Posts tagged with "Austin":

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Chioco Design crafts an ingenious lighting solution for indoor-outdoor Austin bar

Austin’s newest bar, Backbeat, sits on busy South Lamar Boulevard, a main drag that was strictly car-oriented until recently. “Our main concern and objective was to create a comfortable neighborhood cocktail bar,” explained Jamie Chioco, principal of Austin-based Chioco Design. Drawing from their experience running popular watering hole drink-well, Backbeat’s owners are enticing South Lamar’s pedestrians with the Pink Squirrel (a spiked milkshake), pâté melts, and an indoor-outdoor dining area that offers a pleasant contrast to its hectic surroundings. To beckon patrons and light into the long, narrow interior, Chioco installed a large monitor—essentially a two-story glass shaft—to visually connect the roof deck with the main floor below. One wall of the shaft is clad in mirrors, giving patrons views to the outdoors above. Through the glass-paneled main and rear entryways, bright desert-blue booths and stools complement the walnut wall and ceiling panels, as well as the brass light fixtures and white marble bar, the heart of all the action. Backbeat is located at 1300 S. Lamar Boulevard, Austin, TX.
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How real estate speculation, ugly architecture, and gentrification shape Austin’s urbanity

In a teaser for the new season of IFC's Portlandia, protagonist Fred Armisen comes to Austin, Texas whereKyle MacLachlan plays the mayor who navigates the pitfalls of our neighborhoods. Coffee shops, record stores, a couple of bars: “Alright, cool,” MacLachlan says. But then strollers and baby clothing stores start popping up, “Not cool!” he protests. The show’s hyperbole isn’t far off: It's hard to find a good, affordable place to live in this town. The Austin real estate bubble’s most difficult issues manifest themselves in the realm of single-family housing. Buoyed by soaring property costs, speculative redevelopment has been transformative in central neighborhoods, especially East Austin. Typically, developers buy properties and quickly erect a cheap new house that maximizes the allotted FAR (floor area ratio) of the site, thereby maximizing sales profit. This type of development is disruptive. As houses grow larger and boxier, they change a street’s definitive qualities of scale and grain. Last December, the Austin City Council updated the Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) requirements, which set limitations on the size and placement of back houses. ADUs are now able to be 1,100 square feet (up from 850 square feet), closer to the main structures (10 feet, down from 15 feet) and a parking space is not required in some areas. The minimum lot size required for an ADU is now 5,740 square feet, down from 7,000 square feet. The legislation also placed restrictions on the use of ADUs for short-term rentals, a contentious issue that further affects housing prices. This is a step in the right direction. Currently, Austin’s minimum buildable lot size is 5,750 square feet, and a movement for small lot amnesty calls for that number’s reduction. The opposition is explicit in its reasoning: Such a change would allow developers to buy larger lots and subdivide them, encouraging further conversion of neighborhoods into engines of capital creation. Unfortunately, whatever is good for urban density is good for developers, as it increases the number of housing units to be sold. Small secondary houses do improve density, but they don’t adequately address affordability. Those residences are sold or rented at market cost-per-square-foot prices, rendering them only available to individuals or couples who can both afford them and only require so much space—youthful types who move here in large quantities. Hence, gentrification. This doesn’t help families or low-income individuals, populations that are in decline in central Austin. Minority residents of East Austin, for example, are priced out of their homes and are exiting the city in large numbers. African-Americans in particular are adversely affected, singled out as the only demographic that’s shrinking in our booming city. Such trends have created an Austin that is now the most economically segregated metro area in the country.
A photo posted by @uglyaustinhouses on
For Anthony Alofsin, AIA, a practicing architect and professor in architecture at the University of Texas at Austin, the concerns of diversity outweigh the concerns of density. Alofsin has been in Austin for almost 30 years, long enough to recount previous boom and bust cycles in the real estate market. Some of his academic research studies builder homes, which remain the most common way Americans house themselves, a statistic largely ignored by the architectural profession. In Alofsin’s view, a diverse mix of individuals—different patterns, passions, occupations, incomes, and ethnicities—leads to an “urban experience,” and Austin is short on this type of urbanity. Alofsin also worries about larger repercussions of civic housing trends: Changes in national family trends combined with the exodus of families from the city center spells disaster for the future of Austin’s public schools. Form-making isn’t important at this scale: Whether a house has a flat roof or fake stone or a turret is irrelevant to the economics at work.

A photo posted by @uglyaustinhouses on

To see what’s on the market now, Creede Fitch, a real estate agent with Skout who focuses solely on modern and midcentury properties, took me on a tour of neighborhoods near 12th Street. Close to the railroad tracks, one luxury spec house near the railroad tracks set a high water mark, selling for around $600,000 last year (it was also featured on the 2015 AIA Austin Homes Tour). A few blocks away, Fitch points out a slim lot with an older structure on-site, clearly not worth salvaging. “$290,000!” he reports, not without disbelief.

Fitch, who himself is building a new home in East Austin, tries to educate clients on both Austin and modern architecture, though he admits that “modern” is not important to many buyers. Fitch is also aware of better ways to increase density; he described one solution where smaller existing homes are maintained and a larger “primary” new build house is placed behind, providing privacy and preserving the scale of the street. A pilot project in this style is a casita renovated by architect Alan Gonzalez, sited on the front half of its lot. The steep price tag—a listed $375,000 for 785 square feet—would make most wince, but it’s a baby step in the right direction.

The good news is that some architects are working to change market realities, or at least their aesthetic dimensions. Jared Haas, principal of Un.Box Studio, spoke with me about a house he recently completed with Newcastle Homes. Knowing the market and the ground rules of spec projects, he designed a clean shape with a restrained material palette inside and out. Instead of the ubiquitous Hardie board siding, he sourced a vertical wood board at a comparable price. The house was purchased before it was completed, and Haas is at work on two more with the same company.

Other models of practice—architect-as-developer, design-build, design-build-develop—offer exciting alternate avenues of investment and engagement, and there are a number of successful examples at work in East Austin. Speculative building is now seen as pejorative, but it can be incredibly progressive. Haas, for one, looks forward to the time where spec projects, rather than further isolating residents, can bring them together in hybrid social spaces. What if speculative housing led the way toward new formats of living?

Later, I drove around East Austin to check in on its progress. I lived in the Chestnut neighborhood for two-and-a-half years in a full-size back house with two housemates; the house’s builder-developer had created a condominium complex of two houses on a single lot, another way to circumvent typical density limitations. It is both smartly dense, lucrative, and ruinous to the property values of neighbors. Nearby blocks are majority new builds, with accompanying new residents.

Construction has started on The Chicon, a three-building complex of affordable and market-rate apartments, close to an intersection that was once singled out as the city’s most dangerous. In 1925, one could take a streetcar from that corner all the way downtown. Now there’s a skee-ball bar on the block. Neighborhoods roll over, sometimes with unfortunate consequences, but the tide keeps going—part of life in a city. I stopped in front of a particularly ugly spec home with walls that bulge and tilt, as if frozen in nauseous mid-collapse. I slow my car to photograph the offense, but instead smile, wave, and move along—there is a moving truck out front with a couple unloading bicycles, ready to make that house their home.

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New affordable housing measure passed by Austin City Council

The Austin City Council has voted to tackle gentrification: amid rising rents, they've set in motion a series of policies that aim to increase affordable housing stock in poorer neighborhoods where new developments are being planned.

The council voted in favor of a measure that would create a new fee on commercial developments to fund affordable housing, reexamine a developer incentive program, and lay the groundwork for requiring more affordable units in new developments. The measure was passed at eight votes to three with Don Zimmerman of District 6, Ellen Troxclair of District 8, and Sheri Gallo of District 10 voting against the motion. District 4 Council Member Greg Casar, who sponsored the motion said, “This is a bold plan; it’s not a small set of incremental steps that are safe.”

“It’s not that I oppose supporting affordable housing,” said Gallo of the measure. “I think it’s important in this community to make sure we have affordable housing.… But I think it’s also important to give the council the ability to take tax dollars and spend them and balance them with all the other needs we have.”

As reported by the Statesman, “the aggressive and sure-to-be controversial moves” come after high-end housing units have replaced units in poorer and middle-income neighborhoods, most noticeably in East Austin. A study at the University of Texas has also found that 56% of African-American homeowners were displaced due to the soaring housing costs.

“This points to a predictable and clearly definable source of revenue” for housing, said District 7 Council Member Leslie Pool, who backed the measure. “I think it’s absolutely appropriate to use the budget process to define what our policy and value priorities are.”

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The first residential tower without onsite parking in Austin proposed

Austin, Texas is consistently ranked as the fastest growing city in the United States, and now developer Congress Development Partners Ltd. wants to build a car-free micro-unit residence downtown. The proposed mixed-use 30-story tower, dubbed "The Avenue" and designed by Nelson Partners, includes 135 residences, 25,000 square feet of office space, a theater, a restaurant, and a bar on the ground floor. But it will not have onsite parking or a parking garage. Following in part on the heels of on-demand and car sharing services like Uber and Car2Go, the Austin Planning and Zoning Department no longer requires parking for downtown projects. "Residents and visitors to the building’s shops and offices will be asked to use alternative transportation, or park somewhere else, when using the building’s facilities," says Green Building Elements. "Apartments in the development will be smaller than usual, 420 to 970 square feet, with efficient designs to help occupants use the space well. Rents will also be lower, about 15% less than the going rate in downtown." Austin is a top magnet for millennials, so it comes as no surprise that the city and developers are looking to cater to the generation that drives less. The building is slated for 721 Congress, at the southeast corner of Eighth Street and Congress Avenue, about a six minute walk south from the Texas Capitol. It is also next to the Paramount Theater and close to the annual South by Southwest music, film, and interactive media festival staged a few blocks south along Sixth Street. Today 721 Congress (a .15 acre site) holds a vacant one-story structure. "There are a lot of people living downtown now that don’t have a car. The downtown workforce is getting younger, and the younger generation is moving away from having to have a car. There is a (bike rental) facility adjacent to this site, and it will probably expand," said Richard Suttle Jr., the developer's city review attorney. The project is expected to break ground by May 2017 and open by spring 2019. The developer is currently seeking funding. The project could cost up to $60 million.
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Master Planning A City’s Cemeteries

As many baby boomers are reaching retirement, many think we need to have more of those important end-of-life discussions. There’s The Conversation Project, and as of this year, Medicare is now reimbursing discussions about near-death medical care. But what about the permanence of our cemeteries? How will urban areas—with increasing land shortages and rising urban populations—address, preserve, maintain, finance, update, and develop these spaces? Our cemeteries were some of the first public urban green spaces in the United States, serving as refuges from city life. But perhaps more so than other urban public parks, they are layered with a complex web of social, political, cultural, and environmental issues. “As the meeting point between the living and the dead, cemeteries are peculiarly fraught ground. That makes them easy for cities to ignore,” writes Next City. “Crime, environmental problems, historic preservation, social class, religious traditions, and the thorny legacy of who is included in cities, and who is not, all come crashing together in urban cemeteries.” Beyond traditional land burials, cremation is popular. Some are proposing vertical or skyscraper cemeteries. And then there are eternal reefs, cryonics, and composting. But in Austin, Texas—a city with one of the highest concentrations of millennials in America—urban planners and city officials are attempting to tackle the issues of future cemetery planning and historic preservation head-on. The city is proposing a top-down approach with its first-ever cemetery master plan that spans five urban cemeteries. The report outlines maintenance plans—a key part is improving drainage to prevent flooding–as well as developing outreach services to local residents. One idea Austin is proposing is columbariums: vertical funeral niches that would hold funeral urns. Voters approved a $2 million bond to begin the cemeteries' capital improvements in 2012, but the city will need to further address funding. Up for some historical reading? Here’s a 1950 report on city cemeteries from the American Planning Association’s Planning Advisory Committee.
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Texas gun laws prompts Fritz Steiner, dean of UT Austin’s architecture school, to decamp for Penn

Shots fired! Fritz Steiner, the University of Texas at Austin's architecture dean, says that he is leaving his post because of the state's new campus carry laws. Under Steiner, the UT-Austin architecture school has ranked among the best in the country. According to The Texas Tribune, Steiner said that "I would have never applied for another job if not for campus carry. I felt that I was going to be responsible for managing a law I didn't believe in." What's Texas's loss is Pennsylvania's gain:  When the University of Pennsylvania School of Design approached him last semester about an opening, Steiner was receptive. On July 1, Steiner will become dean of University of Pennsylvania School of Design. For the past 20 years, it's been perfectly legal to carry concealed guns onto campus, but not into campus buildings. Although new campus carry laws were ratified last year, the laws don't go into effect until the first of August. In a state with some of the nation's most liberal gun laws, it's worth noting that the new law does not allow open carry on campus; students, faculty, staff, or visitors must have a handgun license; and the gun owner must be 21 or older. Public universities are allowed to create some limited "gun-free zones," but those zones can't include classrooms. Students for Concealed Carry, a campus group that supports gun rights, criticized Steiner, stating that, essentially, the only thing to fear is fear [of the law] itself. For his part, Steiner is looking forward to returning to the institution from which he earned three degrees: "Penn is a great institution and I am very happy to go to Penn, but I was approached ... and, if it wouldn't have been for campus carry, I wouldn't have considered it."
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Pictorial> Here are the four winners of the Field Constructs Design Competition in Austin, Texas

In November, Field Constructs Design Competition presented site-specific installations by emerging architects and landscape architects at the Circle Acres Nature Preserve in East Austin. AN recently reported on the winners, but check out the full set of imagery for each project below. As AN's Nick Cecchi reported,
Each of these projects is a diverse and unique response to the competition brief, yet all are united in a search for the latent possibilities in this unique site and the confluence of historical, social, and economic concerns it brings together. As social commentary and landscape art, they provide critical fodder not only for architecture and design professionals, but for the public as well. Competitions and proposals of this scale are not only opportunities for emerging voices to have a dialogue with each other and the distinguished members of the jury, but also demonstrate to the public that architects and designers are constantly reimagining how we interact with our natural and built environments.
2015 FCDC Winners 99 WHITE BALLOONS INVIVIA — Cambridge, Mass. USA BLURRED BODIES StudioRoland Snooks — Melbourne, Australia DUCK BLIND IN PLAIN SITE OP.AL + And-Either-Or — New York, NY USA HYBROOT OTA+ — Austin, Texas USA For more FCDC, check out AN's original article.
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University of Texas at Austin is transforming Speedway into a pedestrian mall through campus

The so-called Speedway in Austin, Texas, is being slowed to the pace of the pedestrian, thanks to a redesign by PWP Landscape Architecture. The road is not a racetrack as its name implies, but a street used heavily by cyclists and motorists as it cuts through the University of Texas at Austin. The project, called the "Speedway Mall," is a move by the university to improve the area and boost its usage. Construction on the mall, to be located between Jester Circle and Dean Keeton Street, will be carried out by the university starting soon on October 26 with the project set to cost $36 million. The project will convert the predominantly urban area into one that is made up of 70 percent green space, a move that will transform the space making it a social hub complete with trees, tables, study areas, and Wi-Fi access. According to the Daily Texan, Pat Clubb, the university operations vice president, stated that the scheme should free up the space for university and educational needs with outdoor learning, campus festivities, performances among other student enterprises. “[Speedway] is a wonderful asset that is not being used, and this project allows us to turn a dull, ugly — this place that students just walk past — into a true activity center,” Clubb said. “I think it will transform the student experience. It will become a place of learning, become a place of social activity. All of the things that will be possible are going to enhance the students’ experience.” “The idea is to transform it to make it safer, to make it more environmentally hospital, to make it more accessible and more usable to students,” Frederick Steiner, dean of the School of Architecture, told the Daily Texan. Steiner has confidence that the Speedway Mall, when finished in 2017, will evolve into an area that students, faculty, staff, and alumni will love about campus. “Where 30 years ago, the Main Mall was sort of the center of campus, now Speedway is sort of the center of campus and it should change to reflect that. There’s an old Joni Mitchell song about tearing up paradise and putting in a parking lot,” Steiner continued. “Well, we’re going to be tearing up parking lots and putting in paradise.”
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These odd creatures and sculptures will soon fill Austin’s Circle Acres nature reserve

The 18 winning projects shortlisted in the Field Constructs Design Competition flag a range of pressing socio-environmental issues through whimsical takes on interactive public art. The exhibits will occupy an old landfill and brownfield in Austin within the Circle Acres nature reserve, turning the site into a bizarre outdoor museum teeming with site-responsive sculptures and unforeseen creatures. Here, we take a look at some of the winning proposals to be displayed from November 14–22. Cloudfill by Blake Smith, John Cunningham, Seth Brunner (New York) This three-part installation is made of plastic bottles stuffed in bags. Each piece is specifically designed for either forestland, wetlands, or dry land, and references a different environmental issue, from deforestation to strip mining and microplastics in the ocean, to advance the educational mission of the Ecology Action of Texas. A floating bridge is planned for the park’s wetland area, which used to be a quarry.

Commpost by Daniel Gillen, Colby Suter, Gustav Fagerstrom (Beijing)

These disorienting camel humps rising in the middle of a field are an educational commentary about composting. Visitors scan QR codes or use the on-site WiFi to learn about ecological food disposal. Like a LEGO set, it comes with a step-by-step assembly manual and can still function with minimal component parts. Visitors can throw scraps and water into pits within the sculpture and watch them turn into dirt. Dis-Figure by Aptum Architecture (Syracuse) This vaguely equestrian sculpture looms out of the swampy shadows like a guardian angel. Built from a wood frame covered in latex, the sculpture reportedly “glows” and changes appearance throughout the day. “Through the intertwining of skeleton and mutilated skin, a digitally enhanced structure and its biodegradable latex ornamentation disfigures the form and, in turn, alludes to a new reading of ‘form meets nature’ as the grotesque, the uncanny, and the unexpected,” said the architects. Las Piñatas by Goujon Design (Austin) This exhibition bespeaks the proverbial tension between development and preservation. The giant piñatas pay homage to a local family-owned piñata store that was razed in early 2015 by a pair of transplanted property developers in the city’s rapidly gentrifying East Austin neighborhoods. “The low-income and predominantly Hispanic neighborhood of Montopolis”—where the park is located—“will inevitably become another friction point between the development of a ‘new’ Austin and the preservation of ‘old’ Austin,” according to Field Constructs. Meat Church Field Kitchen by Jordan Bartelt, Scrap Marshall (Los Angeles) The design for this short-lived smokehouse riffs on a lone church standing in the Texas barrens, where seasoned grill-masters prepare juicy meats to be consumed with others like at a church picnic. However, folks of all faiths are welcome at this non-denominational gathering.
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SoftLAB 3D prints a kaleidoscopic pavilion for 3M at SXSW 2015 that showcases colorful dichroic film

A household name in resilient scotch tape and self-adhesive velcro, 3M wowed the crowd at  South by Southwest 2015 (SXSW) with a 3D-printed pavilion awash in kaleidoscopic colors, with every inch of the structure designed to showcase a 3M product at work. SOFTlab collaborated with 3M and BBDO to create the pavilion, a continuous modular structure made from powder-coated aluminum pipes, which assembled within minutes. The easy-build structure was composed of over 1,200 unique 3D-printed joints and sockets with a rotating snap, so that even the proverbial monkey could rise to the occasion. Overhead, more than 3,000 3M cable ties were used to construct the display and bar elements, as well as the complex dichroic ceiling. Responsible for the phosphorescent glow of shifting color, like the inside of a soapy bubble, was the exterior clad in custom Scotchlite fabric held together with zippers—one of the only times the retroreflective material has been deployed on an architectural scale. These panels of material reflected the highly saturated colors generated by 3M’s dichroic film-a-thin-filter, which creates saturated hues from light. An all-white interior played up the colors even more, coated in a glossy white di-noc laminate, an architectural finish by 3M. Meanwhile, a dichroic film laminate on the acrylic cladding of each crystalline-shaped column added to the glimmering quality of the interior, and flooded the visitors in color. The clever intricacies of the structure plunged visitors into the world of material science, a domain in which the multinational conglomerate predominates.
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Creek Show shines a light on Austin’s Waller Creek

On the evening of Thursday, November 13, temperatures in Austin, Texas, dropped below freezing. In spite of the fact that most locals are unaccustomed to this degree of frigidity, more than 1,000 people turned out for Creek Show: Light Night 2014. The event, which ran from five in the evening until midnight, celebrated the unveiling of a series of light installations along Waller Creek between 5th and 9th streets. Organized by non-profit group Waller Creek Conservancy, Creek Show is a prelude of sorts to the ongoing plan to transform the flash-flood prone waterway into a chain of public parks designed by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates and Thomas Phifer and Partners with lighting design by Linnaea Tillett. It features five "illuminating works of art" by local architects and landscape architects, including Baldridge Architects, Design Workshop, Jason Sowell, Legge Lewis Legge, and Thoughtbarn, which turned in High Water Mark (pictured at top). Located under the 7th Street Bridge, High Water Mark is composed of 100-foot-long undulating, electroluminescent wires suspended 20 feet above the waterline. Hidden Measures is by University of Texas landscape architecture professor Jason Sowell. Sowell stenciled messages in photo luminescent paint along the creek that describe the waterway's physical dimensions and hydrologic infrastructure. Baldridge Architects set up a colonnade of sorts of LED tubes called Tracing the Line. The succession of vertical lights rise out of the creek, indicating its path through this segment of downtown Austin. Legge Lewis Legge's Light Bridge is made up of a rope and hanging electroluminescent wire that arc over the water, suggesting a bridge. Flow by Design Workshop (below) is a series of tarps strung across the creek that are illuminated by color changing lights. The tapestries roll and flutter in the wind, emulating the coursing of the water below.
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Austin Considers Building A Light Rail-Streetcar Hybrid

As part of continuing efforts in the Southwest to develop and improve transit systems, the City of Austin has announced its intention to build an urban rail system known as UltraRail that will run through the city’s eastern downtown. Traffic in east downtown Austin is beastly. It is largely made up of drivers who have short commutes, who together create major congestion during rush hour. For this reason UltraRail is being designed as a light rail/streetcar hybrid. It will be built with sharper control sensibilities, allowing for tighter corner turns, and regularly spaced, relatively close stops along the route that will hopefully make it a viable alternative to driving. But the heavy-duty installation is no light matter. Depending on how plans solidify, UltraRail is estimated to cost $1.6 billion. Half of the money will be paid by federal dollars; the other half will come from obligation bonds. Austin is currently working with stakeholders to determine the exact length and placement of the UltraRail system, and how best to phase the project. In addition to ironing out the technical wrinkles, the usual hurdles remain: nailing down the specifics of budget, design, and pushing through the various planning stages in order to begin building. Completion is presently slated for 2020.