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Photography

We're making some updates

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Now that we have some new photographs of the (almost) finished Stinson Tower I thought it might be a good time to update the website. It’s nothing major but I realized it’s been some time since since I’ve added anything to it. Anyway, you’ll find a few new projects and some updated imagery. And I may have added another Easter Egg or two.

Enjoy.

The Professional

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I’d like to think of myself as a respectable photographer: I’m able to grab some pretty good shots of my kids and there was that book that was full of photos I had taken of courthouses. But there is an order of magnitude difference between what I can do and what a real “professional” architectural photographer can with the same building.

I first met Dror Baldinger when we both served on a committee for the Texas Society of Architects. Dror was trained and work for decades as an architect before switching gears and photographing buildings other people had done. His work is amazing and I feel a little guilty hiring him to photograph my modest projects.

He shot the Ranch Dining Pavilion a few years ago and I’m having him photograph the Stinson Tower project as well. I’m not saying he make projects look better than they do in real life, but he does a great job of putting the work that architects do in their best possible light.

You can look forward to seeing the results of my little adventure with Dror in the coming weeks.

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.

Jennifer In Paradise

In 1987 two employees of Industrial Light & Magic had just completed work on major project. As they were also dating one another they decided to take some time off and go on a vacation together to Bora Bora. It was there that John Knoll took a snapshot of his girlfriend, Jennifer, as she sunbathed on the beach. Later that day, John would propose to Jennifer.

Later that year John and his brother were working on a new piece of software that could manipulate digital images. When they finally were able to make use of a digital scanner (a hard-to-come-by piece of technology in the 1980s), the vacation photo of his now-fiancée was the only image John had on hand. It was scanned and the image would be used to further develop the software and ultimately demonstrate its capabilities to Adobe, the software company that purchased the distribution license for the software in 1988.

The name of the software they developed was Photoshop. The image that has often been called the first "photoshopped" image has come to be known as "Jennifer in Paradise."

Photoshop revolutionized how we understand photography. Whereas once we could believe something if we "saw it with our own two eyes", Photoshop changed that. Although it has always been possible to manipulate images, until the development of Photoshop it was a labor intensive process that required a great amount of skill. Photoshop democratized the process so that anyone with a computer could enhance (or depending on your point of view, fake) photographic imagery.

A photo ceased to always be believable. It ceased to be always truthful.

Of course, photography was never completely objective. How the photographer frames the image and the exact instant he or she decides to capture by definition eliminates physical and temporal context. We all know this to be true but a issue arrises when a supposedly objective and truthful photograph has been surreptitiously manipulated. Fashion photography has become so notorious for making already beautiful people look even more impossibly perfect that there is now an organized backlash against it. The same is true of architectural photography. For any given image of a building (including some on my website) it is not uncommon for multiple exposures to be compiled and for various "imperfections" (fire alarms, Knox-boxes, humans, etc.) to have been "photoshopped out". As in fashion photography, this sort of image manipulation can be taken too far.

But buildings do exist as physical objects in the world beyond the photographs taken of them. A photo of a building can "lie" but the truth can be revealed when the building is visited in person. Architecture, I believe, possess an inherent "truth" that exists regardless of the quality of the architecture. The story behind their design and construction can be fictionalized and the photos taken of them can be altered, but at the end of the day we experience a buildings as facts.

We suddenly find ourselves in an unprecedented situation where discerning what is real and what is true is considerably challenging. Just as anyone with Photoshop can now create "fake" imagery, now anyone with a Facebook account can spread "fake" news. Powerful people are making statements that obfuscate the truth. Complex histories are being rewritten in 140 characters.

But truth is something, like architecture, that exists in the world. It can be experienced. It can verified. I hope we all take the time to do that. If we do - if we listen to the better angles of our nature and seek out the truth even if it conflicts with the beliefs we may hold - we can together move this country forward.

We can make this world a better place that is just a little closer paradise.

 

 

Just what do you think you're doing, Dave?

2001: A Space Odyssey is one of the most iconic science fiction films of all time. The 1968 movie is visually stunning and thought-provoking even if its last ten minutes are completely unintelligible. The film's art design is particularly memorable. It saw the constructed a thirty-eight-foot-diameter rotating set to make shots such as this possible and also predicted iPads thirty-two years before they were actually created.

And then there's the iconic glowing red eye of the film's HAL 9000 computer.

I watched a video the other day that described how the iconic glowing red eye of the computer was actually an off-the-shelf Nikon 8mm fish-eye lens (the lens isn't manufactured anymore but you can still occasionally find one on eBay). As someone who uses Nikon cameras myself, I couldn't help but feel unearned pride in the fact that a component of my brand of choice was used in the film. I also got a kick out of the fact that the filmmakers basically used a found object to create the one of the most memorable fictional computers.

Of course, computer "eyes" turned out to be not so cinematic. For example the camera on the iMac I am using to write this post is basically invisible. At less than a quarter of an inch in diameter it sits behind the glass bezel of my display. Rather than perceiving it as a nefarious entity watching my every move, I tend to forget my computer even has a camera (which maybe I shouldn't do).

If science fiction films tell us anything it is that technology tends to be much less architectural when it finally comes to exist. Computers, for example, are integrated into small everyday objects rather than existing as separate objects with glowing red eyes. As architects we still have to design around machines, of course. It's just that those machines are more mundane things like dishwashers and refrigerators rather than heuristically programmed algorithmic computers.

Angel Butts

The front of Bass Performance Hall appears on the left while its rear appears on the right

I was in Fort Worth over the weekend for a conference and had the opportunity to walk around downtown a bit. I grew up near Fort Worth so I've spent a fair amount of time there, but it's changed quite a bit since then. I've changed a bit since then, too. 

There's something incredibly fulfilling about rediscovering a place you thought you knew. Fort Worth has always had a nicely scaled downtown. It has skyscrapers but somehow even they feel more humane than in other cities. And there has been considerable investment by the Bass family among others to revitalize and infill the core of the city to make it a truly vibrant place to be. Fort Worth has also always struck me as a city that is comfortable with who it is. Austin wants to a city on the west coast, Dallas wants to be a city on the east coast and Houston wants to be, well, Houston wants to be something. But Fort Worth was always wanted to be Fort Worth. It's a cowtown and it owns that fact.

But one building has always bothered me. Bass Performance Hall was built when I was still in architecture school and I remember it receiving a lot of favorable press in its day (at least in the local newspaper). Call me crazy, but I thought its front facade with its 48' tall angles with gilded trumpets projecting out over the street was, in a word, tacky. 

My feelings towards this building remain unchanged.

I think what bothers me most is that the building just seems out of character for Fort Worth. Don't get me wrong, Fort Worth has some amazing cultural institutions, many of which perform at the Bass Performance Hall. But the architecture just seems to be trying too hard. It didn't have to do that. I would have much rather seen a performance hall designed for Fort Worth than one designed for Paris (or at least Disneyland Paris).

Anyway, when I was walking by the building over the weekend I saw a part of the building I hadn't seen before - it's backside. I'm not saying it's purely functional stucco facade is better than the front - it's not an either/or proposition - but it did make me smile because I realized I was technically looking at angel butts.

That's the problem with putting a 48' tall angle on the front end of your building - eventually someone is going to see their rear end as well.

 

The kids go to the Kimbell

We were up in The Dallas/Fort Worth area last weekend and because my girls are early risers (and my wife is not) I drove them over to the Kimbell Art Museum. Of course it wasn't open at 6:00am but the building is still inspiring just to be around. I grew up only a few minutes from the museum and I feel it played a big part in inspiring me to become an architect.

That Saturday morning it inspired my girls to run around and explore with great enthusiasm: 

Darcy does downward dog.

The girls frolic symmetrically.

Darcy walks past the Youpon Entry Court whilst wearing Daddy's hat.

Sammy and Darcy reflect on how much fun it would be to jump into the reflecting pool.

Darcy moves towards the Moore. 

Oh, and now we have built work, too

The process of creating architecture takes a long time. Between the design and the actual construction, years can transpire between when an idea is created and when it finally becomes a finished reality.

Now that HiWorks has been around for a couple of years, we finally have some photos of finished (and mostly finished) projects that we can post on our site. I had intended to do an larger redesign of the whole website experience and although I intended to do that at some point, it seemed worthwhile to just get these images uploaded.

All that is to say more (and better) images will follow, but for now at least there is proof that we actually do create architecture here and not just pretty pictures of drawings of them. 

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.

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.

Meeting Emma

Writing assignments come into the office in waves and mid-February through mid-March proved to be especially busy. The most recent article to go up is an essay for the Rivard Report on the Hotel Emma, a new boutique hotel that will be opening at the Pearl in the coming months. It was great to get a sneak peek into the project and it was even better to be given a tour by Scott Martin, whose ongoing documentation of the project are as remarkable as the spaces themselves.

Happy accidents

As an architect, you spend a lot of time trying to imagine what a finished building will be like. You constantly work to anticipate how it will function and the kind of experiences people will have inside of it. You can't anticipate everything, however, and sometimes "happy accidents" occur. Many times these unintended results are ephemeral - the setting sun will reflect off a pool of water and animate an otherwise blank facade. Or in the case of the Connexa Energy project, a window will align perfectly with the construction site's port-a-poty.

I totally meant to do that.

Who are these people?

photo by Mark Menjivar

Ever wonder who the slightly blurry people are in architectural photographs? Well, when we had Mark Menjivar shoot our recently completed Network Operations Center project, we asked the entire project team to act as models. On the one hand, it was a great way to reunite the team to see the result of all our efforts. On the other hand, I don't think this is going to launch our modeling careers.

Perhaps we'd best stick to designing buildings.

I did not design this building

But it is a cool adaptive reuse project and I did write an article about it for Urban Home Magazine. It was designed by my friend and former office-mate, Jonathan Card of Urbanist Design. A version of the article is finally online and can be read here.  A PDF of the print article can be downloaded here and a slideshow of some of the images (some of which were taken by yours truly) can be found here.

Enjoy.

The family that drones together...

I am lucky to have clients who have amazing sites with incredible views of beautiful country.  Of course, almost any view is improved by an increase in elevation.  Lucky for them I have a drone to which I can attach a camera that then allows them to visualize what the view from a second floor would be like.  Why do I have a drone you ask?  It's a long story.

On a separate but related topic, my wife likes to sleep late on weekends.  My daughters and I do not.  Thus it only makes sense for the three of us to go for a drive into the country, for me to strap my youngest daughter to my chest and then fly a drone of dubious legality around private property.  

Hilarity always ensues.

To All Of You On The Good Earth

image courtesy NASA

In December of 1968 - a year that was challenging at best - the three man crew of Apollo 8 made the first manned flight from Earth to the Moon.  Although they didn't actually land on the moon  (that would occur 7 months later on Apollo 11) They did experience things no one had ever seen before.   This including seeing the Earth "rise" over the surface of the Moon.  The photograph of this has become one of the iconic images of the twentieth century.

It's important to keep in mind that NASA's astronauts weren't sent into space to take pretty pictures.  The ones they did capture were in many cases unplanned snapshots that could very easily have been missed. 

In a new video made for the 45th anniversary of the flight, NASA has created an animation that combines the existing voice recording of the astronauts overlaid with the images they took to recreate the somewhat frantic moments that proceeded the creation of the "Earthrise" image.  Frank Borman was in the process of executing a roll of the spacecraft when Bill Anders, who was surveying the Lunar surface for potential landing sites, happened to see the Earth beginning to rise out of his window.  He snaps a shot of it with the camera he has, but realizing its loaded with black and white film, he calls out to the third member of the crew, Jim Lovell, to grab a canister containing color film.  As the spacecraft continues to roll, the view disappears out of the small window Anders is using before Lovell can retrieve the color film.  All three of them think they've missed the shot when the Earth comes into view out of Borman's window.  It is through the round window of the spacecraft's hatch that the iconic image is ultimately taken.

And so in conclusion to this blog post (and this year), I will quote the final line from Apollo 8's Christmas Eve Broadcast that was made from Lunar orbit that same day: 

...and from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas - and God bless all of you, all of you on the good Earth.