Viewing entries in

Flying Drones Near Airports


Last week we had the Stinson Tower professionally photographed. Although I’d like to think of myself as being pretty handy with a camera, what I bring to the table pales in comparison to what my friend Dror can do.

That said, there’s one thing I can do that he can’t. I can fly a drone.

And so while Dror was busy at work on the ground, I took to the skies to try and communicate the relationship between the new tower and the historic terminal building on the other side of the runways. With special clearance from the tower (like drinking and driving, drones and airplanes don’t mix), I was able to fly up to get some nice views of the wings from a vantage point that would have been all but impossible ten years ago.

Sprouting Wings

Stinson signage.JPG

I was out at Stinson Municipal Airport recently and saw that they’re installing new signage. As I mentioned earlier, we had nothing to do with these signs but their design do reference the wings for the new control tower that we did design.

As I mentioned back in September, It's cool to have the opportunity to do good work. It's even better to know that your work is helping other people to do good work, too.

Ribbon Cutting


I know I’ve posted a lot about the Stinson Municipal Airport Control Tower project over the past several years so I’m not going do it again here other to say that the FAA has taken control control over its operation. The official ribbon cutting ceremony was this week and it was a fine ceremony that featured an all-female mariachi band and a cake that featured the image of the tower design.

It also featured some very large scissors.

There was this one woman who was apparently the keeper of the scissors. She was more than a little intimidating, but I understand the need for there to be a dedicated person to keep hold of such things. Oversized ceremonial scissors are expensive.

We're making some updates


Now that we have some new photographs of the (almost) finished Stinson Tower I thought it might be a good time to update the website. It’s nothing major but I realized it’s been some time since since I’ve added anything to it. Anyway, you’ll find a few new projects and some updated imagery. And I may have added another Easter Egg or two.


Spreading Wings


As the new control tower at Stinson Municipal Airport nears completion the grounds around the historic airport will be receiving some new signage. The design of this signage isn't ours but it reflects by our design for the illuminated wings for the tower.

Our wings were inspired by the forms and construction techniques of World War I-era aircraft - the same kind of aircraft that were flown in and out of Stinson in its early years. What we like about the new signage is that it ties together the facilities on the north side of the airport with the new control tower on the south side.

It's cool to have the opportunity to do good work. It's even better to know that your work is helping other people to do good work, too.

Career Change Alert

drone mailer.jpg

I've written before about how useful I've found drones to be. Since becoming a commercially licensed drone operator I've done some work-for-hire but mostly it's been done as favors for colleagues. In other words, although it's helps with my architecture work, it's not something I intend to make money from by itself.

Then I got this flyer in the mail. Now I am very tempted to go sit at the feet of "THE DRONE BOSS" and learn how to become a "TRUE DRONE ENTREPRENEUR."

Or I could just keep on being an architect.


Seven Years Ago


Seven years ago I took advantage of a free flight I had on Southwest Airlines and took an evening flight to Orlando, Florida. I checked into a cheap hotel on the outskirts of town, slept for a few hours and then got up at 3am to drive to Titusville. Once there I walked about midway across a bridge where I then sat and waited for five hours.

I did this because ever since I was a boy I had wanted to experience the launch of a Space Shuttle. At 8:46 on May 16 of 2011 I was finally able to do that.

It takes about eight and a half minutes for a Space Shuttle to get into space. Unfortunately due to a low cloud bank I was only able to see about the first six seconds of that. To be sure a lot of time, effort and money went into those six seconds, but It was worth totally worth it.

I will never forget the intense brightness of the exhaust plume. I will never forget the overwhelming sense of excitement and patriotism. I will never forget how I, along with the several hundred other people on the bridge couldn't help but cheer as this amazing piece of human engineering made its way towards the heavens.

I will never forget that I am, and always will be, a complete and total nerd.


As Promised


As you've probably seen in recent posts our portion of the Stinson Municipal Airport Tower project suddenly materialized last week. The "wings" we had designed along with Work5hop were manufactured in Arizona and last week they were shipped to San Antonio where all eight panels were then lifted into place.

Architecture takes a long time. In many ways this project was no different: we won the "design improvements" competition back in 2015, we completed our portion of the design documents in 2016 and construction on the tower itself didn't begin until 2017. That said our portion of the project really materialized over the course of only a few days. Normally the transformation from rendering to reality does not happen so quickly. There's still work to be done: the cables that secure the wings to the tower need to be tightened and the lighting inside the wings still needs to be calibrated and scheduled. But man, we're close. 

And the renderings that we produced years ago were pretty close, too:

The original rendering for the new Stinson Municipal Airport Control Tower

The original rendering for the new Stinson Municipal Airport Control Tower

This Poster Is Not For Sale


My Facebook feed contains a pretty diverse collection of posts. From friends who seem to constantly be on vacation to Russian trolls there are lots of things vying for my attention. One ad that caught my eye the other day was for a company that sells posters featuring the control towers of various airports from around the world. Of course I checked to see if they had one for Stinson Municipal Airport. They did not but since we have something to do with that particular project I thought I'd suggest an additional print be offered for sale. Please see above.

I realize there have been a number of Stinson blog posts in the last few weeks and I promise to return to my usual collection of random posts here in the coming weeks.

Stinson Rising


Construction of the new Stinson Municipal Airport Control Tower is currently underway. So far the effort has focused on the concrete tower (the part not designed HiWorks in conjunction with Work5hop) but in a few months our portion of the design will be attached to that central core. These prefabricated "wings" are currently being assembled in Phoenix and the full-scale mockup looks great.

So stay tuned - things are about to get interesting.

Tilting Up

image courtesy AJT Engineering

image courtesy AJT Engineering

I mentioned back in September work had begun on the Stinson Municipal Airport Control Tower. That work continues and I am happy to follow up by saying that the building is now officially out of the ground.

The main body of the tower (designed by AJT Engineering) consists of a series of stacked precast concrete panels. These are cast at a plant east of town, shipped to the site and then hoisted by a crane into place. This type of construction isn't particularly unusual - many "big box" retail stores and warehouses are built with precast panels as well - but the technique is remarkable in that you go from a foundation to something that resembles a building in a remarkably short period of time.

There is still lots of work to go on the project (the "wings" we designed along with Work5hop are just beginning to be fabricated in Arizona) but it's always exciting to see a design starting to become real.

To Build Up You Start By Building Down


The Stinson Municipal Airport Control Tower is officially under construction. I can't say it's "out of the ground" yet as it's still technically a hole in the ground. But it's getting there.

For the record it's been almost two years HiWorks along with Work5hop designed the winning submission for the competition to propose "design improvements" to the original tower design by AJT Engineering. Architecture is not career for those desiring instant gratification.

At any rate, the "wings" of our design are being manufactured by International Tensile Structures in Phoenix, Arizona and we'll be making a trip out there this fall to see how work on those structures is proceeding. The tower itself is scheduled to be operational next year.

On Flying Drones and Carrying Handguns

As I mentioned last week I've been in the process of acquiring an "Airman Certificate" from the FAA that would allow me to operate a small unmanned aerial system for commercial purposes. I'm happy to report that I passed the exam and have been issued temporary paperwork: my official license will arrive in the mail sometime next week.

I spent a little over a week studying for the exam and now know quite a bit about how the United States manages its airspace. I also understand better how the FAA regulates the use of drones and how to operate one safely so as to minimize the danger to people and property. The process seemed reasonable given the relatively small threat to public safety posed by the kind of small drone I am now permitted to fly (for the record, we're talking about this kind of drone as opposed to this kind).

At any rate, how I felt about this process was in stark contrast to how I felt after earning my Concealed Handgun License last year.

For the record, I don't carry a concealed handgun nor do I personally feel I have a compelling reason to do so. I don't have a particular problem with someone else "carrying" provided they do so in a responsible manner and that the process of acquiring a CHL is reasonably rigorous. 

I was curious how difficult it would be for me - someone who had only fired a handgun a couple of times in his life - to show up completely unprepared for a CHL class and walk away with a license. That's more or less what I did last year when after a few hours of classroom instruction and about 15 minutes on a gun range I had all the paperwork I needed to file for a license to carry a handgun in the state of Texas.

It seems odd to me that it is easier to acquire a Concealed Handgun License than to acquire a Remote Pilot Certificate. The civilian drones I'm now allowed to fly aren't designed to kill people. Handguns are designed to kill people.

Yes, drones they can hurt people (i.e. Enrique Iglesias) but only if they are operated or interacted with irresponsibly. The same is true of motor vehicles which is why we have a thorough process to make sure those who choose to operate them are able to do so safely.

Of course our right to keep and bear arms is enshrined in the Constitution - a document that says very little about our right to keep and operate drones. Then again the first few words of the Second Amendment include the term "well regulated" but that's a different discussion for a different day.

In Praise Of The Sectional Chart

Last year the FAA established new standards for the commercial operation of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs, drones, etc.) in US airspace. What that meant for me was that I could no longer use my drone for what I had originally purchased it for without obtaining a Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems Airman Certificate. I am in the process of doing that now and have spent the last week or so studying for my Aeronautical Knowledge Test.

I've spent about a week studying the material and like most exams (the ARE, the bar, etc.) some of the material covered is of dubious importance. For example, I've learned all about runway markers even though my quadcopter doesn't need a runway to takeoff. Still, I now know what the colored markers mean that are pictured on the left side of our rendering of our design improvements for the Stinson Municipal Airport Control Tower. The yellow "B" on the black background indicates that is Taxiway B and that the white "32-14" numbers on a red background indicate that taxiway is about to cross runway 14/32.

One thing that has been worthwhile to learn is how to read a VFR Aeronautical Charts (see above). Produced by the FAA and updated every six months, these so-called "Sectional Charts" are designed to give pilots the information they need to navigate under visual flight rules. As such they illustrate and label landmarks that would be visible from the air (cities, roads, lakes, etc.). But overlaid on top of that are several layers of information that is completely invisible.

For example you also see the multi-colored concentric circles you see describe the various classes controlled airspace that surround various airports. The solid magenta circles you see around San Antonio and Austin are for the "Class C" airspace that surround San Antonio International and Austin–Bergstrom International Airports. This type of airspace exists as "inverted layer cake": the inner circle represents a layer that goes from the ground all the way up to 4,800 feet whereas the outer circle represents a layer that starts at 2,000 feet and goes up to 4,800 feet.

Plenty of other information can be found here as well: control tower radio frequencies, the location and height of large obstructions and areas where the military conducts low-altitude operations. Almost everything a pilot needs to know can be found on the charts. Even current weather conditions can be found by listening to the Automatic Terminal Information Service (ATIS) broadcast whose radio frequency is provided on the Section Chart. 

The density of information is part of what makes these charts so compelling. Seeing your world rendered in a way you don't normally see it is equally fascinating. It's like looking at an aerial photo of where you live in Google Earth: the landscape it renders is both familiar and foreign at the same time. It is also abstracted in a way that I would argue is beautiful.

For an even greater level of abstraction, check out IFR Aeronautical Charts (see below). These documents are for pilots using only their instruments and so provide no visual reference to what's happening on the ground. Instead all that is rendered are the invisible airways and waypoints that crisscross the sky above us.

How To Store Ten Gallons

The cowboy hat is a thing of beauty.

Equal parts form and function it looks just as good on John Wayne in The Searchers as it does on Randy Jones in "The Village People". As iconic and easily recognizable as the cowboy hat is, if you ever take a moment chance to study one, you'll find its shape to be surprisingly complex. It turns out storing a cowboy hat is a remarkably difficult thing to do. To do so properly requires some ingenuity.

I was reminded of this when I was in Hallettsville over the weekend. Under the seats in the main courtroom of the Lavaca County Courthouse is a bent wire that is designed to hold the brim of a cowboy had so that it can be stored upside-down when the seat is folded flat (center image). This is a similar strategy to the vehicle hat holder designed to hold a hat upside down on the roof of your pickup (left image). I owned a pickup truck myself for a few years and I installed such a device because, well, it seemed appropriate to do so.

It seemed seemed appropriate for LBJ to install a dedicated cowboy hat rack in the Boeing 707 which, when he flew in it, was known as Air Force One (right image). It sat next to his desk so like the Moscow-Washington Hotline, it was available should in case of an emergency.


Fortresses and Boxcars

image courtesy the Commemorative Air Force Gulf Coast WIng

image courtesy the Commemorative Air Force Gulf Coast WIng

On last month's episode of The Works I talked about the house my grandfather built. This month I talk about the airplane my other grandfather flew. Specifically I talk about the B-17 and the B-24 and why one of those planes is remembered and why the other is mostly forgotten. I talk about form and function and meaning and a bunch of other things that make this discussion of a non-architectural topic surprisingly architectural.

So please do a listen and as always if you like what you hear, subscribe to it on iTunes where you can also rate the show and leave a comment.

Why Midcentury Design Endures

The American Boeing B-52 (left) and the Soviet Tupolev Tu-95 (right)
The American Boeing B-52 (left) and the Soviet Tupolev Tu-95 (right)

We are clearly living in a time that has a fascination with midcentury design. Weather it's AMC's Mad Men or the fact that most of Steven Spielberg's recent movies seem to be set between the late 40s and early 60s, modern America seems to like things that have been around for over half-a-century. Even the US Air Force is obsessed with midcentury aircraft designs that are much older than the men and women who fly them. I'm specifically talking about the Boeing B-52 "Stratofortress".

Intended to serve as the backbone of the US nuclear deterrent system, the B-52 became operational in 1954. Several replacement aircraft have entered service since then, but none ever truly replaced the B-52. It remains in use today, over 60 years later. Although many of its systems have been updated, the basic airframe has proven to be adaptable to a variety of new roles and new weapons. 76 remain in service today as part of the extensive arsenal of the US Air Force.

It turns out the longevity of the B-52 is not a uniquely American phenomenon. The Soviet response to the B-52, the Tupolev Tu-95 "Bear" has enjoyed a similarly long life and is likewise still in use as part of the Russian Air Force.

While there may be a stylistic and aesthetic reasons behind the purchase of an Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman for someone's living room, there's something else at play when the world's largest and most advanced air force similarly chooses to use an aircraft that's just as old. The fact is that in the decades immediately following World War II, design was really good. It was both practical and simple. The technology designs made use of was cutting edge at the time, but it was also robust and adaptable. The B-52 has become a symbol of American strategic air power not because of its looks but because of its ultimate utility. And although it is a beautiful thing, one could make the argument that an Eames Chair and Ottoman has become timeless because it is just as comfortable today as it was when it was first built. 

Although aircraft typically have a relatively short lifespan, buildings are supposed to last much longer. And so when designing a building it is important to try and create something that is robust and adaptable to an unknowable future.

For more information on the venerable B-52, the New York Times just ran a really good essay about the B-52. It's worth a read.