At first thought, a vacation rental platform isn’t the most likely of candidates to transition into new offices with an interior design scheme steered by science. One might expect oversized murals evoking far-flung destinations, workspaces enlivened by exotic colors, maybe a Parisian bistro-themed commissary. Vrbo’s nine-floor corporate home in Austin, Texas, however, eschews predictability in favor of a “science of work”-centric design approach in which data, ecology, and technology play key roles. The “House of Science” concept envisioned for Vrbo by Los Angeles-based interdisciplinary design firm Rios Clementi Hale (RCH) Studios might sound improbable but in reality, it’s, well, a miracle of science—and smartly considered design. The project, now in its second phase as work commences on the final few floors, kicked off with a three-month information-collection exercise with Vrbo (then HomeAway, prior to a rebranding that brought the two Expedia-owned platforms together) to “help them redefine how they wanted to work and who they were as a company,” Andy Lantz, creative director of RCH Studios, explained. “What that entailed was an approach that combined anthropology with data collection.” Focus groups held during this period revealed that employees spent a copious amount of time cloistered away in conference rooms and partaking in intra-office travel. “A lot of their day was spent migrating from place to place,” said Lantz. At the end of the data-gathering period, the data was presented to Vrbo’s executive team, headed by John Kim, who became fascinated by “the notion science behind what it meant to work,” said Lantz. “He found it extremely interesting that the project could find innovation in designing spaces that were exemplary to collaboration, and focused more on a science-based understanding of travel.” As a result, Vrbo’s offices are filled with design elements that foster opportunities for effortless, spontaneous meetings among coworkers, including custom-built, tech-integrated “collaboration tables,” tiered seating areas, and easily accessible enclosed conference rooms. To make travel throughout the building less onerous and dependent on remote elevators and stairwells, interconnected double-height floors now link workplace “neighborhoods,” and do away with the confining nature of large office spaces. As for the office’s five major neighborhoods, each has been assigned a different natural ecosystem and an associated scientific domain: astronomy (the desert), geography (coastal beaches), snow science (the mountains), limnology (lakeside), and topography (forests). Color schemes, furnishings, interior plantings, and even smells are reflective, from a sensorial standpoint, of a distinct destination/natural environment. For example, floors eight and nine, “The Canopy” and “The Thicket,” feature darker, more brooding hues as a means of creating a subtly sylvan atmosphere. As Lantz explained, this approach was a way of “designing for everything but the standard icons of what travel is” while allowing Vrbo to rebrand and reintroduce itself both internally and externally. “It’s really interesting to try and imagine conveying the emotion of travel without conveying the iconography of travel,” said Lantz. “We tried to capture quintessential, ephemeral feelings of being in certain destinations.”
Posts tagged with "Austin":
ICON, a robotics and advanced materials startup based in Austin, Texas, made headlines on the grounds of the 2018 South by Southwest Festival when it presented a prototype for a 3D-printed home created under 24 hours at a cost of $10,000. Two years later, the company applied its tools to the city's affordable housing crisis when it recently unveiled a small neighborhood of six 3D printed homes that will soon be ready for occupancy. The 400-square-foot dwellings, the first full 3D-printed homes in the country, are now a part of Community First Village, a 51-acre master-planned community in northeastern Austin providing affordable, permanent housing and social services for the city’s former homeless community. The structures, designed by local firm Logan Architecture with finishings by Franklin Alan, all feature a single bedroom, bathroom, full kitchen, living room, and porch. “The promise of ICON’s 3D-printing technology is really exciting,” Alan Graham, the founder of the nonprofit Mobile Loaves & Fishes which opened the village in 2016, said in a press statement, “and what better place to start putting it to use than in one of the country’s most innovative neighborhoods designed to serve men and women who have experienced the trauma of homelessness? Vulnerable populations like the homeless are never among the first to access leading-edge anything, but now here in Austin, they’re among the first in line who will be living in some of the most unique homes ever built—and we think that’s a beautiful thing.” To produce the homes, ICON used their 2-ton, 11-foot-tall Vultan II printer, which extrudes a proprietary concrete mixture the team refers to as “Lavacrete.” ICON cofounder and CEO Jason Ballard believes the technology can be easily applied to the country’s affordable housing crisis in light of the relatively short construction time it affords, as well as the often small environmental footprint and design flexibility. Thanks to the ability to print the walls of three homes at a time, the Community First Village project is nearly complete and will open to its first occupants this spring. More tiny home communities will likely pop up across the country in the near future given the recent passing of the YIMBY Act, a bill written to streamline affordable housing production and zoning for high-density single-family and multifamily housing, by the House of Representatives. A similar community of 40 units traditionally-built shelters was recently completed in San Jose, California, on a formerly vacant property owned by the Valley Transit Authority.
Solidifying their place in Austin's tech-savvy landscape even further, Perkins + Will has just completed a multi-story headquarters for edgy e-commerce company Spreetail. Transforming a former bar in a historic, dare we say picturesque, building along one of the Texan city's main drags, the firm helped brand the startup with a colorful scheme that appears to be bursting from within its brickwork shell. Such aesthetic contrast makes it so that the project's facade resembles a Shoots and Ladder board; certainly to the delight of any child obsessed with building scenario games. And yet the firm's goal was to create a dynamic design that could facilitate a rapidly-growing company, not just a group of local aesthetes concerned with the alternative city's curb appeal. Inside, a playful matrix of workplaces, break out zones, and amenities underscores the young brand's values. The reception area boasts a neon Spreetail sign and colored graphics, with a wooden architectural sculptured ceiling making a statement. A lounge, mezzanine, and all-hands area greet employees immediately following the reception area, all prominently featuring the company's signature hues: turquoise, aqua, and coral. This engaging theme plays well off of the building's raw industrial core. Read the full article on our interiors and design website, aninteriormag.com.
A mish-mash of buildings in one of the last pockets of Old Austin has been transformed into The Carpenter Hotel by local and New York-based architecture firm Specht Architects. “The hotel not only incorporates a great mid-century union hall from 1949 but is located in what was once a small industrial area and before that a pecan grove,” founding principal Scott Specht said. The compound surrounds a tree-shaded courtyard and pool and houses a restaurant, cafe, event pavilion, and a new hotel building with 93 guest rooms. Made of an exposed cast-in-place, concrete frame, the project is composed of “some classic and unseen Texas materials,” Specht explained, “such as hollow clay structural blocks and decommissioned steel oil drill pipes.” It’s exactly Specht Architects’ propensity to work with locally sourced elements and raw materials that attracted to call upon the firm for this unique project. Yet, the client-architect relationship was not completely straightforward, Specht told AN Interior. Read the full article on our interiors and design website, aninteriormag.com.
On November 20, multinational technology company Apple announced that it had broken ground on its new 133-acre office park in Austin, Texas, that will cost an estimated $1 billion to construct, and released a first look at the project. The campus, which will contain over three million square feet of usable interior space across 10 buildings once complete, will initially house 5,000 employees, with plans to eventually make room for over 15,000. Apple currently employs around 7,000 people throughout Austin, more than twice as many as it had just five years ago, and the company shows little signs of slowing down growth in the area. A production facility near the city has recently taken on the important task of building the latest fleet of Mac Pros and shipping them out to customers in December. “With the construction of our new campus in Austin now underway,” said Apple CEO Tim Cook in a press release, “Apple is deepening our close bond with the city and the talented and diverse workforce that calls it home. Responsible for 2.4 million American jobs and counting, Apple is eager to write our next chapter here and to keep contributing to America’s innovation story.” The company has partnered with Bartlett Tree Experts, an Austin-based tree and shrub care company, to ensure that the diversity of native trees on the property are responsibly preserved while increasing their numbers to stock the 50-acre nature and wildlife preserve planned for the site. In addition, the new campus will run entirely on renewable energy from locally-sourced solar power. The construction of the new campus reflects the company’s commitment to contributing $350 billion to the US economy between 2018 and 2023, during which time it also plans to create 20,000 jobs. Like other buildings in Apple's portfolio, the new campus will be awash in crisp white surfaces contrasted against floor-to-ceiling glass to reflect the company’s minimalist identity. The new Apple campus is expected to be completed by 2022. While Apple's UFO-like headquarters building in Cupertino, California, was designed by Foster + Partners, the company has not as of yet released information on who designed their Austin offshoot.
Not many retail spaces are designed with neighborhood pools, Dolly Parton, and the heyday of the Chicago Bulls in mind. But for Outdoor Voices, an Austin, Texas-based athletic-clothing company, these motifs signal its lighthearted approach to exercise, which is more about #DoingThings—the firm’s hashtag motto for getting endorphins going—than about being first to the finish line. In nine stores around the country, the brand has raised its profile in brick and mortar one blush-colored display platform at a time. Three of Outdoor Voices’ newest stores opened in 2018 in Chicago, Dallas, and Nashville, respectively, with interiors inspired by YMCAs and other vintage cultural touchstones. Material palettes of unfinished plywood, ceramic tile, and rubberized flooring reference the retro rec centers, and custom fixtures are upholstered in Naugahyde, an imitation leather better known for dressing up classic diner banquettes. But these elements transcend nostalgia by being cast in vibrant and delicate hues, cut into crisp geometric shapes, and molded into curved forms that snake like Technicolor river rocks across the floor. Each store also gestures to the city beyond its walls, whether in the John Hughes–inspired color palette of the Chicago store or the Nashville installation that invites customers to play a golden Dance Dance Revolution console in tribute to Elvis’s footwork and baroque tastes. Read the full article on our interiors and design website, aninteriormag.com.
Stephen Mueller interviewed Kory Bieg, one of the conference chairs for the upcoming ACADIA conference in Austin, Texas, from October 24-26, to discuss the themes and events you can expect at this year’s gathering. SM: Why is ACADIA an important forum? KB: ACADIA is for a range of audiences. ACADIA started as a conference focused on education but has become increasingly engaged with practice. The research being carried out by both academics and practitioners has narrowed and the work from both has become entangled. You will see attendees from software, fashion, and product design companies at the workshops and the conference proper, working alongside Ph.D. students and full-time faculty. ACADIA’s mission is also to support student participation, so they have increased their effort to encourage students to submit their work and attend. Faculty who are part of large research groups—like those from Michigan, Cornell, and MIT in the U.S., or groups from abroad, like ICD in Stuttgart or ETH in Zurich—often send students to present on behalf of their team. It’s a good platform for them to find their way into a more permanent academic setting or a more specialized field in architecture. You and your co-authors mention in the introductory text for the conference proceedings that the “last decade was about unified and specialized areas of research,” and that now we are in a period defined by “ubiquity” and “autonomy.” Can you elaborate on some of the major trajectories and trends you are seeing? What’s changing? We think we are at a crossroads in computation. For the last ten years, we have seen big advancements in fabrication and the use of robotics. Recently, however, we are seeing a renewed interest in design theory, whether it be “the post-digital” or “the second digital turn.” We took a step back to think of why that might be, and what it might mean moving forward. In part, we believe the return to theory is a result of digital technologies becoming “ubiquitous.” Not only do you see fabrication technologies in big universities, but you can now find laser cutters and 3d printers in libraries, high schools, commercial box stores, and in everyday use at firms. On the other hand, you have more cutting-edge practices, like Zaha Hadid Architects or UNStudio, building in-house skunkworks innovating with and developing new technologies internally. Some employees are hired specifically for this purpose. We saw these new computation-oriented roles as becoming so specialized that they had almost become new disciplines—a kind of “autonomy” within the discipline of architecture. For this year’s theme, we see “ubiquity” and “autonomy” as two parts of a cycle, where innovation in computational design and technology begins in these autonomous groups of specialists, followed by more widespread adoption, universal access, and finally ubiquity of use. This happens at a large scale within the discipline, but also with individual researchers who silo themselves away for a while, only to emerge with some novel idea that they are ready to integrate with other people’s research. That is how the field evolves. The cycles of “ubiquity” and “autonomy” oscillate between the differentiation of individual positions and the forging of new research communities. In this framework, do you see new autonomous collectives emerging? It’s our goal to find autonomous projects and introduce them to the world. Our workshops this year are being taught by somewhat autonomous computational teams housed within successful architecture firms—groups from UNStudio, Zaha Hadid Architects, Grimshaw, HKS-Line, Morphosis, SHoP, and Autodesk. They are all interested in the overlap of technologies. UNStudio will run a workshop on the overlap of architecture and fashion. Grimshaw is working with Fologram and using the Microsoft Hololens, an AR technology, to help fabricate an installation without the use of conventional construction documents. We also have SHoP Architects using AR and robotics, and Zaha Hadid Architects using machine learning to help generate form. There is such a strange array of approaches to computational design offered in the workshops, that if their ideas start to spread, our field is in store for some interesting times ahead. Academic settings can incentivize autonomous modes of research, and in professional settings we often see niche developments serving as marketable advantages through proprietary or branded offerings. Among the diverse authors with niche approaches, is there an ethos toward the maintenance of autonomy, or do you see a proliferation of shared techniques? We are seeing an increase in the culture of sharing at ACADIA among its constituents. Morphosis, for example, is leading a workshop that is literally sharing their design method. I think most offices would consider this proprietary intellectual property, but Morphosis sees value in sharing it. Patrik Schumacher, of Zaha Hadid Architects, shares his ideas freely, and would be happy with more parametricism in the world. These offices mark a post-autonomous moment. This will also be an interesting question for the closing panel on our final conference day, where we will have a group of academics discuss the conference theme. We have invited people who represent very different approaches to architecture and design, including Ian Bogost, a game designer and author, Michelle Addington and Marcelyn Gow, who are both material experts but with different agendas, and Neil Leach, one of our discipline’s leading theorists. Kathy Velikov, the president of ACADIA, will moderate. Collaboration with machines and virtual selves promotes a certain type of autonomy while forging human/non-human partnerships. If computational collaborations are the new air that we breathe, how do you and the contributors see authorship changing?? Machine learning and AI are happening whether we like it or not. Because they operate somewhat autonomously from their creators—they are designed to run loose—there is no functional need for a sole author anymore. We are really at the beginning of AI/machine learning applications for architecture. There is a group of artists in Paris (Hugo Caselles-Dupré, Pierre Fautrel, and Gauthier Vernier) who sold a piece of AI-generated art at Christie's for $432,000, which proves there is public interest in what AI can produce, but there has also been some blowback. Critics have argued that because they are selling a piece that wasn’t generated solely by them, the value is inflated. But they were the authors of the software that created the piece, so who is right? It’s a controversial time. You’ve lined up some impressive keynote speakers—Thom Mayne, Dominique Jakob, and Harlen Miller—how would you characterize the mix? Why are these voices important now? We thought it was time, especially given the theme, to pick three practices that represent “architecture with capital A,” and to see how they have been using computational design tools, overlapping technologies, and cross-disciplinary collaborations within their office for built work. UNStudio, Morphosis, and Jakob + MacFarlane produce very unique projects and they each use technology explicitly, but also, differently. What parts of the conference are open to the public? Thom Mayne’s keynote lecture is open to the public and will be at the LBJ Auditorium on Thursday, October 24th at 6:15 pm. There will also be an exhibition of Morphosis Architects’ work opening on Friday night at 7:45 pm. This event will also include an exhibition of work produced during this year’s workshops and the peer-reviewed project posters. What else does the conference hope to change, or enable? I hope the conference encourages people to start looking at other disciplines for knowledge and expertise that we do not have within our own field and to further the progress that has already been made by overlapping ubiquitous technologies. I hope we continue to share knowledge between academia and the profession in a way that improves access to new tools, techniques, technologies, and ideas.
For the past two decades, Austin has emerged as a tech industry hub. Giving the well-entrenched Silicon Valley a run for its money, the so-called "Silicon Hills" region has consistently drawn in a slew of upstarts and established companies like IBM, Google, Amazon, Apple, and Intel, seeking out new outposts. Setting up shop in the Texas Hill Country, just west of Austin, these blue-chip giants have taken advantage of the city’s progressive and creative position. This mutual evolution has helped make this state capital one of the fastest-growing cities in the United States. Joining the party is governance software solutions brand SailPoint. The rapidly-expanding company called on the Austin branch of major architecture firm Perkins + Will to outfit its new 65,000 square foot, four-floor office with an apt, yet subtle, nautical aesthetic. Read the full story on our interiors and design site, aninteriormag.com.
“What if you could download and print a house for half the cost?” reads the lede for the Vulcan II, a 3D printer with a name suited for sci-fi space exploration, on the website of Austin-based company ICON. Now the company has put this claim to the test, building what it says is the first permitted 3D-printed home in the United States, unveiled during SXSW. Using its original Vulcan gantry-style 3D printer, the firm collaborated with global housing nonprofit New Story to build a 650-square-foot home, which features separate bedroom, living, bathroom, and kitchen areas. The home, called the Chicon House, was printed in under 24 hours and while this test cost around $10,000, the firm estimates that future single-story homes, which could be as large as 2,000 square feet, could be printed for thousands less, around $4,000–$6,500. According to New Story CEO Brett Hagler, there is a pressing need to “challenge traditional [building] methods” to combat housing insecurity and homelessness. He adds that “linear methods will never reach the over-a-billion people who need safe homes.” ICON hopes to leverage the technology to help combat global housing crises all while being more environmentally friendly, resilient, and affordable. The printers use a proprietary “Lavacrete” concrete composite, which is made of materials that can be easily sourced locally and has a compressive strength of 6,000 pounds per square inch. The material is designed to withstand extreme weather conditions to minimize the impact of natural disasters, according to the firm. Wood, metal, and other materials can then be added on for windows, roofs, and the like. The printer relies on an “automated material delivery system” aptly called Magma, which blends the Lavacrete with other additives and water stored in built-in reservoirs. The Lavacrete’s composition is custom-tuned to the particular conditions of each location, accounting for temperature, humidity, altitude, and other climatic features. While 3D printing has been used in a number of architectural experiments over the past few years, it is primarily used as a prefabrication tool, with parts printed offsite to be assembled later. ICON argues that printing a whole home at once with a gantry printer is faster and more reliable. Printing the whole home reportedly provides a continuous thermal envelope, high thermal mass, and extremely little waste. The printers, which are transported in a custom trailer, are designed to work in areas where there is limited access to water, electricity, and the infrastructure necessary for traditional construction techniques—although, at least currently, it seems that some more standard construction is needed to finish off the 3D printed walls and turn them into a home. The Vulcan II is operated by a tablet, has remote monitoring technology, and built-in lighting for building overnight. A specialized software suite helps convert CAD drawings into printable forms. ICON has also begun licensing its tech to others. Austin-based developer Cielo Property Group plans to start production of affordable housing in Austin this year using the Vulcan II, The Wall Street Journal reported.
This article originally appeared in Texas Architect. For the fifth time in as many years, artists, architects, and Austinites alike descended the banks of Waller Creek to experience Creek Show, an annual display of temporary light installations commissioned by the Waller Creek Conservancy. Intended to delight the public and spark conversation about the transformation of Waller Creek, the show has swelled in popularity since its inception as a one-night event in 2014. This year was no exception, as thousands of Austinites were dazzled by six local design teams over nine nights in November. TENTSION by Perkins+Will anchored the southern entrance to the show, which sprawled north between 9th and 11th streets in downtown Austin. Dozens of internally lit camping tents hovered over the creek bed in a variety of configurations, occasionally soaring into the tree canopies and over spectators’ heads via taut cables. Inspired by tensions at this intersection of the creek and Austin’s urban fabric, the tents themselves were donated to a local organization serving those in need after the installation was disassembled. Moving north, La Noria by Drophouse Design rests on the creek bed, allowing the natural current to power two large, connected paddle wheels adorned with glowing spokes and fluorescent paddles. The playful armature is also unapologetically industrial, aiming to draw a contrast between the mechanics of the installation itself and the natural power source of the creek. AOD contributed Parabolus as homage to the geometry of the 1930s arched masonry bridges that allow downtown streets to pass over the creek. Thin tension fibers illuminated by hidden black lights lend the installation its form, which resembles a graphed tangent function. Per the design team, the installation “draws [viewers’] gaze to both water and sky, creating an immersive experience that emphasizes Waller Creek’s symbiotic urban and natural connection.” Urban Scrim by Lemmo Architecture and Design (LA-N-D) features ephemeral projections of silhouetted pedestrians and cyclists mapped onto rectangular modules of tight scrim fabric. Formally inspired by the West Texas land art movement, its simple forms and impressive scale seek to pair “the movement of the urban streetscape with the texture and nature of water flowing through the creek.” Ambedo ßeta from Polis employed a series of linear LED lights that wrap continuously throughout the three rectangular tunnels beneath the 11th street bridge. The installation also featured two “phone booths” on opposite ends of the tunnel, where visitors could engage in a form of conversation as their voices manipulated the lighting. By turning visitors’ voices to lights, the installation reminds guests that words can tangibly affect those around them. The terminus of the show resided within Symphony Square, a city-owned public plaza that features a terraced amphitheater and several historic buildings that the Conservancy renovated to house its own offices and support facilities for public-facing events. A collaboration between Campbell Landscape Architecture and Tab Labs yielded Light Lines, an abstracted representation of the city’s waterways and drainage system. As another interactive display, the installation used a series of electroluminescent wires suspended from a grid that extends over the terraced steps of the amphitheater. Per the team, “interactive touch points allow viewers to manipulate the light intensity as it moves across the structure and reflects upon the water.” While Creek Show and its installations are only temporary, the Conservancy’s work in preparing the annual event is an around-the-clock endeavor. Austin-based artists looking to participate need only check the Creek Show website in the coming months for the next call for submissions. As the event continues to gain momentum, it’s never too early to wonder what the next chapter for Creek Show has in store for Austin and the future of Waller Creek.
Not to be left out of the headquarters expansion game, Apple has announced that it will be opening a $1 billion campus in Austin, Texas, and satellite offices in San Diego, Seattle, and Culver City, California. The announcement stems directly from the tax reform bill signed in December 2017, as Apple claimed it would be moving a large portion of the $252 billion in cash it was holding overseas back to the U.S. As a result, Apple pledged to repatriate $38 billion and create up to 20,000 American jobs. All told, the tech company plans on investing $350 billion in the U.S. over the next five years, with $30 billion going towards capital projects. Apple already employs 6,200 people in Austin, and the newly-announced campus at the 133-acre Robinson Ranch is expected to break ground a mile away from the extant campus and hold another 5,000 employees, with room for up to 15,000. With 3 million square feet of office space, 50 acres of open area, and a commitment to only using electricity from renewable sources, the future Austin Campus may end up rivaling the spaceship-like Apple Park complex for size. The future offices in San Diego, Seattle, and Culver City will hold approximately 1,000 employees each, and Apple has pledged to beef up their existent offices in Boston, Boulder, Colorado, New York, Pittsburgh, and Portland, Oregon. This year has seen a slew of campus announcements from the world’s largest tech companies. Google is working on their one-million-square-foot Caribbean campus in Sunnyvale, California, as well as their Charleston East project outside of Mountain View, California. Meanwhile, Microsoft broke ground on their 32-acre Silicon Valley campus and announced a sprawling overhaul of their 500-acre Redmond campus just outside of Seattle. The winner of the campus arms race was clearly Amazon, which kept the country enthralled as they narrowed down a home for their $5 billion HQ2, eventually settling on Long Island City in Queens and Crystal City in Arlington, Virginia. For its part, Apple will be forgoing the billions in subsidies that Amazon accepted, and will only take about $25 million from the state of Texas for its new campus. Construction on the Austin complex is expected to take 30-to-36 months according to Kristina Raps, Apple's vice president of global real estate. If everything goes as planned, the new office is slated to open sometime in 2021.
“Working by calculation, engineers employ geometrical forms, satisfying our eyes by their geometry…their work is on the direct line of good art,” Le Corbusier described the engineer’s aesthetic. This kind of engineering expressionism is employed to interesting ends by Ennead Architects at the Engineering Education and Research Center (EERC) at the University of Texas at Austin’s Cockrell School of Engineering. The building features a dramatic glass-enclosed atrium that connects disciplines on a monumental staircase and provides sightlines into working laboratories, arranged like a page of comic book panels. A glass ceiling spans the 80-foot-wide space, and two towers on either side contain multidisciplinary research labs and electrical and computer engineering research spaces, respectively. The unification of disciplines in the atrium is expressed through a series of expressive parts: A truss-like bridge, a bespoke waterjet-cut spiral staircase, and slanted columns below the mezzanine level all show off the aesthetic of an engineer rather than one seamless whole. This honesty is a direct appeal to the students and engineering community who will inevitably congregate in the atrium.