented the plans. “What you see here is the culmination of a 36-month design process.”
The master plan seeks to integrate the new structures with MFAH’s current facilities, which represent nearly a century of building. They include a limestone Greek Revival edifice by Houston architect William Ward Watkin (1924, the oldest art museum in Texas), which is connected to a free-span steel and glass addition by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1958/74), his only museum work in the United States; a sculpture garden by Isamu Noguchi (1986); and a Rafael Moneo–designed building for the display of European art (2000). The plan also strives to improve the pedestrian experience across the campus, as well as in Houston’s Museum District neighborhood as a whole, by moving 190,000 square feet of parking into two underground garages, which will make room for a series of new public spaces in addition to the new buildings.
Holl’s design for the Nancy and Rich Kinder Building for 20th and 21st century art is sited on the location of an existing surface parking lot at the northeast edge of the campus, across Bissonnet Street from the Mies and Moneo structures. The building, clad in etched glass tubes that allow in filtered daylight and emit a glow at night, is three stories tall. Seven vertical gardens are cut into the building perimeter with exterior reflecting pools at the ground level. In these vegetation-shaded sanctuaries vision glass takes over from the translucent tubes. Inside, two levels of galleries—54,000 square feet in all—surround a top-lit, three-level rotunda. The upper level is sheltered under a “luminous canopy” roof, which has concave curves inspired by the billowing clouds of the big Texas sky. All of the gallery spaces feature natural light. Holl is working with New York–based lighting design firm L’Observatoire International on the project. In addition to galleries, the building contains a 202-seat theater, restaurant and café, and meeting rooms.
The new Glassell School of Art will replace its existing 35-year-old facility, which was designed by Houston architect S.I. Morris, who had a hand in the Astrodome. At 80,000 square feet, the new building has an L-shaped plan wrapping around a public plaza that opens onto the Noguchi sculpture garden. Clad in sandblasted precast concrete panels, it has a green roof that slopes up from the ground, which visitors and students can climb to catch a view over the trees and rooftops of Houston.
The museum also announced that it will select a landscape architect to work with Holl on fleshing out the master plan. Construction will begin later this year and is slated for completion in 2019.
On December 12, in New York City, seven jurors convened to evaluate and discuss more than 200 projects submitted to AN's second annual Best Of Design Awards.
The jury included Thomas Balsley, of Thomas Balsley Associates; Winka Dubbeldam, of ARCHI-TECTONICS; Kenneth Drucker, of HOK; Chris McVoy, of Steven Holl Architects; Craig Schwitter, of Buro Happold; Annabelle Selldorf, of Selldorf Architects; and Erik Tietz, of Tietz-Baccon.
This year, the jury reviewed projects submitted in nine categories, including Best Facade, Best Landscape, Best Single Family House, Best Multi-Family Residential, Best Residential Interior, Best Non-Residential Interior, Best Fabrication Project, Best Student Built Work, and Building of the Year.
In some categories the jury selected a winner and honorable mentions, in others just winners, and in one, Single Family House, they selected a tie between two winners. Over the coming days we will be posting all of the jury’s selections.
Best Of: Landscape
Clark Art Institute
Reed Hilderbrand, Tadao Ando, Gensler
“I think it’s an extraordinary example of the possibilities of the integration of architecture and landscape and then nature beyond. The lines have been blurred wherever you go, wherever the eye travels. What is particularly impressive to me is the performative nature of the landscape. It seems to be something that was first and foremost on their minds as they were doing the site planning. It’s quite an impressive piece of landscape architecture.”—Thomas Balsley
Jeff Goldberg; Alex MacLean
The redesign of the Clark Art Institute’s 140-acre campus opened this summer following a 14-year collaboration to bring nature and art closer to everyday life. The design team worked to shape a publicly accessible landscape that unites diverse buildings and more fully situates the institution within the natural and cultural patterns of the Berkshires.
Millicent Harvey; Jeff Goldberg
New roads and two miles of walking trails expand access to underutilized landscape resources. The team reshaped meadows, protected streams, restored woodlands, and rebuilt the campus core, transforming parking lots into a tiered reflecting pool that unifies a new visitor education and exhibition center, the museum, and the research center.
Reflecting the Berkshire landscape beyond and functionally marrying site drainage, groundwater management, and gray water systems, the pools articulate a stewardship agenda that unites the cultural and natural resources of the Clark.
Best Of: Fabrication
San Antonio, Texas
“It’s not just something to look at. The kids can use it and probably have fun and people looking at it from the outside are going to be intrigued by it. The panelization is intricate enough, but you get the understanding of how it comes together. You’re using the fabrication technique to illustrate the joy of the structure.”—Erik Tietz
Built for the San Antonio Botanical Gardens’ human-sized birdhouse competition, the Gourd offers a playful platform from which to contemplate the complex relationship between humans and the natural world.
Overland Partners chose a shape inspired by the bottle gourd, first used in its hollowed-out form by Native Americans to attract Purple Martins as a nesting spot. The Gourd is built out of 70 plates of 12-gauge Corten steel wrapped around a robin’s egg blue internal octahedron structure, and perforated with more than 1,000 Ball Mason jars. Each steel plate, unique in shape and size, was fabricated using CNC laser cutting and assembled in house by the design team.
The Southwest got another major dose of architecture and urbanism in 2014, which we covered with the founding of AN's southwest regional print newspaper. Austin and San Antonio approved multimodal transit hubs, Nelson Byrd Woltz laid out plans to revamp Houston's Memorial Park, and Louisiana got resiliency master plans. And that's just the start of it.
Designed by Lake-Flato and Shepley Bulfinch, Austin's new central library will be a hub for the capital city.
Austin's new children's museum educates and entertains through architecture.
Crystal Bridges Museum acquires a Frank Lloyd Wright Usonian House from New Jersey.
San Antonio hopes a multimodal transit facility will bring new life to its near west side.
The Menil Collection unveils Johnston Marklee-designed Drawing Institute.
First phase of Dallas' Trinity Lakes project gets underway.
Spackman Mossop Michaels makes plans for Baton Rouge and New Orleans.
Austin's Highland Mall to be transformed into a college campus and transit-oriented mixed-use development.
Nelson Byrd Woltz presents initial ideas for redesign of Houston's Memorial Park.
A polyphony of design voices make up Austin's new Lamar Union complex.
Next year brings the 50th anniversary of the New York Landmarks Preservation Commission. Big celebrations—collectively known as NYC Landmarks50—are in the works and several exhibitions on historical landmarks will be popping up around the city.
The Museum of the City of New York will present an exhibit entitled Saving Place: 50 Years of New York City Landmarks, starting April 21, 2015. Co-curators are Donald Albrecht, the museum’s Curator of Architecture and Design, and Andrew Dolkart, Director of the Historic Preservation Program at Columbia University. Curator Seri Worden, who runs the James Marston Fitch Charitable Foundation, provided additional support.
On March 6, 2015, The New York School of Interior Design will open Rescued, Restored, Reimagined: New York’s Landmark Interiors, an exhibit focusing on spaces that have been designated interior landmarks.
The New York Transit Museum is mounting an exhibit on landmarks of transportation to be held in Grand Central Terminal. It is curated by Anthony Robins, author of Grand Central Terminal: 100 Years of a New York Landmark.
Currently on view at the Sidney Mishkin Gallery at Baruch College is an exhibit entitled The Landmarks of New York.
Organizers of these commemorative events and exhibits say the 50th anniversary of New York’s Landmarks Law—signed by mayor Robert F. Wagner on April 19, 1965—is an ideal time to reflect on how it has changed the city and set an example for others. Many consider the law’s passage and the formation of the preservation commission to be key factors in New York’s rebirth in recent decades. Today, according to the commission, there are more than 31,000 landmark properties in New York City, and most of them are located in 111 historic districts and 20 historic district extensions in all five boroughs. The number of protected sites also includes 1,338 individual landmarks, 117 interior landmarks, and 10 scenic landmarks.
Fifty is “a nice big number,” said Robins. “This is a great moment to get people’s attention. It’s a good excuse to stop and think and look back and see what 50 years of the landmarks law have given to New York and get ready to move forward to the next century.”
Robins said New York’s preservation commission is the only city agency that he can think of where property owners “band together and demand to be regulated.” He said he believes all the Landmarks50 celebrations will be worth it if it reminds people they still need to be vigilant and insist that historic places are protected. “You can’t take anything for granted,” he said. “If you don’t keep up the pressure, it could go away.”
The 50-year mark is also significant because that is the age when buildings are considered historic by one key federal standard. Under the guidelines of the National Register of Historic Places, the federally sanctioned roster of historic sites compiled by the National Park Service, buildings must be at least 50 years old before they can be considered for listing, although exceptions can be made.
Still more preservation panels will pass the 50 year mark over the next few years. The Commission of Architectural Review in Richmond, Virginia, will turn 50 in 2017. San Francisco got its Historic Preservation Advisory Board in 1967. The Commission on Chicago Landmarks came about in 1968. In Florida, the Historic St. Augustine Preservation Board was launched in 1968 and the city’s Historical Architectural Review Board started in 1974. Annapolis’ Historical Preservation Commission, formed in 1953, got regulatory powers in 1969. Panels in Lowell, Massachusetts and Savannah, Georgia, started in 1973.
In some cases, citywide preservation panels replaced or absorbed commissions that were formed earlier to protect smaller districts within the city. In most cases, public preservation commissions have powers to recommend that individual buildings, sites, objects, and districts be designated to receive landmark protection and then to review and approve proposed changes to designated buildings or districts. For that reason, they are often seen as the first line of defense in protecting historic buildings from demolition or defacement. A few boards have begun to designate interiors as well as exteriors.
Preservation commissions have varying degrees of authority to prevent demolitions and designate landmarks. Some are advisory to the city’s mayor or other city agencies, such as the city council, or only have temporary powers to block demolition. Some cannot nominate a building for landmark designation if the owner objects. Chicago’s preservation commission drew widespread criticism over the past year for failing to prevent demolition of Bertrand Goldberg’s Prentice Women’s Hospital, despite pleas from many architects and other design experts that the building was architecturally significant.
Most of the country’s preservation commissions were created after the preservation controversies and losses of the mid 1960s and passage of the National Historic Preservation Act in 1966, though there are many that are older. Charleston, South Carolina, has the country’s oldest citywide preservation commission. It started in 1920. The Vieux Carré Commission in New Orleans, created to protect the French Quarter, was established as an advisory board in 1925 and gained regulatory powers in 1937. The preservation board in San Antonio, Texas, began in 1939. Philadelphia’s Historical Commission will turn 60 in 2015. Baltimore’s Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation turned 50 this year.
According to the National Trust, approximately 500 towns and cities in America had preservation commissions as of 1978. The number grew to 1,000 by the late 1980s, 2,000 by the end of the 90s. There are more than more than 2,300 today.
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.
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." 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."