Posts tagged with "Texas":

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Preservationists Mob Austin for Density, Community, and Tacos

The National Preservation Conference landed in Austin, Texas, last week under the banner "Next American City, Next American Landscape." Exploring preservation's role in the future of the country's urban, suburban, and rural landscapes, the 2010 conference showed that preservationists aren't all stuck in the past. (In fact, they're pretty savvy when it comes to new media. Check out the NTHP's Austin Unscripted on their website, Twitter, and YouTube to see how preservation can appeal to a new generation.) The opening plenary was held at the Long Center for the Performing Arts, which is sited to take advantage of the unobstructed views of downtown Austin. After a warm welcome from Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell and a performance by local musicians Phoebe Hunt, Seth Walker, Susan Torres, and Ryan Harkrider (check out the rehearsal video here - skip to 7:25 for a sample of some of Austin's famous live music), the packed house of preservationists heard remarks from the new NTHP President Stephanie Meeks, former First Lady Laura Bush, and New Yorker architecture critic Paul Goldberger. Some attendees seemed surprised by the choice of Mrs. Bush, but she's been involved in preservation for some time. On Tuesday evening, she spoke about her passion for the preservation of the historic courthouses of Texas, including the one where she and former President Bush got their marriage license many years ago in Midland.

In her speech, Meeks mentioned that since taking over leadership of the NTHP and meeting with preservationists and architects all over the country, three themes kept coming up: 1) The need to make preservation more accessible, 2) The need to make preservation more visible, and 3) The need to ensure that preservation is fully funded. By addressing those three things, she said, historic preservation can be a "visible, dynamic, broadly inclusive movement." However, I thought the most salient point she made was that places are powerful: Whether a landscape like the Hudson Valley or a historic site like the Alamo, every place has a story to tell and, as Meeks said, "they help us tell our stories, as individuals and as Americans."

For his part, the New Yorker's Goldberger spoke about how Austin embodied the Next American City, making it a fitting location for the conference. Unlike Detroit and St. Louis, which represent the Old American City, Austin is both connected to history and “energetically forward-thinking” thanks to the presence of the University of Texas as well as the corporate headquarters of Dell and Whole Foods. He pointed out that it’s not a city dependent on the so-called "meds and eds" solutions -- healthcare and education -- that many cities rely on in postindustrial America, and that Austin does not have the “new pseudo-urban landscape" of Tyson’s Corner or the Buckhead section of Atlanta, or the Galleria area of Houston, which he cited as "new places that aspire to urbanity but don’t really possess much of it and which show us that a certain amount of density and tall buildings alone do not a city make.” Goldberger also pointed out that “poverty is a great friend” of historic preservation, simply because there’s less money and therefore less of an impetus for building big and tossing aside historic buildings because they aren’t shiny and new. In light of that, he felt that Austin was yet again a good role model for the Next American City, since it has prosperity but also pays heed to its architectural past: Its “solid economy has not led to a complete indifference to preservation.” Hopefully, as the city goes forward with developing a denser downtown, especially in the residential sector, the powers that be will remember that historic buildings or streetscapes are of significant value to the community.
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Preserving The Changes

In the world of historical preservation, when it comes to restoring a building, there is often the difficult question to answer of when does history begin and end? So many of our significant elderly structures have undergone numerous renovations and additions, such that stakeholders can easily come to loggerheads when deciding exactly what to protect and what to discard. Just such a drama has recently played out in Hondo, Texas—a little town west of San Antonio—where county commissioners have decided to not restore their courthouse to its original 1893 condition. While the project, which was to receive funding from the Texas Historical Commission (THC), would have restored an 1893 clock tower, it also required demolishing two wings of the building that were added in 1938-40 by the Works Projects Administration (WPA). While there was a contingent of people who were against the restoration because they believed in the historical worth of the WPA additions, in the end it was a question of money that killed the project. Restoring the courthouse was estimated to cost $5.7 million. THC was prepared to write a check for an initial $372,000 to get work started, but after that the state's commitment seemed murky and county commissioners balked at the possibility of being stuck with an obligation to finish the project on their own dime.

Energy City

Last year, the Center for Land Use Interpretation of Culver City, California, exhibited its study of the Texas oil industry: Texas Oil: Landscape of an Industry. The centerpiece of the exhibit was a 12-minute "landscan" video of the petrochemical infrastructure along the Houston Ship Channel—refineries, tank farms, pipe lines—the largest such installation in the world. Now, at long last, the CLUI has posted the video online, giving us another breathtaking perspective of this terrifying and beautiful landscape.

The Big Bang

On Friday I posted a video about the Ocean Tower in South Padre Island, Texas, also known as the Leaning Tower of South Padre Island. It is, or was to be, a 31 story condo. Regrettably, after topping out one side of the foundation sank more than a foot into the sand, construction was halted, and on Sunday the structure was imploded. At 400 feet tall, it was the tallest concrete structure to ever be imploded, according to the demolition contractor, Controlled Demolition of Phoenix, Maryland. The above video, and many more like it on youtube, capture the magic moment.

Leaning Tower Of South Padre Island

Metaphorically speaking, so much of the development that has happened over the last decade has been built on loose sandy soil. Here, however, is a literal example of this very disheartening state of affairs: The Ocean Tower in South Padre Island, Texas—designed by the Brownsville-based Walker & Perez Associates—was to be a 31-story condo, promising startling views of the Gulf of Mexico and proximity to the most exclusive neighborhoods in the popular vacation destination. But after topping out last year construction was halted because one side of the building sank 14 or more inches into the underlying clay stratum. Major cracks appeared throughout the tower's base, and now the structure is slated to be imploded this Sunday. The eloquent commentary on the above video gives voice to what we have all been thinking but afraid of saying while the myriad of architectural projects have been crumbling around our heads.
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Texas Tea

It's hard to imagine an industry by which humans could have changed the natural landscape more so than through the business of getting crude out of the ground, refining it, and shipping it around the globe. Which makes the oil industry a perfect subject for the Center for Land Use Interpretation (CLUI), a Culver City, California-based research organization that conducts studies into the nature and extent of human interaction with the earth's surface. And where better to examine what oil hath wrought than in Texas? Beginning on January 16th and running through March 29th, the CLUI will exhibit just what it has learned in the Lone Star State with Texas Oil: Landscape of an Industry at the Blaffer Gallery, The Art Museum of the University of Houston. The research on display at the exhibition was gathered over the past year while the CLUI acted as the University of Houston Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center’s first artist-in-residence. The show will open with an aerial video, picturing fly-by views of the expansive stretches of the region's oil refineries. In addition to this projection, the gallery's walls will be decked with photographs and texts that describe many different sites across the vast state, from west Texas oil towns such as Odessa and Kermit to petrochemical processing centers on the Gulf Coast. The CLUI's photos pay special attention to places where evidences of previous uses or historical events underpin the oil industry's installations. And if you do find yourself in the Bayou City this spring, be sure to call the Mitchell Center's hotline (713-743-5548) for a boat tour of Buffalo Bayou.