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Courthouses

Location, Location, Location

AppleStore.jpg

Apple recently announced its closing some of its stores in north Texas. It’s not doing this because the stores are unprofitable, or they need more space. They’re closing the stores, the story goes, because they happen to sit in the Eastern District of Texas.

Why should it matter what federal district an electronics store happens to be located in?

It turns out the Eastern District of Texas has historically been very favorable to patent litigants. More specifically, patent trolls flocked to Marshall, Texas to file suites against large tech companies like Apple. Federal law historically allowed litigants to file lawsuits in any district where the defendant “Has committed acts of infringement and has a regular and established place of business”. Since Apple had stores in the district, Patent Trolls could file suite there.

Recent court decisions have made it more difficult for litigants to choose courts (a fact that has the town of Marshall worried) but to better insulate itself from these lawsuits, Apple has decided to move their stores over imaginary lines so won’t get sued as much.

It all seems very strange, but it all goes to show that location matters.

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.

Who gets to break the ground

Groundbreaking.jpg

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.

Marfaland

marfaland.jpg

A week ago I traveled with my family for a vacation in Disneyland in Anaheim, California. This week I am in Marfa, Texas for a workshop on audio storytelling sponsored by Transom and hosted by Marfa Public Radio. The goal, as you might guess, is to make The Works better.

At any rate, walking down Highland Street in Marfa has reminded me of walking down Main Street in Disneyland. Although the scale of the latter is somewhat smaller - Disneyland famously played with the dimensions of the street and the buildings to make them "feel" better more inviting - the distance from Sleeping Beauty's Castle to the Disneyland Train Station is about the same as the distance from the Presidio County Courthouse to the tracks of the Union Pacific railroad tracks.

DLvsMTX.jpg

Walt Disney did not use Marfa as a model for Disneyland. It is instead an idealized version of a turn-of-the-century downtown inspired both by Disney's memories of his hometown of Marceline, Missouri and the memories Harper Goff had of Fort Collins, Colorado. The reality is the basic urban model of a main commercial street with set on axis with a "weenie" (be it weenie a courthouse or a castle) can be found in small towns and larger cities throughout the country.

It turns out that in addition to being a cool feature for a theme park it's also a great way to design for the real world as well.

 

Now Award Winning

I know what you're thinking.

The holidays were great but you didn't get that one gift you were wanting: you didn't get a copy of The Courthouses of Central Texas. But that's OK. Now's a great time to treat yourself by ordering a copy here or here.

Still looking for an excuse? Now you can justify your investment in the non-fiction book market with the knowledge that The Courthouses of Central Texas is an AWARD WINNING publication as the San Antonio Conservation Society has chosen it to receive a 2017 citation.

Obviously I'm flattered but I'm also looking forward to the spike in sales that will no doubt result, the book's resulting rise to the top of the New York Times Bestseller List and the ultimate adaptation of it into a hit Broadway musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda.

The Ruins of Corpus Christi's Past

A few weeks ago our family drove the two hours south to Corpus Christi. It's the closest beach to San Antonio and makes for an enjoyable day trip. The girls especially enjoyed the Texas State Aquarium and splashing around on the beach. Mommy especially enjoyed the fajitas and the piña colada she had at the seafood restaurant we ate at for dinner.

Daddy, however, was a little disturbed by the buildings.

Corpus Christi is an interesting example of what can happen when a harsh environment exists in a community that, for whatever reason, isn't terribly interested in preserving its past. The 1914 Nueces County Courthouse, for example, exists as a crumbling ruin next to a highway interchange (see image above). The limestone of it's 1936 Centennial Museum has been painted and is being used as a youth boxing ring.

There are examples where buildings have been lovingly preserved and as a city that boomed in the 20th century it has fewer older buildings to preserve in the first place. Still, as far as cities go it is simply not as committed to preservation. That's not to say Corpus isn't a nice place to visit - it is and my family will continue to go there - it just always feels like something is missing. It always feels like Corpus is missing its past.

8 Minutes, 32 Seconds Of Fame

image courtesy Aaron Seward

image courtesy Aaron Seward

A few months ago I drove up to the Comal County Courthouse in New Braunfels to talk on camera about the importance of preserving the historic county courthouses of Texas. Through the magic of editing and CGI, the good folks at the Texas Society of Architects and Lost Pines Studios were able to make me look slightly less alien and sound slightly more articulate.

At any rate, the video is now available online and can be seen on the brand-spanking-new Texas Architect website.

Enjoy:

Architecture's Toothbrush Mustache

Cret's Headquarters for the Federal Reserve in Washington, D.C. courtesy  Wikipedia

Cret's Headquarters for the Federal Reserve in Washington, D.C. courtesy Wikipedia

The toothbrush mustache was quite popular in the 1920s and 1930s. It was worn by such beloved comedic figures as Oliver Hardy (of Laurel and Hardy fame) as well as Charlie Chaplin. Unfortunately, Adolf Hitler also wore one and because the style of facial hair became synonymous with him, few have dared sport one since (except of course for certain African dictators and comic book newspaper editors).

The toothbrush mustache wasn't the only cultural appropriation ruined by the Nazis. There was once a form of classicism that sought to modernize traditional forms for the twentieth century. This "new classicism" took the proportions and basic elements of classical architecture but streamlined them so as to make them more reflective of the age. This hybridized approach to modern architecture was popular throughout the United States in the 1920s and 1930s. In Texas there were many architects who built county courthouses in the style that was growing in popularity. 

Unfortunately Hitler's architect liked the style as well.

Albert Speer was a young architect when he attended his first Nazi rally. By 1933 he was given the title of "Commissioner for the Artistic and Technical Presentation of Party Rallies and Demonstrations" and was tapped to produce for many of the more famous (or at least infamous) Nazi monuments. His Zeppelinfeld served as the location of immense Nazi rallies and was inspired - somewhat ironically - by a World War I memorial designed to honor two of Germany's enemies in the previous World War.

It was designed by a French-American architect by the name of Paul Cret.

Cret was of the generation of architects who were trained and skilled in the classical language of architecture but was able to apply those sensibilities to an emerging modes of modernism. Cret was certainly respected for his more traditional work - he designed a number of the buildings on the UT campus - but he also became known for a more stripped-down version of classicism

In an alternative universe, Cret and his approach to architecture might have been more influential, but Cret died in 1945 just a few months after the defeat of Nazi Germany. Much of Speer's work was destroyed and architects and the general public alike turned away from the architecture and the mustaches that had become associated with Nazism.

Modern architecture flourished in the post-war years, but it developed in a more abstract way that consciously broke with the traditions of the past.

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.

 

On Writing Books, Building Houses and Having Sons

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image courtesy Megan Chapa of San Houston State University

 

There is a quote out there that says, "Everyone should write a book, build a house and have a son." It's one of those fun, quotable lines that's been attributed to everyone from Plato to Castro and was probably said by none of them. A few variations of the quote exist - Hemingway, for example, supposedly added that every man should also fight a bull.

I didn't learn about the quote (or supposed-quote) until well after I had become an architect who designed houses and after The Courthouses of Central Texas was well on its way to publication. As the father of two daughters I didn't comply completely with the bit about having a son but my personal view is that two daughters are worth at least four sons. I naturally found the quote self-affirming in a way that quotes like these are supposed to be self-affirming.

Of course, basing your future on a quote that was probably fabricated is a dubious proposition at best. Having kids is no trifling enterprise. It takes a lot of time and costs a lot of money (and my kids aren't even anywhere near college-age yet). And being an architect, while prestigious, isn't the most lucrative profession in the world. 

And so what about writing a book?

Let's take a look at the last few weeks if the "Courthouses of Central Texas 2016 World Tour". As you may know, I installed an exhibit of drawings at the Patrick Heath Public Library in Boerne, I spoke in Boerne to the Genealogical Society of Kendall County, I spoke at a book signing at Brazos Bookstore in Houston and then this past weekend I took down the exhibit in Boerne. In the process I drove nearly 700 miles and spend nearly 20 hours driving, preparing or speaking. That's a lot of time. Doing the math, I would have needed to sell 60 books just to pay for my hotel in Houston. Although sales at both events were really good, I only sold around 30 books total. And so from a purely financial standpoint, this whole book writing effort has been a fiduciary disaster.

It took me six years to write and publish The Courthouses of Central Texas. If you add that to all the lectures, book signing and interviews I'm doing now that it exists as a thing in the world, that's a lot of time and effort. When all is said and done I'll maybe have earned a couple of thousand dollars in royalties from UT Press.

Maybe.

But here's the thing - even though I continue to hemorrhage money because of those infernal courthouses, I still love them. I still love talking to people about them. I still love meeting people who share that interest and hearing their stories about why they love them. I've met plenty of architects, attorneys and county officials along the way but every once in a while I meet someone totally unexpected.

In Houston last week I met a group of students from Sam Houston State University. I was naturally flattered that they made the trip all the way down from Huntsville but I was also fascinated by their program that prepares students for careers in law, law enforcement, politics or some combination thereof. I have no idea what small part my lecture on courthouses might play in their future but I'd like to think that they'll move forward with a greater appreciation of the role of architecture in public life. As these students are a good 20 years younger than I am, hopefully that lesson will live on even after I've shuffled off this mortal coil.

And that, I think, is the essence behind the Plato/Castro/Hemingway quote. Writing a book, building a house and having kids is all about creating a legacy - planting a seed in a garden for someone else to enjoy. A book will hopefully still be read after you're gone. A house will hopefully be lived in by someone. And your kids - be they your biological children or the ones you happen to cross paths with as a teacher of some sort - will hopefully still remember an idea or two you shared with them when your paths just happened to cross at a bookstore in Houston.

And that, to me, is a whole lot cooler than bullfighting.

 

Brantley in Boerne

boerne-tcoct

As part of the "2015-2016 Courthouses of Central Texas World Tour", I'll be speaking in Boerne, Texas at the Patrick Heath Public Library this coming Saturday at 10:30am. Boerne is the county seat of Kendall County that has one of the oldest and most unique courthouses in the state. Although most counties tear down their an older courthouse to build a new one, in Kendall County the kept adding on to their 1870 structure (at least until they built a large annex across the street in 1998). This is in no small part due to the fact that the original structure was so solidly built by Latin-speaking German immigrant masons who represented a significant part of Boerne's early population.

At any rate, the Saturday talk will be followed by a book signing where I will be allowed to openly deface books within a public library. There is also an exhibit of some of the drawings that appear in the book on display in the library's gallery through the end of the month. The library building itself is pretty cool. Finished in 2011 by OCO Architects (now LPA), the library overlooks and features an outdoor screened-in reading room that's one of the coolest things I've ever seen in a library.

Meanwhile in Rockdale...

residing in a place of honor in Rockdale

When The Courthouses of Central Texas was published earlier this year I experienced the curious transition that all writers go through of going from someone who creates knowledge in the world to someone who goes out into the world to sell a product. Being a writer is cool. Being a salesmen is less so.

Still, the 1,500 copies that UT Press printed won't sell themselves and so I've started to organize a series of lectures, exhibitions and book signings to introduce the book to world. In terms of book sales, the ROI for these efforts is limited (I earn a couple of bucks in royalties for every book I sell), but they can be really fun things to do and it gives me the opportunity to interact with some great people. For example I was in Rockdale this week to speak at the Lucy Hill Patterson Memorial Library and had a wonderful discussion with about 25-or-so residents of Milam County about how their courthouse figures in the story of courthouses in the state. I also was given a tour of Rockdale which is a lovely community an hour east of Austin with a beautifully restored train depot and a fun post-war movie theater. Hopefully the people who attended the talk learned a thing or two as a result of me visiting Rockdale. I know I did.

I also sold seven books, which means I raked in $14.

Hightower vs. Goodall

image courtesy National Geographic

Last week my daughter Sammy brought home a children's book about Jane Goodall. We were very enthusiastic about her interest in the British primatologist as we've been trying to encourage her interest in individuals such as Goodall, Eileen Collins and others ever since an unfortunate event in which she removed a Duplo Cinderella from her command of a Lego ship because "girls can't be captains".

Anyway, it happens that Goodall is going to be speaking in San Antonio this week and so this instigated a scramble to see if we could locate tickets to the event. We did, whereupon we realized that Ms. Goodall is speaking at Trinity at the same time I'm going to be speaking at the San Antonio AIA. Not only did this revelation throw a wrench in our plans to empower our daughter, but it also put me in the awkward position of having to compete with Jane Goodall.

I tried to compile a list of reasons why people should go to my lecture as opposed to Jane Goodall's but I came up with nothing. The best I can do is be a consolation and so if you weren't able to get tickets to the Goodall lecture, feel free to come by the Center for Architecture at 6:00 on Thursday evening. I won't have anything to say about the social patterns of chimpanzees or about my tireless work as a conservationist, but I will share some pretty cool pictures of courthouses.

There is no such thing as bad publicity

This image may or may not have been altered

It's been three months since The Courthouses of Central Texas was released. Publishing a book is not like releasing a movie where you instantly know weather or not the endeavor has been a success. The process of selling books is much, much slower. My editor once told me that if the original run of 1,200 copies are sold out within three years, they will consider it a success. 

So that means I have a lot of selling to do. It also means I have to pace myself.

In addition to the various book signings and lectures I have planned, I also rely on reviews to help get the word out. A nice one was published a few days ago and Texas Architect ran one in their most recent issue. The Architect's Newspaper ran one last month which wasn't really a review of my book so much as it was an airing of the critic's own insecurities.

The next logical step of course is to seek out celebrity endorsements.

 

PechKucha San Antonio Volume 18

image courtesy of Vicki Yuan who took this photo with my phone whilst I was speaking

Back in May I had the opportunity (i.e. someone cancelled at the last minute) to speak at a PechaKucha event in San Antonio. I've done things like this before - basically you have twenty slides that automatically advance every twenty seconds. String eight speakers together and you have a pleasant evening of people talking briefly about the interesting things they are doing in their lives.

As a speaker, these are some of the most challenging talks to give. On the one hand, you want to keep things conversational. On the other, every 20 seconds the slide changes regardless of if you are ready or not. It's very hard to choreograph informality.

Anyway, the video of the presentation is here. Enjoy.

James Riely Gordon wants you to listen to this podcast

image courtesy Chris Meister's James Riely Gordon: His Courthouses and Other Public Buildings

At this point you may be sick of me talking about Texas courthouses. Believe me I'm pretty sick of talking about them as well. That said, for this month's episode of The Works I talk about a building that one of the state's predominant courthouse architects (James Riely Gordon) designed in a place far away from Texas (Chicago) for an event that changed the course architectural history (The World's Columbian Exposition).

As always, you can listen to the podcast here or subscribe to the podcast through iTunes.  

So I was in Belton yesterday...

...which just happened to be where the Bell County Courthouse is located, which just happens to be the building featured on the cover of my new book, which I just happened to have an copy of in my car. Hilarity ensued.

In addition to using the opportunity to stage a cute photograph, I was also in town to meet with the Bell County Museum. We are planning on organizing an exhibition / lecture / book signing for the end of this year.

If only I still looked so young...

courtesy San Antonio Express-News

The San Antonio Express-News ran a nice article about the new book over the weekend. The free press is of course greatly appreciated, although for some reason than ran a photo of me from about ten years ago. I didn't think the book and/or fatherhood had aged me so much but apparently it has.

Either way, maybe the novelty of a book seemingly being written by a 17-year-old help will drive sales...

It is here

Over six years in the making, The Courthouses of Central Texas is officially released today. Published by the University of Texas Press, it is of course available from Amazon but is a little cheaper when ordered directly from the publisher itself.

So put that tax return to work, order yourself a copy (or five - the make great gifts), read it, look at the pictures and give positive feedback on it's Amazon page so maybe we can get all 1,200 copies printed.

I thank you.

Free publicity

image courtesy Kin Man Hui of the San Antonio Express-News

The San Antonio Express-News recently ran a story on seven architects to watch in the San Antonio area. The story was pitched as a story about five young architects to watch, but there ended up being more of us and none of us were all that young. Either way I was flattered to be included in the story. It was also really cool that I had knew or worked directly with nearly every other architect profiled. Tenna and I worked together at Lake|Flato and our daughters are friends. Tobin and I worked together at Lake|Flato as well and I helped him out on some of his early solo efforts. Patrick helped give me some advice about 3D printing and Jonathan and I are working together on the High Cotton project in Lubbock.

I thought the article was well written and the writer, Steve Bennett, did a great job of making me sound reasonable articulate. That said, the experience did teach me that standing at the edge of the frame of a photograph taken using a wide-angle lens adds at least 10 pounds.