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Architecture

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.

IKEA in SA

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I had the opportunity to tour the new IKEA furnishings store that’s going to be opening in San Antonio next month. As with all other IKEA locations I’ve been to (7 so far) this one was big, blue, and a little overwhelming. I was able to see some of the massive preparation that goes into the opening of a 289,000-square-foot retail store. I was also fascinated to learn how the design of IKEA stores have evolved.

Each IKEA location is a little different. For one they purposefully tweak the design (as well as their product offerings) to make each store a better fit for where they happen to be located. They also modify things to try and sell more stuff.

For example, in all the other IKEAs I’ve been to the little food area that sells frozen meatballs, Swedish chocolates and $1 dairy-free soft-serve ice cream is located just outside of he checkout lanes. For the store in San Antonio they moved this area to inside the checkout lanes so you only have to pull out your wallet once.

Obviously IKEA will track the results of this change and if it improves sales, the design tweak will be incorporated into future stores. It’s one of the advantages of having over 300 buildings - each one can be a little experiment to improve to overall fleet. That’s a luxury most buildings - which tend to be one-off affairs - don’t get to have.

The Professional

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I’d like to think of myself as a respectable photographer: I’m able to grab some pretty good shots of my kids and there was that book that was full of photos I had taken of courthouses. But there is an order of magnitude difference between what I can do and what a real “professional” architectural photographer can with the same building.

I first met Dror Baldinger when we both served on a committee for the Texas Society of Architects. Dror was trained and work for decades as an architect before switching gears and photographing buildings other people had done. His work is amazing and I feel a little guilty hiring him to photograph my modest projects.

He shot the Ranch Dining Pavilion a few years ago and I’m having him photograph the Stinson Tower project as well. I’m not saying he make projects look better than they do in real life, but he does a great job of putting the work that architects do in their best possible light.

You can look forward to seeing the results of my little adventure with Dror in the coming weeks.

And yes, we do houses, too

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You may have noticed that there aren’t all that many residential projects on our site. This isn’t because we don’t do that many houses - it’s just that there’s a greater need for privacy when we’re entrusted with designing a family’s home.

Still we’re incredibly proud of the houses we have designed and are thrilled to be able to share some images when we can. We’ve recently added one house in particular to the website. It’s a home we finished a few years ago for a family on an amazing hilltop just north of San Antonio. They wanted a house that took advantage of the panoramic views offered by the site and we worked with the owners to develop a design that did just that. Through the strategic placement of windows we crafted a home that offered expansive views of the outside world while at the same time providing a private refuge from it. By using a combination of natural wood and stone we created an addition to the hilltop that feels like a natural extension of it.

The Changing Face of Community Theatre (update)

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The Construction Documents for the Fort Stockton Community Theatre are complete. As the overall building design was finalized the design of the marquee was updated yet again and even this may not be its final iteration. The budget for this project is very tight and depending on how the bids come back, it may change again.

Still, I like to think that every version improves upon the previous one. I like to think of design as a spiral and even though it may look like you’re going in circles you are in face zeroing in on the final, ultimate design solution.

Finding God

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There are some really cool parts about being a small office. On the one hand I answer to no one. On the other hand I have the support of no one.

Of course that’s oversimplifying things a bit: I answer to clients and I have the support of colleagues and consultants. But there are times during the life of a project where it would be really nice to have an extra set of hands. Or three.

I’m in the final week of the production of a construction document set. These are the drawings that the contractor will use to build the design. On the one hand it’s as close as I often get to the actual construction of a building. Although an architect doesn’t physically build buildings they do have to think about how someone will build them. They have to think about how hands will assemble materials together to keep the rain out while allowing the spirits of the inhabitants to soar.

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe famously said that “God is in the details”. That may be true but the devil is in there, too,

Toys Were Us

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Sears declared bankruptcy this week. I couldn’t tell you the last I actually stepped inside of a Sears store and so this news will not impact me much at all.

Of course, I have fond memories of the arrival of the Sears “Wish Book”. When I was a kid it would arrive just before my birthday and in the days before the internet it contained all manner of material desires that a child could want. But if flipping through the toy section of the catalog was a virtual experience few things could compete with the actual experience of going to physical a toy store.

Although the demise of Sears may be a larger milestone given its place in American culture (and its not-insignificant role in skirting around the injustices of the Jim Crow era), it is was the closing of the last Toys “R” Us stores this summer that had more of an emotional impact on me. I remember fondly going to the one in the Arlington of my youth. I remember the excitement of finding a new LEGO set or Star Wars figure. The anticipation I felt walking through those doors was something I have seldom experienced since.

Of course I took the girls to Toys “R” Us a few times here in San Antonio but somehow it was less of an adventure for them. The overabundance of choice offered at all times by the internet somehow lessened the singular experience of visiting a toy store. Apparently it lessened the profitability of a toy store as well.

The role of the physical world is changing. It can still be (and should be) a source of excitement and wonder but the ends it serves will be different than it once was. I haven’t figured out what that difference will be yet, but I’m working on it.