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Architecture

Shooting Stinson

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We recently received the final images from Dror Baldinger, the photographer we hired to shoot the design improvements we did for the Stinson Municipal Airport Air Traffic Control Tower. After all the time, blood, sweat, and tears, the act of photographing the project is the last step in the process before the project can officially be considered done.

And so, this project is officially done. You can see some more images of it here.

In Praise of Incompleteness

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The above photo is of the facade of San Petronio Basilica in Bologna. The finished stone cladding was begun in 1538 but it was never quite finished.

There are a number of large buildings currently under construction in San Antonio. It’s an odd artifact of construction, but often a building will look better than it ever will while it’s still under construction.

There is unlimited potential in the unfinished. Your mind is free to imagine what could be as opposed to simply acknowledging what is.

Obviously buildings need to be finished, but I do feel there is something to be said for appreciating the thing that is not yet complete, the niche that is not yet occupied by a statue, and the child who is still figuring out who they want to be.

The Problem with San Jacinto

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Last week I traveled with my family to Houston for a quick little trip before the start of the school year. My wife had a meeting downtown and while she was cooped up inside all day I took the girls on a sightseeing tour of the Houston metropolitan area.

Our first stop was San Jacinto.

It’s the site of the decisive battle where Texas won its independence from Mexico and so it is fitting that a towering, 570-foot-tall memorial be built to memorialize the event. In case you’re keeping score, that’s ten feet taller than the Washington Monument because everything is bigger in Texas. Given that the monument is located seventeen miles east of Houston, the height of the tower really stands out.

The monument was finished in 1939, a good three years after the centennial of the battle. The swampy landscape that surrounded the monument had changed little since 1836, but while the tower was under construction, nearby Buffalo Bayou was dredged to create the Houston Ship Channel. In the eighty years that followed, the area became a center of petrochemical production and so the view from the tower is one of a vast industrial landscape.

Speaking of anachronisms, the Battleship Texas is located nearby. I spent a fair amount of our time there explaining that the battleship had absolutely nothing to do with the battle that occurred at the site three quarters of a century earlier.

Because of its remote and less-than-picturesque location, the San Jacinto monument isn’t the most popular tourist destination in the Houston area. Half of the gallery located at the monument’s base has been given over to a paid exhibit and local energy companies who sponsor the monument have a heavy narrative presence throughout. The original inscriptions on the exterior of the monument also downplay the role of Tejanos in the battle as well as the larger struggle for Texas independence. The narrative that the struggle was primarily one of Americans fighting against Mexican oppressors is an oversimplification with racist overtones.

Still, it’s a great building. As with all the other monuments built as part of the the 1836 centennial, it deserves to be more well known.

Flying Drones Near Airports

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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.

Rocky Mountain High Porch

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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.

Just in case you're in the market

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You may have noticed there’s a new project on our website. It’s a house project located in Castroville, about a half-hour east of San Antonio. The town was Castroville was founded in the 1840s by immigrants from Alsace, a part of France that shares historical and cultural ties to neighboring Germany and Switzerland. The town that was built retains a unique architectural character, one we sought to preserve in this preservation and restoration of a house originally built in 1851. In accordance with the City of Castroville’s historic standards, much of the work consisted of delicately removing applied layers of modern additions. A rear kitchen addition preserved the front’s original appearance while opening up the interior and connecting to a new carport.

If you happen to be in the market for such a house, this one is still on the market.

Sprouting Wings

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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.

Nostalgia for the park

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Earlier this year a local children's amusement park announced it would be relocating to the San Antonio Zoo. The Kiddie Park has been the site of countless happy birthday parties and childhood memories. Many stories could be told about the Kiddie Park and we’re going to tell one of them in this chapter of the San Antonio Storybook.

As always, you can listen to it here or subscribe to the podcast on iTunes or wherever you download your podcasts.

Reflections on reflections

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Koalas have invaded San Antonio.

Or to be more accurate, two male Phascolarctos cinereus have been loaned from the San Diego Zoo to the San Antonio Zoo for the duration of the Summer. As a father of two small girls who adore cute animals, this is big news. We made a point of seeing the koalas the first weekend they were out on display.

There was only one small issue: it was quite difficult to actually see the koalas.

The issue isn’t that the furry little marsupials like to hide or that they are particularly well camouflaged. The issue is the glass - it was far too reflective to see through it to the koalas inside.

Glass has many characteristics that can be individually specified. Different coatings and chemical formulations can give glass different levels of light transmittance and reflectance. Although we think of glass as being a transparent material, it also reflects a certain amount of the visible light that comes into contact with its surface.

It would seem that if you are designing an enclosure for koalas you’d want to keep the glass as transparent as possible so small children could behold the overt cuteness of the arboreal herbivores contained inside. There may be other factors at play that require the mirrored glass, but as experienced at the zoo the chosen glass appears to be a mistake. There are many situations where reflective glass would be a good idea, but unless I’m missing something, this does not appear to be one of them.

R.I.P.I.M.Pei

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Growing up near Dallas, I. M. Pei and Philip Johnson were really the only two “starchitects” whose works I was able to experience directly. Whereas Johnson’s buildings may have been more fun, their quality was a bit mixed. Pei’s projects, however, had an elegance I could appreciate even before I was formally taught what good architecture was. From his Dallas City Hall to his Meyerson Symphony Center, his buildings were uniformly stunning. He also appeared to be a genuinely nice person, something that cannot be said of most architects of his caliber.

Later on I would visit his East Building of the National Gallery of Art. Its graceful design remains a touchstone for how to design a modern civic space. I know his modernization of the Louvre gets more attention, but when it goes to Pei triangles, I prefer the one in Washington.

Of course I was saddened to hear of his passing last week, but the man was 102 years old. He lived a long and full life. Over the course of a very long and fruitful career he was able to create beauty that will live on.

That is certainly something worth celebrating.

Inside the Rink

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A couple of years ago I took my daughter to a roller skating rink. It was the first time I had strapped wheels to my feet in over twenty years and it was a memorable experience. I even wrote a blog post about it.

Well, two years later, it gets the official podcast treatment.

The Rollercade is a local institution and generations of San Antonians have skated across its smooth wood floor. In this chapter of the San Antonio Storybook, we tell the story of how the Rollercade came to be built and the family responsible for keeping the Alamo City rolling.

As always, you can listen to it here or subscribe to the podcast on iTunes or wherever you download your podcasts.

Fort Stockton rising

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It’s been almost four years since we first started working with the good people of Fort Stockton on their new community theatre. In the time since then the design has evolved and funds have been raised. For so long it remained a hypothetical exercise - something that existed only on paper - and so it’s incredibly exciting now that dirt is moving and concrete is being poured.

The new theatre will actually be an addition to their existing facility. Their old building will become an event space and next to it will be their new stage and 125-seat house. On the corner there will be a support wing with storage and dressing rooms for the actors and restrooms for the audience.

Construction is expected to take a year and so by 2020 - the five year anniversary of the beginning of the project - The Fort Stockton Community Theatre will finally be able to move into their new home.

Chapter 2

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A few weeks ago a large group of politicians descended on an empty lot in downtown San Antonio to break ground on a new federal courthouse. Of course, San Antonio already has a federal courthouse. It’s an odd little building but it has a fascinating story.

In this chapter of the San Antonio Storybook we’ll discover the story of this building and the important part it played in the history of San Antonio.

You can listen to it here or subscribe to the podcast on iTunes or wherever you download your podcasts.

Ribbon Cutting

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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.

Who gets to break the ground

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This past Monday I was able to attend the groundbreaking of San Antonio’s new federal courthouse. It was a moment 10 years in the making. I was still at Lake|Flato back in 2009 when they won the commission and sat next to Joe Ben as he, David Lake and the rest of the design team developed scheme after scheme and endured delay after delay.

Very little of that was mentioned at the groundbreaking (Lake|Flato was only mentioned once). Instead it was a day for the politicians to make grand (and at times unintentionally ironic) statements about the role of the judiciary and the rule of law. Even so, it’s great to see the project get underway and hopefully the architects will get a little more credit at the ribbon cutting ceremony in 2022.

See the CCC

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This past week was spring break and because I don’t have a real job I was able to take my girls up to visit my family in north Texas. We decided not to take I-35 and instead took the backroads so that we could pass by Lake Brownwood State Park.

As state parks go the landscape there wasn’t the most spectacular but the buildings are. Built by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression, Lake Brownwood has an impressive Group Recreation Hall and a grand staircase that early visitors would use when they arrived at the park by boat.

The cabins were also nice; especially cabin #9 where we stayed. I’m sure many families have made many happy memories there and I’m glad we went a little out of our way to see the CCC.

It's Official...

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…the ground has been broken on Fort Stockton’s new community theatre. It’s been almost four years since I first started working with the good people of Fort Stockton and it was moving to see so many people show up too see the start of the next phase - the actual building of the thing.

It’s been a fun adventure so far and I can only imagine that adventure will continue in the coming year. The board and everyone else I’ve worked with out in west Texas have been incredibly kind and generous - the type of client that make you put up with all the clients that aren’t so great.

A World Without Handrails

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I was able to attend given by Juan Miró, a former professor of mine from UT. It was fun to see him again and all the amazing work his firm has been doing over the last several years. His office tends to “push the envelope” of what seems to be possible.. He also showed some of the work they’ve been doing in Mexico and I was reminded of how different things can be if you tweak the rules just a little bit.

When I was in Mexico City last year I kept noticing how “clean” all the stairs looked. It wasn’t the lack of trash I was noticing - it was the lack of handrails.

Don’t get me wrong, handrails are a good thing - especially if you happened to have mobility issues. That’s one of the reasons accessibility standards were established (that and it became federal law).

Again, I’m not proposing that all handrails be abolished. I’m just pointing out that it’s fascinating to see how the built environment changes when you tweak just one little requirement.