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Betsy Johnson

Rocky Mountain High Porch


I was in Colorado recently and had the opportunity to visit a little project that we finished a while back. It was just a little renovation of a front porch and although the scale of the project was small, I’d like to think it’s had a big impact on the family who lives there.

This is the sort of thing that makes me happy to be an architect.

Meanwhile in Boulder...

I was in Colorado this last week for reviews at the University of Colorado at Boulder. While there I was able to see some cool sites, visit with some good friends and even experience some snow. Being as how highs were in the 90s in Texas when I left, the later item was quite remarkable.

I went on a hike with my fellow HiWorks associate, Betsy Johnson, because apparently that's what people do for fun in Boulder. We walked up the foothills of the Flatirons and as we did we talked of many things. We talked about our work, our families and our ambition. We talked about Bjarke Ingels and weather or not we should/could be as successful/famous as he is at his age.

It was during this conversation that we realized that we didn't exactly know weather Mr. Ingels was from The Netherlands, Denmark or Holland. We tried to figure this out without looking it up but we were unable to do so. We eventually resorted to Wikipedia and there was good reason for us to be confused.

Denmark (where Bjarke Ingels is from) and The Netherlands (where fellow architect Rem Koolhaas is from) are both countries that border Germany; Denmark to the north and The Netherlands to the west. "Holland" actually refers to a region of The Netherlands but is often informally (if imprecisely) used to refer to all of The Netherlands just like people sometimes say "England" when they are actually talking about The United Kingdom

People from Denmark are Danes. People from The Netherlands are Dutch. This makes no sense whatsoever but is explained in this helpful and entertaining video.

This public service message has been brought to you today by HiWorks.

A Theatre For Fort Stockton


When I was in high school I dabbled a bit in theatre. I was an understudy for a play my sophomore year and had small character roles in the spring musicals (these roles, it should be noted, required me to neither sing nor dance). For something that I only did for a few years, the experience was highly influential. I've often said that even though I have not acted since I left high school, I perform every day. Now it turns out I can put that theatre experience to use in another way as well.

A few months ago I mentioned that Betsy and I have been working on a project for theatre out in west Texas. Located quite literally “west of the Pecos”, Fort Stockton is a small community of about 8,000 people. Despite its size, the town has an active community theatre that for years has performed in a repurposed brick commercial building. We were asked to assist the group in identifying their functional needs while developing a concept for how those needs could be addressed architecturally. We crafted a design that reused their existing structure while creating a new identity for the theatre that referenced both the existing downtown cityscape as well as the surrounding mesa landscape.

In one on the early meetings with community stakeholders we were asked to come up with something that was "West Texas Cool". We're excited by the fact that we were able to work with them to do just that.

Thanks To The Cloud

this is not billable time - but that's perfectly OK

There are many things that we can do now that we couldn't do ten or even five years ago. Thanks to the interwebs and the cheap availability of both high speed data connections and online data storage, it is now possible for Betsy and I to work together even though we live nearly a thousand miles away from one another. It also allows me to work from home on occasion when I feel like it or when the developer with whom I share my office is being especially loud or when his dog has pooped next to my desk.

When I was home on Wednesday of this week I was pleasantly surprised when my in-laws stopped by with Sammy after school. There is about an hour in between when they pick up my eldest daughter from school and when my youngest daughter is let out, and on this particular day they decided to swing by the house. Luckily I was wearing pants and Sammy and I enjoyed an unanticipated playdate.

There are both advantages and disadvantages of working for one's self. You may work harder and be paid less but all that buys you flexibility. It buys you the freedom to pursue the work you want in the manner you want. It affords you the ability to pursue interests outside of your main line of work. It buys you time to play Legos with your daughter for a few minutes on a Wednesday afternoon.

Taking Stock of Fort Stockton

Last week Betsy and I drove out to Fort Stockton, Texas. In many ways, the drive was a complete disaster. I-10 was shut down due to a pretty horrific accident that delayed us by an hour and a half. In order to make up time so that we wouldn't be late to our lunch meeting, we had to pick up the pace which was a strategy that was not appreciated by a Texas Highway Patrol Officer outside of Sonora. I didn't think a Prius was physically able to get a speeding ticket. Apparently I was wrong.

Despite that, some rain, some hail and a plague of locusts, we somehow managed to pull into Fort Stockton just as the meeting was getting underway. We'd been asked to help the Fort Stockton Community Theatre develop concepts for a new performance space and we wanted to meet with area stakeholders to talk about the current role of the theatre in their community and what they would like to see it become. It was a great wide-ranging discussion about big goals and it was incredibly helpful for us to understand how this group defines itself and how it imagines its new theatre could play a larger role in the Fort Stockton community.

Architecture can't do everything but it can provide the framework for change to occur. The people we spoke with see their new theatre as a way of improving their city - a way to introduce people to the arts who might not otherwise be interested in such things. We feel incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to be a part of this effort and we look forward to working with them to create a facility that fulfills their functional needs while at the same time creating something more something unique to Fort Stockton. We what to help them create a place where young and old like to go to see a play; a place where the rancher and the oilman likes to take their family; a place that is uniquely suited to Fort Stockton; a place that is in the words of one of the participants of the lunchtime discussion, is "West Texas Cool." 

Betsy In Boulder

these images are not to scale

Betsy and I have been working together for the better part of two years now. Our collaboration is not particularly newsworthy at this point but what might not be so obvious is that although I am in San Antonio, Texas, Betsy is in Boulder, Colorado. This type of remote working relationship would have been impossible ten or even five years ago, but thanks to the cloud, screen sharing and nationwide long distance phone plans, today it isn't that big of a deal.

Although there are times when it would be nice to be sitting next to each other to doodle on the same drawing or to weigh in on weather or not deodorant needs to be reapplied, having presences in different places does provide some interesting opportunities. For one it means HiWorks now has the ability to execute projects in both states. If you've been holding off on building that new ski lodge in Aspen, now's your chance.

Betsy is an extremely talented architect and has a unique ability to manage the complexities of translating a design idea into a real building. She's also fun to work with and be around - virtually or otherwise. These last few weeks have been particularly busy for Betsy who in addition to becoming a licensed architect in the State of Colorado (she was already licensed in Texas) she's also now teaching a design studio in Environmental Design Program at the University of Colorado. Go betsy, go.

Oh, and for the record, it's worth reiterating the fact that I'm working with this Betsy Johnson as opposed to this one.

Sammy Jane, bell tester

Work is finally wrapping up on the Ranch Dining Pavilion out in Real County. The project is coming together nicely and both Betsy and I are looking forward to sharing this - one of the first projects to come into the office - once it's completed. In the meantime, the last few details are coming into place including the transfer of some historic elements from the ranch. We worked closely with Max Patino to restore the old locomotive bell and employed my daughter as a dedicated bell tester since there is no more appropriate place for small children to play than an active construction site.

Satellite office

So now that Betsy is up and running it made sense to order business cards.  Of course, the fact that I am in San Antonio and she is in Dallas raised the question of which address should we put on her card.  Dare we claim that HiWorks has both a San Antonio and a Dallas office?


I think we should...


Meet Betsy

image courtesy Mia Frietze

For most of 2013, "HiWorks" was really just me.  Working as a sole proprietor was fun but the plan was always for the firm to be more than just an individual as there is a limit to the scale and ambition that a single architect can execute.  Towards the end of the year things started to get uncomfortably busy and it became more and more apparent that HiWorks would need to grow in order to fulfill its potential.

Betsy Johnson and I first met at Lake|Flato and all of that firm was heartbroken when she moved to Dallas a few years ago.  It has always been my hope that we could find a way for the two of us to work together again.  We have set up a remote working framework that will now allow that to happen.  The expertise required to design a building is broad and Betsy's skill set represents an excellent complement to mine.  Like me, she is also trying to engineer a way to balance the opportunities and challenges of a career with the opportunities and challenges of being a parent of two young girls.  Raising two daughters, for the record, appears to be much harder than designing a building.

At any rate, the above photo was taken back in November of last year and you can see Betsy's family including her husband, Luke (who is a Vice President of Corporate Development at CHRISTUS Health and who provided invaluable assistance in developing the business plan for HiWorks), and her second daughter (who was but a few weeks old at the time).  Her first daughter, seated to the right of me, referred to me throughout the visit as "the man".  Based on that observation, Betsy recently pointed out that she is now officially "working for the man".

Although I would like to think she is working with the man, I realize the difference is mainly semantic.