9.17.2014

Some old shots of our lot from back in the day



That house in the middle of the photo above, the house with the two out-buildings in the back, is the house that used to be on our property. This photo was taken in 1965. It shows, among other things, how small the trees were (they had probably only been planted five to ten years before this when the houses were built). The neighbors' houses look the same now as they did back then.


This is where I got the above photo from. There's an enormous oak at the corner today that many would suggest was well over a hundred years old. It's just a bush in this photo! 


This is the HEB at 2222 and Burnet from about 1950. This photo is looking north into what is now our neighborhood. No trees out there hardly at all!


And this is photo looking west with Lamar in the foreground and, to the left, the intersection of Lamar with Airport. The whitish "gash" on the horizon (right where the Hill Country begins) is the Far West area, which used to be a rock quarry. The road that runs from Lamar all the way to the west is Justin Lane. 

9.14.2014

Dancing with architecture: (1) UT Alumni Center and (2) JerryWorld

Looking up in the UT Alumni Center.

The bride and I took a Texas Exes-sponsored bus up to Arlington, Texas, to watch the Longhorns lose  to UCLA. A big reason for going was to see JerryWorld: Jerry Jones' (and Arlington's) stadium for the Dallas Cowboys. We'd been talking about going up to watch a Cowboys game in the new stadium, but once you factor in the cost of tickets, parking, overnight accommodations, food, and hard cider, you're looking at a house payment (no joke...). Seeing the Horns for substantially less via a bus was a great alternative (and although we lost in a sucker punched kinda way, it was a valiant effort).

A few days earlier I was at the Alumni Center, where the bus trip started, to yap about water at a conference. As I awaited my time at the podium, I admired the room, noting that whoever designed the space spent some time on the details. After some interweb searching, I discovered that Charles Moore designed the building along with Richard Dodge.

The building evokes Harwell Hamilton Harris, R.M. Schindler, and Frank Lloyd Wright in its use of wood and how it engages the outdoors. Moore worked with Louis Kahn, among others, before coming to Austin as an architectural professor at the university in 1985. He's mostly noted for his post-Modernist work such as the garish Piazza d'Italia in New Orleans and his strong use of color. His doctoral dissertation, and later a book, was titled Water and Architecture (hmmm...).

The meeting room.

Clever use of painted/stained wood where the treated wood is carried from the outside to the inside. Generally not a good idea to have untreated wood outside in Texas. 

Moore gets a little flamboyant when you look up. 

Wow, that's colorful!

One of the entrances. 

Nice little Harris/Schindler-esque detail on the eaves...

As far as stadiums go, this one built for the Dallas Cowboys is the best one I've ever been in. First rate. The design is gorgeous, the roof opens up (so God can check in on the 'boys...), it's fully air conditioned, the staff are uber-friendly, the food good and diverse, the mega-screens wonderful, the editing quick and multi-angled, and the DJ (yes, they have a DJ) awesome. Again, first rate. People make fun of it (aka, JerryWorld), but, wow, is it neat. My only quibble is with the acoustics: It. Is. An. Echo. Chamber. Chamber. Chamber...

The stadium was designed by Dallas-based HKS, Inc.. They've designed and built a number of stadiums across the planet, including Dell Diamond in Round Rock, the stadium for the Minnesota Vikings, and the current headquarters for Whole Foods in Austin.

Approaching the Deathstar...

Support structures.

Tom Landry looks over the scene.

A reflective sculpture at the main entrance for the peons.

Interior shot.

Even the sandwich architecture is impressive.

That ceiling opens.

Go horns!

9.13.2014

What is Modern? 3. Honesty in materials and design

Part 3 in a 10-part series on what is Modern.

Honesty in architecture takes several forms. In fact, the previous commandment--form follows function--is a flavor of architectural honesty. The form of the building reflects the purpose and uses inside. And even lack of ornamentation could be interpreted as a form of honesty as well. However, honesty here refers to honesty in materials and design.


Honesty in materials means that things are what they appear to be. If your house has what appears to be limestone cladding, then your cladding is, indeed, limestone and not plastic or concrete or some other material meant to evoke stone. There is nothing faux in a Modern house. Bricks? Bricks are bricks. Wood grain on the siding? Wood grain better indicate wood under that paint and not Hardie board or vinyl (wood grain in concrete when it’s clear that it’s concrete is OK). Even better, wood appears as stained wood.

The epitome of honesty in materials is leaving everything in its raw or lightly finished state. Concrete is concrete, wood is wood, steel is steel, glass is glass. However, permutations “are allowed”. Painted stucco, wood, and metal are allowed: they just can’t pretend to be something they are not. Fake marble tile? I don’t think so. Plastic that looks like aluminum? Shudder. Hardie board with fake wood grain? Hear that sound? That’s the weeping ghost of Frank Lloyd Wright. However, all of these materials are acceptable to use in a Modern home as long as they are not pretending to be something they are not. For example, smooth faced Hardie board is OK (and is, in fact, a great material for an affordable Modern house).

Having said all this, there is hypocrisy in the application of this commandment. For example, Neutra’s relentless pursuit of the machine aesthetic caused him to “dematerialize” wood by painting it with metallic paint to make it look like metal (a couple of Neutra’s  assistants always wanted to ask him: “What is the best material to use to build a steel house?”). In many ways, architecture peddles dishonesty. Purists would argue the use of any paint is dishonest. Masonry facades that are not structural could also be considered dishonest. Many of the early Modern buildings used brick walls covered in stucco. Nevertheless, there are certain lines that cannot be crossed in Modern. An occasional white lie is fine; bald-faced lying is not allowed. And if you think about it, honesty is synonymous with quality.


Honesty in design means that everything in the design of the building serves a purpose. There’s nothing extraneous added. You should be able to point to a feature on a structure and hear from the architect that it serves some specific purpose. For example, there aren’t pillars on or  in a Modern house unless the pillars are meeting a structural need (and those pillars better not be ornate or look like fake marble). Even something that looks like a design flourish better have a purpose (or at least a conjured purpose…).

Probably the most egregious example of dishonesty in residential architecture is the non-functional shutter. (Be forewarned: if you are a fixated budding-Modernist soul, the following discussion will ruin your life). Shutters have a purpose in life: to shade or conceal the inhabitants if the inhabitants wish to be shaded or concealed and to protect the windows during storms (and the occasional revolution). Shutters are meant to be unlatched from the outer wall and swung over (and relatched) over the window and vice-versa when the inhabitants want the window unshuttered.  Back in the day, glass was a luxury, so protecting it during storms (and insurrections) was important.

Now take a stroll in your neighborhood and look at the shutters. Unless you live in the historic part of town or a fully Modernist neighborhood, you are going to find a whole lot of non-functioning shutters: Shutters that are sadly bolted to the wall on all four corners, never to swing, never to shade their glassy neighbors.


Drives. Me. Crazy.

There are different degrees of travesty to this travesty. The most glaringly laughable are shutters that would never have a chance of covering their windows, missing dimensions in both length and width. A permutation of this is shutters laughably larger than the windows they are “meant” to cover. The gymnastics that designers/builders/homeowners will go to to include shutters on their house are sometimes gold medal worthy. On the other end of the shutter spectrum are shutters that appear spatially and operatively functional but aren’t (still dishonest, but at least clever).

There are more serious transgressions than shutters. I call it the “Disneyland-effect” where all kinds of fakery is frosted onto a house to match some by-gone style that no longer relevant to today’s world. Fake dormers, fake pillars, false roofs.  

One school of Modern thought is that the structure of a building should be expressed. In other words, you should be able to see what the building is made of and how it is being supported. Think of being in a room and seeing the pillars and beams that form the building. You can see this in many mid-century Modern homes with the rafters evident in the ceiling. Unless you have a massive budget (and don’t care much about energy efficiency), you are probably building in the more conventional balloon style (using two by fours [or sixes]).


9.10.2014

haiku for the book "No Place Like Utopia" by Peter Blake


where the planes dissolve
where inside becomes outside
is utopia

After our house was on the Modern Home Tour, the architects left us a few gifts, and this book was one of them. An interesting read about a dude in the middle of it all such that he knew a number of the architectural movers-and-shakers of the mid-century modern era (as well the early Modernists). He worked with Louis Khan; knew Jackson Pollock, Philip Johnson, and Charles Eames well; was the curator of architecture and design at MoMA; and was editor in chief of the Architectural Forum. He also interacted with Bertrand Russell, Serge Chermayeff, Oskar Stonorov, Hans Knoll, Mies van der Rohe, Buckminster Fuller, Gropius, Rietveld, Marcel Breuer, Gregory Ain, and Neutra.

He had run-ins with Frank Lloyd Wright and said "Frank Lloyd Wright, who lied like a trooper, would have been a bore if he had stuck to the facts." He also said "[Wright] had clearly come to believe that he (or He) was Architecture, and Architecture was Wrightian or it was nothing at all." Blake also noted how poorly Wright treated anyone who worked for him that showed promise, describing Wright as "...always jealous of any talent he thought might threaten his own reputation..."

Blake loved de Stijl neoplasticism ("...one of the noblest and most radical of all modern movements...") and absolutely hated post-Modernism (for this, I love him). He explains why architects of the time hated Modernism being pigeon-holed into a "style",  describing Modernism as "...politically left, anticapitalist, and dogmatically so." Becoming an architect back in those days "...was a commitment to help change the world, nothing less."

And he was an architect who designed some nifty Modern beach houses in the Hamptons (photos below). He also wrote "Form Follows Fiasco", a criticism of Modern architecture (which his friends told him to burn; he seems to have forgotten about the book when he wrote his autobiography...).

All in all a good read with personal insights into the personalities of the big names in Modern architecture. And a good call for a book for me to read!






9.07.2014

(almost...) Collecting the sun!



The solar installers came this week and began installing solar panels and associated electrical connections. The above photo is after an afternoon or so of work installing solar panel support structures. Because the roof is clad with standing seam galvalume, it's relatively simple to install the supports by clamping them to the standing seams:


The next morning the installers came out and installed the panels themselves and left behind the inverter for the electrician:




And then either Thursday or Friday the electrician came out and connected the system into our electric box:




You might have noticed that there isn't an electric meter yet: The solar company is waiting for a city inspection (and subsequent meter) before we go live. Yippee!

All in all a nice and clean install. Can't wait to start actually collecting sunlight!

9.06.2014

What is Modern? 2. Form follows function

Part 2 of a 10-part series on what is Modern.

The purity of function in the form of a Midwestern grain silo.

Back in old pre-Modern days of formal architecture, function was often forced to follow form. The form of a building was predetermined (think of the symmetry of Georgian mansions, Greco-Roman structures, Renaissance buildings); function had to find a way to fit form. Inspired in part by midwestern grain silos (Loos and Corbusier were enamored with them), proto-Modernists began experimenting with form deferring to function. This allowed for articulation of surfaces: instead of a flat plane on a building surface, volumes protruded and receded from the plane as internal needs were met.

The forced symmetry of a Georgian mansion.

It was Louis Sullivan in the 1880s who famously uttered “form ever follows function” as part of his practice in Chicago (the modern permutation drops the “ever” for the mantra “form follows function”). It simply means that the bones of a building, in other words, its volumes, reflect what the building is used for rather than trying to force-fit a function into an arbitrary form.

Louis Sullivan. Even his beard
was asymmetrical.


For example, some architectural dogma requires symmetry in a building’s design: the right half needs to look like a mirror image of the left half regardless of the enclosed functions in either half. Modernism has no such requirement (and arguably demands asymmetry). Whatever volumes a structure needs to accomplish its purpose (considering function, lot, zoning, and budget restrictions) is the shape structure takes.

1926, Walter Gropius, haus at the Bauhaus.

9.03.2014

Frank Lloyd Wright's Louis Pennfield House

Love-love-love this house, built in 1955. Currently for sale for a cool $1.7 million (but includes a couple other places). Also currently for rent!