observing our house in murder lake


We have an artist pal who works in animation here in Austin (he rotoscoped Linklater's Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly), and he's associated with a crowdfunded project called Murder Lake. We helped to crowdfund this as-yet-unrealized project by Minnow Mountain and, as one of the perks, got our house in the series as an observatory!

Some other (paying) projects have come up which has delayed Murder Lake a wee bit, but it appears to be moving forward. And you just might see our spacey house in it! Meanwhile, you can check out Minnow Mountain's work in the Amazon series Undone.


dancing with architecture in danevang, texas

Pioneer House from 1898

On the way down to Matagorda for a beachy Thanksgiving, we passed through Danevang. We didn't have time to stop in at the Danish Heritage Museum on the way down, but we visited it on the way back home to get a little history of a little Danish in Texas.

Seventy families of immigrating Danes, after a stopover in the American Midwest, established Danevang (an alternate name for Denmark) in 1894. The initial going was rough, in large part because the Danes brought midwestern crops with them. After a few years, a number of famlilies left for California where they established Solvang. Nonetheless, Danevang persisted, especially after the locals discovered cotton. The locals spoke Danish in church and club meetings until 1971. The locals have been proud citizen-science participants (cooperative observers) in the National Weather Service since 1896.  

The cemetery is marked with gravestones in Danish with born-in locations proudly chiseled into the stone. The yard is also unique in that the architect of the museum is also buried there under a traditional Viking mark: one large stone perched atop three smaller stones.

Fastelavn, which is hitting the cat out of the barrel, similar to a pinata (candy, not cats!) although historically there was a cat in the barrel.


is this it for our house?

I hate to sound melodramatic, but our home's days are numbered.

Austin is expected to double in population from 1 million today to 2 million by 2070 and then double again to 4 million by 2120. As a result, the city is revising current city-wide zoning to allow for higher density, and, in some cases, including ours, density on steroids. And the city is hellbent on making it happen.

What does that mean for us? Because we back up to retail along Burnet Road, we are in what the city considers to be a major transit corridor where they want to increase density. Because of our proximity to the corridor, our zoning would change from SF3 (single-family) to RM1 (residential multi-unit). RM1 zoning allows six units (+ four bonus units) on a 5,000 square foot lot with 40-feet in height and a 10-foot front setback (instead of the current 25 feet). Because the lots in our part of the neighborhood are slightly above 10,000 square feet, we're looking at the potential of 20-unit apartment buildings coming to our single-family lots. Read that again because that is not a typo: 20-unit apartment buildings are coming to our single-family lots. There's no other way to put it except: Holy. Shit. This rezoning will be a death sentence for the current SF3 lifestyle in our part of Allandale.

Austin Upzoned, run by two architects in Rosedale, put together graphics showing implications of RM1 upzoning (see graphic above). Even this is not a worst-case scenario since they show three units without maximizing the full potential building envelope (setting aside personal concerns for the moment, that's actually a pretty nice design!). I love how Upzoned shows a herd of trash cans out front as well as consumed street parking.

We're not against higher density. When we bought and built on the edge of the neighborhood, we fully expected the retail property behind us to convert to mixed-use at some point. We like mixed-use, particularly the walkability and services that come with more people. But where is the mixed use along the Burnet Corridor? Yeah, there's some, but there's a lot of potential for more. Why isn't that a focus for the city?

Folks have said, "Hey! You don't have to move if your zoning changes!" Since we live between two future scrapes, we are at a high risk of being sandwiched between two 40-ft tall apartment buildings. Please raise your hands if you want to live between two 40-ft tall apartment buildings. Nobody? Nobody? 

Folks have also said, "Hey! Imagine how much money you'll make selling your property!" Who, exactly, wants to buy a house sandwiched between two 40-ft tall apartment buildings (unless it has a really, really good price)? Sure, developers might be interested. But where's the money going to go? For our street, we have original houses (1950s stock that goes for around $500,000 a pop) and newer houses (less-than-a-decade-old stock that go for around $1,000,000). Simple economics question: Which houses do you think the developers will want to buy? The rezoning will put all of the property value into the land. In the transition, since there will be more land than developers, I expect prices will go down across the board for newer stock before going up, perhaps years (decades?) down the road. 

Folks have also said "Hey! Why don't you build an apartment building yourself and make tons of money!" What bank is going to loan novices like us millions of dollars to develop our land? "Hey! You could team with a developer!" And why would a developer want to monkey around with another partner seeking to maximize return when she can buy a lot outright and make all the money herself? And do we want to risk financial ruin if the economy tanks while we build?

Unless there are city incentives, this zoning won't result in affordable housing. It will result in more-affordable housing, but not more affordable housing since units will be far from affordable for median income earners. Maximum livable square footage for our lot, assuming first-floor parking, would be 21,600 square feet. That works out to a somewhat reasonable 1,080 square feet per unit. With building costs at, say $300 a square-foot and property costs at $50 to $100 a square-foot, units will go for $378,000 to $432,000 a pop (or rent at about $3,800 to $4,300 a month). More affordable, but not exactly affordable. (Note that the property value would increase to $8,000,000 under this scenario).

The odds of this passing are pretty good. Transitional zones only comprise 1.9 percent of all the zoned properties of the city, which means 98.1 percent are not directly affected and therefore don't care. Our neighborhood seems more wound up about bicycle lanes than corridor rezoning.

We're saddened by all this. We invested blood, sweat, and tears into building our dream home and planned to live the rest of our days in it and in this wonderful neighborhood. Now we're discussing plans to move, assuming we can afford it. We'll be sure to stay away from transit corridors, if not Austin, this time.

The code and the maps.

Side-by-side comparison maps.

Staff answers to questions on the code rewrite.

File Your Protest

proposed zoning (left) and current zoning (right). The brown shading on the left is the proposed transitional zoning.

We are smack dab in the middle of that mess. See colors below for zoning. We are at the intersection of Ellise and Daugherty. The brighter yellow color is R4 zoning, which can have 4 to 8 units per lot.

City-provided details for the zoning are here (in case you think I'm making this up):

corridors and transportation centers


donald judd in new york

While in New York, we had to stop in and visit Donald Judd's work and living space at 101 Spring Street. Located in an historic cast-iron building loaded with natural light spilling in from floor-to-ceiling windows on two sides, it easy to see why Judd chose this place for his NY studio. In classic Judd style, the spaces are minimal with permanent installations, including in his bedroom located on the top floor. Photography was sadly only allowed on the first floor (I wish the Foundation understood that Juddheads would still go even if the space was scattered across Instagram). Nevertheless, it was well worth the visit.

One catch was getting a copy of the catalog Donald Judd Furniture, which includes dimensions (our docent even cracked that you could make the furniture yourself based on the information provided). We're particularly intrigued by his platform bed (which is installed at 101 Spring Street).







dancing with architecture NY: a float around manhattan

It seems we always find ourselves on a boat at some point on vacation, so it's no surprise we took a float around Manhattan Island. As happenstance would have it, we stayed in Hell's Kitchen, mere steps from the docks and next door to Hudson Yards:

We saw these concrete piers while walking the High Line and got a better view from the water. These are designed by Thomas Heatherwick, he of the vessel.

The water also afforded us a view of (from left to right) Jean Nouvel's 100 Eleventh Avenue, Frank Gehry's IAC Building, and Bjarke Ingels' The XI.

An here comes Renzo Piano's Whitney Museum of American Art:

We also got a great view of Herzog and de Meuron's 56 Leonard Street (aka the Jenga Tower). The view from the penthouse are unbelievable (and could be yours for a mere $60m!).

Jersey City also has a Jenga Tower (more like Austin's):

Brooklyn Bridge:

Waterside by Davis, Brody, & Associates:

United Nations Secretariat Building by Le Corbusier, Oscar Niemeyer, and Wallace Harrison:

The North River Wastewater Treatment Plant with a 28-acre green roof that holds three swimming pools, skating rink, several sports fields, and an 800-seat theater, athletic center, and restaurant!

Bjarke Ingels' VIA57 West:

Back to dock!