Posts tagged with "Texas":

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Southern border wall could run through SpaceX’s Texas facility

Elon Musk’s woes aren’t slowing down, as Bloomberg has discovered that the Trump administration’s proposed U.S.-Mexico border wall would cut through the SpaceX launch facility in Boca Chica, Texas. The 50-acre facility, which received $20 million in incentives from the Texas state government, is being used to build and test a new spacecraft called the Starship, which Musk hopes will one day deploy from a SpaceX Falcon rocket and ferry passengers to Mars. The reusable, stainless-steel clad shuttle has been in the news recently for ignoble reasons, namely because it was knocked over by the strong Southern Texas winds last month. According to documents from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the border wall would cut directly through a SpaceX launchpad. Rio Grande Valley representatives are pushing to have the facility exempted from any border wall construction, but SpaceX has been conspicuously quiet—a company official told Bloomberg that SpaceX is trying to lie low and avoid drawing DHS’s attention. “The Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Customs and Border Protection recently requested SpaceX permit access to our South Texas Launch site to conduct a site survey,” James Gleeson, a SpaceX spokesperson. “At this time, SpaceX is evaluating the request and is in communication with DHS to further understand their plans.” As negotiations over the fate of the border wall drag on (and break down), it remains to be seen whether lawmakers will be able to come to a compromise over border funding before February 15. After the record-breaking 35-day partial government shutdown was temporarily halted to give the House, Senate, and President time to maneuver on border security, it now appears that, if no agreement is reached, border wall construction could begin via a national emergency declaration. Regardless of whether Congress allocates $2 billion, the full $5.7 billion, or nothing, border wall construction has been previously funded in fits and starts. Even as deliberations in Washington drag on, the National Butterfly Center (also in the Rio Grande Valley area) filed an emergency restraining order this week as excavators began laying the groundwork for a 36-foot-tall wall that would cut through the nature sanctuary.
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Trial run of high-powered security scanners proposed for Seattle plaza

Smart cities, such as that planned by Sidewalk Labs in Toronto, are coming under increasing fire for their potential misuse of data gathered from their residents. Now, technology company Radio Physics Solutions (RPS) is working with Seattle-based Vulcan Inc. to install and demonstrate a scanning system across a public plaza capable of detecting concealed weapons from nearly 100 feet away. The scanning system, using a patented technology titled MiRTLE (also known as Millimeter-Wave Radar Threat Level Evaluation) developed by RPS, is proposed to operate across five workdays. If approved, RPS and Vulcan Inc. would have a 60-day window to implement the trial. In an application filed with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), RPS states that the system is capable of conducting over 3,000 scans of the plaza per second operating at a spectrum of frequency ranging from 71 to 100 gigahertz. While the Transport Security Administration and a high school in Texas have tested the technology, it has not yet been applied to an entirely public space. Additionally, past installations were mounted along rooftops while those for this trial are proposed at ground level. Besides concerns related to the scanning of lingering pedestrians and those with no intention of entering Vulcan’s headquarters, extended exposure to high-frequency radiation (potentially millions of scans over the course of many minutes) is not without its risks. In a statement to GeekWire, Gary King, CEO of RPS, responded to these concerns noting that RBS takes “safety very seriously, both in design and use of the product. Our safety calculations were presented to the FCC, which was completely satisfied with the safety of MiRTLE. Someone eating lunch in the plaza is very safe." While the proposal is still awaiting FCC approval, the agency has passed all of RBS's previous scanner trials.
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National Butterfly Center prepares to fight for survival as border wall construction begins

As the budget battle in Washington D.C. threatens to shut down the government over border wall funding (again), bulldozers in southern Texas may soon raze swaths of the National Butterfly Center as the already-funded portions of wall prepare to rise. The Sierra Club filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request in 2017 after surveyors appeared in the Butterfly Center, a 100-acre nature preserve that’s home to rare butterflies, plants, and endangered birds, and workers began clearing land in July of last year. The resultant draft feasibility report from the Army Corps of Engineers released in November of last year painted a grim picture of what would happen if the 33 miles of piecemeal border walls in the Rio Grande Valley were built. The 15 proposed walls, most of which would have a 12-foot-tall concrete base topped with 18-foot-tall steel bollards, would cut through homes, cemeteries, churches, state parks, and the National Butterfly Center. The Corps would also clear a “no man’s land” on the southern side of the wall that would extend out 150 feet, and include 120-foot-tall surveillance towers. Lights, underground motion sensors, and access roads would connect to the barren side. The Animal Legal Defense Fund and two other nonprofit groups had sued the federal government over what they claimed were breaches of the Safe Drinking Water Act, Endangered Species Act, Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, and 25 other federal laws. Unfortunately, the Real ID Act allows the federal government to waive federal laws to expedite border construction projects. And on December 3, the Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of a lower court ruling in favor of the Department of Homeland Security, allowing construction to proceed. If the wall moves ahead as planned, the National Butterfly Center claims that 70 percent of the preserve will be trapped on the southern side of the divider. The Center fears that the wall’s construction will destroy their visitor revenue as well as the butterflies’ habitat, and has started a GoFundMe campaign to cover their legal fees, operational expenses, and possible demolition expenses in case the wall is built and later needs to be removed. Construction in the National Butterfly Center is expected to begin in February.
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Texas judge halts school construction after 95 bodies unearthed on site

Last week, Texas judge James Shoemake ordered the Fort Bend Independent School District to halt construction after the remains of 95 black prisoners were unearthed on a property it was building on. The site, once known as the “Hellhole on the Brazos,” was the former Imperial State Prison Farm, the infamous home of numerous prison camps and sugar cane plantations where slaves lived and worked in hellish conditions before their subsequent deaths. The property is located in Sugar Land, now one of the wealthiest and fastest-growing cities in Texas just southwest of Houston, but which once served as a graveyard for slaves. It was there, after the district broke ground for a new school, where archaeologists exhumed a massive, 19th-century graveyard of nearly 100 bodies that had been concealed five feet beneath the soil in dilapidated pinewood caskets for decades. According to NBC affiliate KPRC, Judge Shoemake ordered the school district to halt construction so that the human remains could be examined and investigated at the site. “This find is very different from any other,” Judge Shoemake said in an interview with KPRC. “We have a history that’s different. I want some more effort. This is important stuff. Families and communities are affected by this. You came here for permission [to build]; I’m not going to give you permission.” Sugar Land has a unique and shocking history. In the late 19th century and early 20th century, the town, located along the Brazos River, served as the epicenter of the country's sugar industry. The convict-lease system flourished throughout the region, targeting former slaves who were leased by the state to private businesses and forced to work in coal mines, plantations, railroads, and state projects. According to The Washington Post, the black “convicts” were imprisoned into the system for offenses as minor as homelessness, flirting with white women, or petty theft, yet they were made to work from sunrise to sunset in the fields, occasionally until they “dropped dead in their tracks.” The Fort Bend Independent School District’s construction site encompasses land that was called “Imperial State Farm Prison Camp No. 1.” Conditions were so horrific that prisoners wrote songs about how they would rather die than live another day of beatings, whippings, and slaving under the hot sun. Private contractors did not care about the health and well-being of their workers. According to W. Caleb McDaniel, a history professor at Rice University in Houston, the convict-leasing system experienced tremendously high levels of disease and mortality. If a prisoner died, a contractor would simply demand a replacement prisoner from the state. More than 3,500 prisoners of ages ranging from 14 to 70 years old died between 1866 and 1912 when lawmakers finally outlawed convict leasing out of utter shock at the death rates. This past summer, a team of archaeologists requested permission from the Texas Historical Commission to conduct a more thorough investigation of the human bones salvaged from the cemetery. Their main goal is to perform DNA testing on the remains in order to identify the prisoners. The Fort Bend Independent School District shares this ambition, telling KPRC that “our sole mission is to educate students and we only exist to learn. The more knowledge we have the better. We want DNA testing. We want answers, we want to connect the body with the name, and we want to tell the story of an individual.” As of last week, Judge Shoemake said he hopes to reconsider his decision to halt construction by March 2019.
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Goodnight Charlie’s is a contemporary honky-tonk with Texas roots

“We didn’t want a Disney World experience at Goodnight Charlie’s, so we pared back,” said Gin Braverman, principal of Houston-based Gin Design Group (GDG), about the city’s Montrose neighborhood’s newest (and only) honky-tonk. “We didn’t want it to feel contrived.” In order to flesh out project architects Content Architecture’s contemporary structure for a musical lineup that ranges from twang to tonk, GDG began with Goodnight Charlie’s good bones and dressed them with simple, vernacular elements. The rectangular structure’s cedar-clad exterior is complemented by interiors of warm, accessible materials that would be at home in Texas’s barns and farmhouses. Rough cedar and plywood dominate the interior, materials evocative of the simple, collaborative approach a community might take in a barn raising—and the cooperative process that came easy for the interior designer and Content, whose practices share a building. Galvanized aluminum paneling wraps an angled wall behind the bar and around the door to the kitchen—a utilitarian choice that ends brilliantly, as the aluminum picks up and diffuses the multiple light sources in the room, including a lattice of raw lightbulbs, the fresh neon signs of the bar logo, and a cheeky crescent moon behind the stage. Bar storage is achieved with rolltop doors set within a steel structure, where a rotating narrative of bottles and ephemera is allowed to build naturally, a scheme Gin Design Group put considerable intent behind. “It was important that nothing appeared staged,” Braverman added, “so the finishes and fixtures align with that direction.” Nested tables with benches in hardwood provide a flexible gathering space within the performance area, while warm leather high-top chairs in burnt sienna encourage patrons to (figuratively) saddle up to the wide bar top, rendered in concrete and powder-coated metal. Beyond the bar area is a real-life Texas porch that opens out to the neighborhood, complete with swings hung on long steel chains and classic picnic tables. Looking up reveals the structure’s exposed trusses and cedar louvers. The restrooms are more intimate and detailed, with a portrait of Goodnight Charlie’s namesake—Charles Goodnight, the first cattle rancher in the Texas Panhandle—separating genders. Inside there are farmhouse sinks and white tile that has a handmade texture. Wallpaper takes on a Federalist air, the red print featuring the Texas seal, the Alamo, and an eager American eagle above a wave of stars. “The materials are just broad enough,” added Braverman. “They are a nod to Texas in general.”
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New Cityplace tower could finally come to Dallas, Texas

A new tower could finally join the existing Cityplace tower in Dallas, Texas. The current 42-story building was originally planned in the 1980s as part of a massive 140-acre development that included plans for twin towers on either side of North Central Expressway, but an economic downturn foiled those plans and only one tower was ever built. But Dallas News reported this week that the site's current owner, Cityplace Co., is planning a large new hotel and office tower for the site north of Lemmon Avenue and south of Blackburn Street. The developer is pursuing a tower larger than the site's current zoning allows and will presumably not match the original tower with a twin, as the now 30-year-old plans intended. The existing Cityplace tower is the tallest building in Dallas outside of downtown and has housed office space since it was designed by Cossutta & Associates and opened in 1988. At the time it was Dallas's most expensive tower to build. The surrounding development was originally planned to house over 60 other office towers, but plans for the complex fell through after the savings and loan crisis of the late 1980s hit the region and tempered the area's oil-fueled growth over the previous decade. Today, Dallas, along with the rest of Texas, is enjoying a building boom as jobs continue to grow in the region. In 2017, Texas led the nation in corporate office construction projects, and the Dallas-Fort Worth area was among the most active metropolitan regions. Cityplace Co. is slowly developing properties across the original development's neighborhood, and other developers have gotten in on the game as well. Forest City Realty Trust is partnering with Cityplace Co. to build a 23-story luxury residential tower in the area, and earlier this year Highland Capital Management bought the Cityplace tower and announced plans to upgrade the building and add restaurant and amenity spaces.  
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Texas fast-tracks seawalls for oil and gas infrastructure

Exactly one year after Hurricane Harvey touched down in Texas, Gulf Coast oil and gas industries have reportedly been lobbying hard for protection against the rising tides. As Houston residents prepare to go to the ballot over a $2.5 billion resiliency and flood mitigation bond package on August 25, the Texas state government has already approved $3.9 billion to protect oil refineries. Texas Governor Greg Abbott and other state leaders had proposed a $61 billion plan for rebuilding and hardening the state’s coast in November of last year, but at the time, officials in the fiscally conservative state balked at the cost. Texas was far from the only state swamped by a heavy hurricane season last year, and with wildfires raging across the West Coast, lawmakers claimed that disaster relief funding had been stretched thin. The most ambitious portion of the Rebuild Texas plan proposed last year was the “Ike Dike,” a $12 billion series of levees and seawalls along the Gulf Coast that would form a protective “spine.” If the plan were funded, three large barriers would be installed along the Houston-Galveston coast to protect against flooding. Now, as AP reports, while the state is still trying to secure the public funding necessary to build the spine, the aforementioned $3.9 billion will go towards building three smaller seawalls to protect oil and gas infrastructure. That was deliberate on the part of the Texas Land Commissioner’s Office, as Hurricane Harvey knocked out about a quarter of the area’s refining capability. Refineries along the Gulf Coast are responsible for 30 percent of America’s refining capacity. The taxpayer-funded sections will provide a six-mile-long stretch of 19-foot-tall seawalls along Port Arthur on the Texas-Louisiana border, 25 miles of floodwalls around Orange County, and the final swath would protect Freeport. Construction is slated to begin in the next few months and once these disparate projects are complete, they could become part of a larger protection network if the rest of the funding is secured later. Still, the irony of the fossil fuel industry asking for money to protect against the effects of climate change was not lost on advocates and casual observers. “The oil and gas industry is getting a free ride,” Brandt Mannchen of the Houston Sierra Club told AP. “You don’t hear the industry making a peep about paying for any of this and why should they? There’s all this push like, ‘Please Senator Cornyn, Please Senator Cruz, we need money for this and that.’”
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Civil rights landmark in Austin is threatened by development

When nine-year-old African American caddie Alvin Propps was arrested for playing golf at the newly desegregated Lions Municipal Golf Course in Austin, Texas, in 1950, it set off a firestorm that eventually made its way to the mayor’s office. As the first peacefully desegregated golf course in the former Confederate South during the Jim Crow era, the course became the center of controversy. But when the mayor’s office decided to drop the charges, it set a precedent, and Lions Municipal became open to African Americans from that day forward. However, the course is now threatened by private development, after the University of Texas Board of Regents decided not to renew the City of Austin's lease in 2011 on the 1924 course just two miles west of the Texas state capitol. In 2019, it could be handed over to developers. In a post by the Cultural Landscape Foundation, Glenda Gilmore, the Peter V. and C. Vann Woodward Professor of History at Yale University, said, “Historians searching for the impetus of the ‘classical phase of the Civil Rights Movement,’ preceding Brown v. Board in 1954 and the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955, have posited a ‘long civil rights movement’ that preceded those iconic struggles. In other words, Lions Municipal Golf Course is representative of the ‘birth of the civil rights movement.'” The city has floated the idea of preserving the clubhouse, but not the course. However, many critics say that because the structure wasn’t part of the site when the desegregation happened, preserving the clubhouse alone is not enough. The Congressional Black Caucus has voiced support for measures to protect the course, and the Texas House of Representatives, the City of Austin, and Travis County, Texas, have all passed resolutions acknowledging the historic importance of the site.
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Houston’s latest honky-tonk bar riffs on local traditions

The materials are still off-gassing at Goodnight Charlie’s, but every great pair of cowboy boots was new at one point, right? Houston’s newest (and Montrose’s only) honky-tonk is more barn than Bauhaus, but don’t get it twisted, the design elements have a great rhythm. Texas is right here, so says CONTENT Architecture, with its take on the vernacular form both old and new. The rectangular structure, clad in rough cedar, provides a generous cut for the recessed entrance that is as welcoming as an East Texas shotgun house. The cedar is evocative of fenceposts that dot the countryside. Louvers run front to back and then up to the gable over the patio—the de facto front porch. Hefty posts carry the weight vertically, like the jacked-up beach houses of Galveston. Gin Design Group worked some boot-scootin’ inside, creating a glowing crescent moon for the stage and cheeky Alamo print wallpaper for the restrooms.

Goodnight Charlie’s Architect: CONTENT Architecture Interior Design: Gin Design Group 2531 Kuester Street, Houston, Texas 832-986-5151

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Lake|Flato blends high design with sustainability for an Austin grocery store

Imagine shopping for groceries in a LEED Gold–certified building on a site once occupied by Austin’s airport, and you can picture the Mueller H-E-B structure designed by Lake|Flato Architects. The glass-clad building is one of the many collaborations between the Texas supermarket chain and the San Antonio–based firm Lake|Flato. Triangular steel trusses support a soaring, curved roof made of corrugated metal. The H-E-B Market’s design responds to Austin’s highly variable humidity with a vestibule that transports and expels heat out the top. The building is also a testing ground for many sustainable concepts, such as a rain garden that doubles as a water filtration system, rooftop sensors that monitor how much daylight the building gets, and smart air-conditioning—all aimed at reducing energy use and improving the interior environment for shoppers. In 2016, it was awarded an AIA Committee on the Environment Top Ten Award, recognizing the architects for their commitment to sustainability.
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John S. Chase, trailblazing Texas architect, celebrated in two exhibits

John Saunders Chase, FAIA (1925–2012) was a Houston architect who realized a large body of work in the city, throughout the state of Texas, and around the United States. At its peak, his office had nearly fifty employees in four cities: Houston, Dallas, Austin, and Washington, D.C. Chase, an African American in a profession that has struggled with diversity and discrimination, achieved many historic firsts during his career. His life, as seen via his personal and professional achievements and the work of younger architects who passed through his office, was on display this spring in Chasing Perfection, a two-part exhibit produced by the Houston Public Library. Born in Maryland, John Chase moved to Austin in the late 1940s after receiving initial architectural training at the Hampton Institute in Virginia and serving in the Army during World War II. He applied to graduate school at the University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin) School of Architecture after the Sweatt v. Painter Supreme Court decision in 1950 that fought the “separate but equal” policy of racial segregation in college education. After graduation, no firm would hire him, so Chase established his own practice in Houston, and in 1956, he became the first African American architect to be licensed in the state. Throughout his career, he designed churches, homes, union halls, libraries, high schools, fire stations, and institutional buildings, including much of the campus of Texas Southern University. He was a founding member of the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) in 1970 and received his AIA Fellowship award in 1977. In 1980, Chase was selected by President Jimmy Carter to join the Commission of Fine Arts and was part of that committee during the contentious process of realizing Maya Lin’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the National Mall. He was the first African American to serve on this commission. During the 1980s, his office was part of a consortium of local architects responsible for the design of the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston. Chase is survived by his wife, Drucie, and their three adult children. According to Danielle Wilson, the exhibition’s curator, discussions about the show began in 2009 with Chase’s participation. At that time, his architectural archive had been donated to the Houston Metropolitan Research Center’s Architectural Archives, and his personal archive was in the process of being donated to the African American Library at the Gregory School. Wilson’s father grew up next to the Chases in Houston, so she was familiar with the family and immediately knew that she wanted to work on a show about the architect when she joined the staff of the Gregory School. After Chase passed away, it took a number of years to assemble the parts for this successful exhibition. On the second floor of the Julia Ideson Building in downtown Houston, letters, photographs, and artifacts were installed alongside photographs of built work, architectural drawings, and hand-drawn renderings. Seen together, Chase’s life and work could be understood through the staging of these personal and professional artifacts, sequenced together to tell a holistic life story. Wilson said, “When I think about architects and their work, everything goes all together. I think it’s great when you have that context of both. I think it makes works more powerful.” The room also included a large–scale model and drawings of the George R. Brown Convention Center mounted on a drafting table. At the Gregory School, the work of four architects who worked with Chase is on display and demonstrates the effect his mentorship had on a subsequent generation of African American architects. “When I was focusing on his work and life, it was hard to tell a comprehensive narrative without talking about these men,” Wilson said. Daniel Bankhead, AIA; Darrell Fitzgerald, FAIA; James Harrison; and Wilbert Taylor all worked at various points with Chase and went on to become professional and community leaders themselves. In February, the library hosted a discussion between these architects, in addition to a conversation with Mrs. Chase and her children. Chasing Perfection offered a powerful portrait of a 20th–century American architect through Chase’s life, work, and impact on the profession. Wall text for the exhibit was excerpted from a manuscript titled The Life and Work of Architect John Saunders Chase: You Can Do More from the Inside, by architectural historian Dr. Wesley Henderson with Andrea Lazar. Both worked for two years to conduct interviews with family members, colleagues, and former employees of John Chase. Henderson and Lazar believe that Chase’s life story deserves to be more widely known since very few biographies of successful black architects have been published. They were very pleased to be able to contribute to the show at the Houston Public Library. Chase’s legacy continues to be explored and celebrated. In February, UT Austin announced that it had purchased one of Chase’s early buildings in east Austin to renovate and use as a community engagement center. While Chasing Perfection closed in early June, Wilson says there are already discussions underway about touring the show at other institutions. She also said a brochure from Chase’s firm and drawing supplies from his office were recently acquired by the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) in Washington, D.C. Wilson added that she and Mrs. Chase are “going to go through his personal archives to see what materials might go to the NMAAHC, and the rest will be housed at the African American Library at the Gregory School.” Chase is an important figure among the talented architects who practiced in Houston during the second half of the 20th century. His career opened the door for many architects of color to enter the profession, and he serves as an example of the countless ways in which an architect can effect positive change in the world.

Chasing Perfection: The Work and Life of Architect John S. Chase Houston Public Library Julia Ideson Building

Chasing Perfection: The Legacy of Architect John S. Chase The African American Library at the Gregory School

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AN travels to West Texas for a photo essay on extraction infrastructure

The stretch of I-20 between Abilene and Midland-Odessa, Texas, passes through what might be the most thoroughly harnessed land in the U.S. Here, the exploitation is complete: Water is pumped from aquifers and used to irrigate corn, cotton, and sorghum fields on the surface, where cattle and poultry are also raised; oil and natural gas are mined from the Permian Basin, the most productive such reservoir in the country, and home, some believe, to trillions more barrels of oil and cubic feet of gas; and thousands of wind farms fill the horizon, the most concentrated part of a statewide infrastructure that nominally churns out 22,637 MW per hour, which is more than any other state. While each of these components is remarkable in itself, the layering of them within a single landscape is sublimely breathtaking. Oil and gas pump jacks and refineries, tanker trains and semi-trucks, water towers and windmills, agricultural fields and center pivot linear irrigation systems, wind turbines and transmission lines create a sci-fi tableau reminiscent of fantasies about terraforming other planets, especially when this scene is compared to the relatively barren desert to the west and south. In this part of West Texas it is possible to see the Anthropocene writ large.