Stinson Hat

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A few weeks ago I wrote about the progress of the new Stinson Municipal Airport Control Tower. As the main portion of the tower was going up the "cab" - the uppermost part with all the windows where the air traffic controllers actually do all their work - was simultaneously being built on the ground. Last week a large crane lifted it to its final resting place on top of the tower.

This is not how buildings are normally built. Then again an air traffic control tower is not a normal type of building. When you think about it, this approach makes sense. Since the cab contains the majority of the detail work associated with the project you want to build it in the most efficient way possible. Forcing every sub-contractors to climb ten flights of stairs to do all their work a hundred feet in the air isn't very efficient. Hoisting a massive pre-built component may seem like an extreme approach but it turns out to be the best one. AJT, the engineering firm responsible for the main portion of the tower, has perfected this approach having built several multiple versions of the same tower over the years.

Design is about the finished product to be sure, but it is also about how you get there. Strategizing how the "wings" - our contribution to the design - are prebuilt and attached to the tower represented a significant portion of our design as well.

In Praise of Good Humor

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SpaceX launched its first Falcon Heavy launch vehicle this week. I was able to watch it live on my computer at my office and it was a truly spectacular event. As a test flight with a relatively low chance of success the rocket carried no "real" payload. Normally these sorts of tests carry ballast or some other sort of dead weight, but the founder of SpaceX, Elon Musk, thought that would be boring. 

And indeed it would have been. And so instead they sent aloft a cherry red Tesla Roadster. Tesla, of course, is also helmed by Musk and while all this could be dismissed as a publicity stunt, I appreciated the gesture.

I am in no way comparing myself to Musk - obviously he and I function in very different planes of influence and importance - but I certainly recognize his desire to humanize (or at least humorize) the tasks he undertakes. It's the same reason Michael Jackson and David Hasselhoff inhabit the renderings I produce. It's the same reason this website is littered with hidden Easter egg links.

It's good to take seriously the important thing you do in life. But it's also OK to wink at the people you encounter along the way.

 

A Note About Our Residential Work

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At HiWorks we do a lot of different types of projects. Yes we do theaters and control towers but we also do private homes. Out of respect for the privacy of our Clients many of these projects aren't publicized on our website. Even so we are incredibly proud of this work and always feel honored to be a part of the journey that leads to a new home.

One of these homes was recently photographed and the Client graciously gave us permission to make the images public. The house was designed to offer 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.

In the coming weeks we'll be adding this and other projects to the "What We Do" section of our website. So by all means, do stay tuned.

HiWorks in the News in West Texas

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So I was in Fort Stockton last week for a series of meetings with the Community Theatre and my Theatre Consultant. It was a good meeting and as a part of it I was also interviewed by KWES Channel 9. I spoke at length about the project and a few seconds of that detailed, nuanced description made it onto the air. So for better or worse my fame now extends to the West Texas / Southeast New Mexico regional broadcast area.

At any rate, in case you missed it, you can watch the story here.

 

Enjoy.

Stinson Rising

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Construction of the new Stinson Municipal Airport Control Tower is currently underway. So far the effort has focused on the concrete tower (the part not designed HiWorks in conjunction with Work5hop) but in a few months our portion of the design will be attached to that central core. These prefabricated "wings" are currently being assembled in Phoenix and the full-scale mockup looks great.

So stay tuned - things are about to get interesting.

The Graflex Lightsaber

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One of the gifts my daughters received for Christmas were light-up toy lightsabers. Sammy received "Rey's" lightsaber and if you've seen the most recent installments of the franchise you know this is also "Luke's" lightsaber from the original trilogy and "Anakin's" lightsaber from the prequels. The story of how that came to be is rather convoluted but I think the more interesting story is how this particular lightsaber prop came to be designed.

Here's a hint: it has something to do with a accessory for an obsolete medium-format camera.

In 1976 the production design team was hard at work creating the cinematic universe for Star Wars. It's important to remember that the original movie had a relatively low budget and many of the props were and sets were cobbled together from things that already existed in the real world. The story goes that a set decorator went into a photography store to buy a couple of lenses to make a pair of futuristic binoculars. While he was there he asked if the store had any "interesting" gear that no one was buying anymore. He was pointed in the direction of a box included the flashgun for a Graflex Speed Graphic camera. This particular camera was popular with photojournalists in the 1940s and 1950s but by the 1970s it was out of production and rarely used. The flashgun consisted of a cylindrical metal tube containing batteries that connected to a bowl-shaped flash mechanism.

He took one look at the metal tube and he saw Luke's lightsaber.

Some additional detail was added including plastic strips for the grip and parts from a Texas Instruments calculator (there's always a Texas connection), but the basic form of Luke's iconic lightsaber was sitting there all along in a box of unused camera parts. The movie's other lightsabers were made in similar ways: Obi-Wan Kenobi's lightsaber notably made use of both a residential sink knob as well as a part form an aircraft machine gun.

Luke Skywalker's lightsaber can be seen at the far right while Obi-Wan Kenobi's lightsaber is second from the left

Luke Skywalker's lightsaber can be seen at the far right while Obi-Wan Kenobi's lightsaber is second from the left

For me the moral to this story is that good design can come from anywhere. You just have to remember to keep your eyes (and your mind) open so that you can see it.

"The Works" gets aggregated

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Back in July of 2016 I released an episode of "The Works" about the development of the Whataburger A-Frame. It was a fascinating story I was trying to tell and I also ended up doing a written version of the story for the Rivard Report

This week I learned the Houston Chronicle picked up the story and published a piece of their own based on my podcast and article. I have to admit I was flattered to have found my way into the nation's third-largest newspaper. I was also flattered to be referred to as a "scholar".

Of course I would have been happy to have been interviewed by the writer of the piece in the Chronicle but he never reached out to me. That's why I didn't know anything about it until a year-and-a-half after it was published.

Anyway, you can listen to the original podcast episode here or read the Houston Chronicle story here

Return of the Guardrail

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In an earlier post I wrote of how the Star Wars universe would have been considerably safer had they decided long, long ago to  install more guardrails. After seven films where Jedi, Sith and smugglers are all constantly falling to their doom I was thrilled to see in the newest episode that basic safety measures are beginning to be implemented in that galaxy far, far away. Guardrails can clearly be seen in Supreme Leader Snoke's throne room (see above). In terms of occupant welfare this is a definite improvement and as illustrated in the film it results in a much safer environment for all those who occupy it.

And with that I wish all of you a happy 2017. I'll see you in 2018.

Happy Holidays from "The Works" (and HiWorks)

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Two new episodes of "The Works" in two weeks? What's going on? It must be Christmas...

On this special holiday edition of the podcast we tell the story of an empty lot that once a year turns into something very special. As always, please talk a moment to listen to the story and if you like what you hear, feel listen to the other episodes or subscribe to the podcast on iTunes where you can also rate the show and leave a comment.

Oh, and Happy Holidays.

A Valentine from Valentine

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As I mentioned in the last post I recently attended a radio storytelling workshop in Marfa. It was a great week in which I had the opportunity to meet and work with some great people. Over the course of the workshop each of us students produced a profile of a person doing something interesting in the area. As my subject I chose the postmaster of Valentine, Texas.

The story aired last night on Marfa Public Radio but since it's tangentially related to architecture (the postmaster works in a post office building) I've integrated into the feed for The Works podcast. You can listen to it by clicking the play button below or learn more about the episode on its show page.

As always, feel free to listen to other episodes or subscribe to the podcast on iTunes where you can also rate the show and leave a comment.

Happy Valentines Day.

Marfaland

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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.

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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.

 

Missing From Travis Park

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My grandfather's generation fought Nazis in Europe. I bet he never thought his grandson's generation would need to fight neo-Nazis and the hatred they represent in public parks here in the United States.

On this episode of the podcast we talk about Travis Park and the monument that was built there. As always, please talk a moment to listen to the story and if you like what you hear, feel listen to the other episodes or subscribe to the podcast on iTunes where you can also rate the show and leave a comment.

The Architecture of the Justice League

image courtesy Hanna-Barbera Productions

image courtesy Hanna-Barbera Productions

Justice League opens this weekend and to be perfectly honest, I don't care. The reviews haven't been great and when it comes to movies that pander to my childhood nostalgia I'm much more of a Star Wars man.

But the marketing barrage that has accompanied the release of the film did remind me of a Saturday morning cartoon I would occasionally watch as a kid.

I don't remember much about the plot of individual episodes of Super Friends beyond the fact it featured the adventures of a group of superheroes. That said I do remember something about the architecture of the show. It seams this team of costumed vigilantes hung out in a headquarters called the "Hall of Justice". This was no subterranean Batcave but a monumental piece of civic architecture that would have been a prominent landmark regardless of if it was located in Gotham, Metropolis or Cincinnati.

I mention the third-largest city in Ohio because it is the real life home of Union Terminal, a train station that clearly acted as an architectural precedent for the hall portrayed in the cartoon.

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Not being a superfan of DC superheroes I don't know much about the Hall of Justice or how it came to be built. But as an architectural supernerd I do know a few things about Cincinnati's Union Terminal.

It was designed by a team of superarchitects that included Paul Cret, a French architect who immigrated to the United States and became a successful and influential designer of public buildings. He helped design much of the campus of the University of Texas, including its iconic main tower building.

Around the same time he was working on the UT campus he was also working on an art deco train station for Cincinnati. It was completed in 1933 but because of the great Depression, World War II and the subsequent decline of rail transportation, it never served the capacity it was designed to accommodate. It was eventually abandoned but in the 1980s it was repurposed as a multi-use cultural facility that contains museums, theaters, and a library.

Cincinnati, it turns out, was the home of the broadcasting company that owned Hanna-Barbera Productions, the animation studio responsible for the creation of Super Friends. I'm certainly not the first one to point out the relationship between the fictional Hall of Justice and the real Union Terminal and the latter has actually been used as a set for several live-action portrayals of DC Comics superheroes.

I am unable to go into more detail about how the real life Union Terminal is incorporated into theses shows (or even if the building makes an appearance in the new movie) because as I've mentioned before, I really don't care.

HiWorks at Five

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Data from the Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests that about half of new businesses don't survive past their fifth year. HiWorks is now officially five years old so, well, I guess that means we're awesome.

Of course one interesting (and telling) thing about this particular anniversary is that I totally forgot about it. Legal documents say HiWorks was established on November 1st of 2012. November 1st, for the record falls right smack in between Halloween and one of my daughter's birthdays. This year it was particularly busy in that we were preparing for a birthday party and had a dance performance to attend. All that is to say the anniversary came and went and I didn't even realize it until a week later.

I suppose it's a good thing that the survival of my business enterprise is no longer a noteworthy event. HiWorks today is a lot different than I would have expected five years ago. It'll be interesting to see where we are five years from now.

Selwyn School

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Earlier this year I mentioned we had started work on a master plan for Selwyn School up in Argyle, Texas. It was a busy summer but the team of architects, administrators, faculty members and students all worked together to create a campus design that fits the uniqueness of the school's approach to education as well as the uniqueness of the school's wooded site. We are all excited to start work on designing the actual buildings that will make up the campus.

On a purely personal note it was incredibly fun to finally have the opportunity to work professionally with Michael Malone and Audrey Maxwell of Malone Maxwell Borson Architects. Although we have been friends and colleagues for years and had always talked about trying to work together, Selwyn School represented our first opportunity to actually do so. Hopefully it will not be our last.

In the meantime, additional images describing our work on Selwyn School are now available on the website. Go Unicorns.

Tilting Up

image courtesy AJT Engineering

image courtesy AJT Engineering

I mentioned back in September work had begun on the Stinson Municipal Airport Control Tower. That work continues and I am happy to follow up by saying that the building is now officially out of the ground.

The main body of the tower (designed by AJT Engineering) consists of a series of stacked precast concrete panels. These are cast at a plant east of town, shipped to the site and then hoisted by a crane into place. This type of construction isn't particularly unusual - many "big box" retail stores and warehouses are built with precast panels as well - but the technique is remarkable in that you go from a foundation to something that resembles a building in a remarkably short period of time.

There is still lots of work to go on the project (the "wings" we designed along with Work5hop are just beginning to be fabricated in Arizona) but it's always exciting to see a design starting to become real.

Leaving Home

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I found a box of old photos recently.

Now these were real photos - 4x6 prints from back when photographs were physical things that you held in your hand. I found this one picture of a rather goofy looking boy standing in front of a yellow rental truck. Although it was not timestamped I knew the photograph was taken in early July of 2000. If the picture had been taken five years later it would have been captured digitally and would have been saved on a hard drive but never printed. It would never have become a physical artifact that you could find in a box.

It is early in the morning and what you can't see is that the boy has loaded all of his worldly possessions into the rental truck behind him. In a minute he will leave his childhood home and spend two days driving a thousand miles to the north. He will get a job in a city where he knows next to no one. He will make friends. He will build a career. He will eventually move back to Texas, but he will never move back home.

He will eventually marry and have kids of his own and they will grow up in a different home in a different city. On occasion the boy will visit his old home - the one he grew up in - but he will always be a guest there.

Even when his kids are young the boy will squint and be able to imagine a time when they, too, will pack up all of their worldly possessions into a truck. Like their father before them they will leave home to create a life and a family and a home of their own. But before they do that - before they leave their home one last time - he will take their photo. He'll print out a copy of that photo and he'll send it to wherever it is his kids are going. 

His kids might not think much about the photo at first. They might think it strange to receive a photo of what they were leaving behind. They might put that photo in a box and forget about it for many years.

But one day they'll find the box. They'll look at the photo and remember the day they left home.

I Read It For The Articles

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A few weeks ago Hugh Hefner died. His passing caused me to think about the one issue of Playboy I own.

I've talked before about Albert Speer and how his style of architecture became so closely associated with Nazism that it fell out of favor after the end of the Second World War. Speer is himself a fascinating character. Of the 24 high-ranking officials of the Third Reich on trial in Nuremberg, Speer alone expressed remorse and responsibility. This is probably why he did not receive the death penalty as did most of his fellow codefendants.

At any rate, last year I learned of an interview Speer gave to Playboy magazine in 1971 after completing his prison sentence. Obtaining a copy through Amazon was surprisingly easy (and cheap) so I finally got around to buying my first Playboy.

The lengthy article about Speer was fascinating and worth the $3 it had cost me. Although I was reading Playboy just for the article (no, really) I naturally flipped through the rest of the magazine as well.

Browsing any forty-five-year-old publication is an interesting anthropological experience. If nothing else it's fun to see ads for 8-track stereo systems, American Motors station wagons and Schlitz beer. It's also fun to see the Marlboro Man still selling filtered cigarettes and Orson Wells selling bourbon whiskey.

And then, of course, there were the naked women.

To be perfectly honest the photos contained in the magazine were relatively tame (especially in comparison to what any reasonably resourceful 12-year-old buy can find online today). But what was far more objectionable were the cartoons dispersed throughout the pages of the periodical. It wasn't that the cartoons were particularly explicit, it's that they were incredibly sexist. The nonchalant chauvinism implied a cultural pervasiveness that apparently was much more accepted back then. But even if that overt sexism has been driven underground it's clearly still here today

I would like to think that the battle against sexism was won long ago. I would like to think the battle against Nazism has been won as well but apparently that battle somehow continues to be fought as well. We still have work to do.

 

 

Still a loser...

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A little over a month ago I reported about how I lost a competition to design an accessible route to San Antonio's City Hall. Today I'm proud to report I've successfully lost another competition: this one to imagine a reuse for an abandoned church on Chicago's South Side.

Every year or so the Chicago Architectural Club sponsors a design competition to address some existing design issue in the city. The challenges are usually pretty compelling and I've submitted entries into past competitions. For this year's Burnham Price Competition I proposed converting the old Saint Stephen's Church into a new National Cemetery for the city of Chicago.

The rapid growth of Chicago in the late 19th and early 20th centuries resulted in a dense urban landscape that was unable to accommodate the traditional “garden cemeteries” favored by the National Cemetery Administration. But just as it pioneered the concept of the skyscraper by building up to contain the living, it seemed natural that Chicago would embrace the idea of building down to house the dead. The church's main worship space would be restored and a fabric “reflector cone” would be suspended inside to evenly distribute daylight onto the inside surface of the existing dome. A circle of lilies would be planted around a large hole cut into the floor to allows light to filter down to the twelve levels of crypts below. 

Like most competitions of this sort there's no chance than even the winning entries will be built, but it was still fun to imagine what could be. As an architect, that's something I get to do almost every day.

At any rate, you can download a PDF of our entry boards here.

Three Cheers for Thursday

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In an another month HiWorks will be celebrating the fifth anniversary. I could write a book about all the things I have learned along the way. I'm sure some of these lessons are similar to what every small business owner experiences whereas some are unique to those in a design profession. Some of the trends I've encountered are universal whereas some are probably just coincidental. 

For example it seems that whenever I start to wonder about what I'm going to be working on for the next few months I'll get a random phone call from someone wanting a house or a coffee shop or a community theatre. To a certain degree that is the nature of the architecture profession: you can market all you want but at the end of the day you have to wait for a client to hire you.

But the interesting thing is that those random phone calls always seem to come on a Thursday.

I have no idea why this is but it happened again yesterday (a Thursday) and I am grateful for it. I don't know what magic exists between Wednesday night and Friday morning but I am content to take full advantage of this phenomenon be it a legitimate pattern or a random fluke.

Either way I get to end the week with new opportunities on the horizon.