dancing with architecture: Balmorhea, Texas

We stopped in at Balmorhea on the way to Cloudcroft, New Mexico, to partake of San Solomon Springs at Balmorhea State Park. There's a serious of springs in the area, some of which have gone dry. The photo above is one of the canals out of Phantom Lake Springs. I worked a wee bit on these springs before they went dry some 15 years ago.

San Solomon Springs continue to flow, but you have to wonder for how much longer. Back in the 1930s, the spring orifices were heavily modified with the construction of a pool. Flow from the springs continue to serve irrigation canals that run through the town of Balmorhea. 

We stayed in these adobe cabins

Layout of the pool

Old skool view of the pool.


i am watching u

Inspired after connecting up the computer network, I moved on to connecting up the video monitors a couple weeks ago. Way back when when I was wiring the house for my low-voltage desires, I ran CAT5e for a security system, including video cameras. My philosophy is that if someone wants to break into your house, they will break into your house. It is ridiculously easy-peasy. Therefore, if you break in, I want to get a good look at you (not to mention that studies show that houses with video monitoring are much less likely to be broken into [burglars are shy that way]).

Finding aesthetically-pleasing video monitoring systems is a bit of a challenge, although more of them are becoming available. We chose the legrand system, which happens to match our legrand adorne switch covers inside the house. The cameras are powered over the CAT5e cable (POE: power over ethernet) and provide the video signal back to the home base. Not cheap (nothing aesthetically pleasing seems to be cheap...), but easy to install and working nicely.

Say cheese!


is St. Martin's at risk?

Back in May, I heard a lecture on and took a tour of the gorgeous and fascinating St. Martin's Lutheran Church. I also took the photo above, which, after tone mapping, exaggerated dark clouds over this place of worship. Now it appears those dark clouds are real.

Jason John Paul Haskins has reported, and others have confirmed, that the church is seeking a demolition permit for the property. Church officials have reported that the request for a demo permit doesn't mean that the congregation is going to tear down the church. I'll take them on their word on that; however, it also means that they might level the church. If tearing the church down wasn't an option on the menu, they wouldn't already be chopping onions in the kitchen.

A church committee seems to be considering options for the congregation, and one of those options is selling the property to a developer. However, a developer is most likely going to want to know that they can start with a clean slate. Given the proximity to the capital, the university, and downtown in general, it would be a prized property for redevelopment, an entire city block. But it would also be a loss to the architectural fabric of the city as well as architectural history.

Haskins has started a "Save St. Martin's" facebook page to deliver analysis, updates, and calls to action. If you care about Mid Century Modern in Austin, I suggest you join.


the christening of the stage; sad girls playing theremin; party recycling

We held our annual green chile peeling party yesterday. This is a little shindig we started two decades ago that used to be intimate that has now grown to about 80 people showing up with live music. This meant that we finally got to test out the stage, and Beth Lee and the Breakups were the testers. The stage seemed to work out quite well. 

I broke out the theremin to play on the last song and then let the kids have their way with it.

"Look depressed" I said. "What's depressed?" she asked. "Depressed is sad. Look sad," I answered. "Oh, OK," she said, "I can do sad."

Being rabid recyclers, I dug through the trash this morning and reduced the metal trash can and the plastic bin (which were full) down to the plastic bag in front (the rest being either recycled or composted). Not a bad amount of trash for a party with more than 80 people!


schindler shed: potential design

With the summer sun upon us, the Schindler Shed has taken a back seat. However, I stole some time last weekend, downloaded the latest version of Sketch-Up, and set about designing a shed Schindler might have designed. The designed is closely inspired by Steven Mannell's Rudy Cabana (photos in this post), itself inspired by Schindler's designs and the Schindler frame.

front elevation

south elevation

view of the rear

north elevation

NSA view

the long shadow of Schindler...

Window Liquidators


haiku for the book "The Perfect $100,000 House" by Karrie Jacobs

one hundred thousand...
is it even possible?
at this time and place?

I clicked this book up in a weak moment during my tequila-fueled frenzy to learn more about Rocio Romero's LV house. The next morning, regret washed in: "I can't believe I bought a book simply because it mentions Rocio Romero..." But after Karrie Jacobs' The Perfect $100,000 House came and after I, yes, skipped to and read the Romero chapter, I started the book from the beginning and read it clean through. It is an absolute gem.

The book is like Jack Kerouac's On the Road fused with Dwell but without the drug use (and the underaged sex south of the Tropic of Cancer [although I suspect there was some rolling around in the hay {bale house}...]). Jacobs had just left her job as the founding editor of Dwell under something of a dark cloud and then, freed from any obligations and back into the freelance world, traveled 150,000 or so miles across the U.S. in search of a $100,000 house, the amount she could afford. Mind you, this is in the Early Aughts (circa 2003), so a hundred grand today ain't what it used to be (according to the feds, $100,000 then would be $130,000 today, still a modest amount for a new house). Nonetheless, the book's focus is really on accessing good design at an affordable cost.

What she discovered was that being affordable required cheap land (of course), conventional building techniques (although there are exceptions), sweat equity, modularity (although there are cost challenges), and an architect willing to assume little to no compensation for the task (or have that compensation spread out over multiples). As one of the Andersons of Anderson Anderson Architecture states: "The least expensive house is the most conventional one." The clean look of Modern costs money, making an inexpensive Modern house highly difficult.

I was pleased she made a stop in Marfa. She points out that Donald Judd, despite a fixation on cubism in his art and furniture, placed curving roofs on his buildings. She then stopped in Austin to visit with Chris Krager of KRDB and describes a house friends of ours built in South Austin: 1,400 square-feet for $125,000. KRDB's work is Schindleresque in that KRDB works with the standard materials of construction: wood and stucco (Krager is an admitted Schindler fan). R.M. Schindler worked with these materials so his clients, mostly folks of modest means, could benefit from inspiring spaces without breaking the bank.

Jacobs observes that early modernism was about function, whereas "...today's modernism is chiefly about style. It may be minimalist in design but it is maximalist in budget and attitude." Although Modernism from the get-go, except in a few cases, has almost always been for the wealthy.

Jacobs finds that production architecture, the KB Homes of the world, have achieved cost precision that most people appreciate, certainly people of modest means that can't find out halfway through their build that their dream home is going to cost 50 percent more than they thought. Unfortunately, the designs are atrocious (on many levels).

Bryan Bell, an architect/builder of houses for migrant farm workers, describes how "...a square house gives the most volume for your price. It minimizes the size of the foundation and the roof." The coolest part of this book was learning about various architects around the country, including Bell,  doing inspiring work on accessible, affordable Modern, such as Sambo Mockbee of Rural Studio in Alabama (see photos below).

As far as Rocio Romero? Jacobs sees her architectural production model, prototype then production with conventional construction, as the realistic path forward for affordable Modern. Jacobs states that "[t]he LV Home is such a strong design that it's iconic..." and "...that the LV Home will be a classic design, something about which preservationists and cognoscenti will hold conferences fifty years hence..." Interestingly, Romero hits on all the key parts of affordable modern: conventional building techniques, simple footprint, modularity, and a way to minimize architectural fees, a remarkable feat for a young architect.

This is not a book of images. In fact, there is not a single photograph among its nearly 300 pages. Each chapter begins with a line drawing of a home discussed in the ensuing pages. Nonetheless, it is a fantastic, easy-peasy read. I don't pass too many (if any) architectural tomes toward the bride, but this one I did. It's been keeping her up late reading it.

Kennedy House by Anderson Anderson Architecture (photo via Houzz)

A Rural Studio project in Alabama (photo)

Antioch Baptist Church by Rural Studio (photo)

Corrugated cardboard pod by Rural Studio (photo)

Glass Chapel by Rural Studio (photo)

Richard Neutra's log cabin (with a green roof!) built in the early 1950s (photo)