Rebuild ’em

Stumbled across this group the other day http://www.twintowersalliance.com/

This was my first thought after watching the towers fall. We need to rebuild them, taller and stronger than they were before. Nothing will show our resolve more clearly, than to reconstruct what was taken from us on that day, as best we can.

No other construction or memorial on the ‘ground zero’ site will ever equal the statement that restoring the twin towers will make.

Minding the Details

Back when I worked in a big architectural office, I was generally relied upon to generate details for whatever section of the project was my responsibility. Inevitably, when I would bring some suggested details to the Project Manager’s attention for discussion, someone would repeat the old axiom “The Devil is in the Details”. In the course of my 20+ years in the architectural field I have heard it quite a few times. Most of my co-workers hated detailing. It’s slow work when done right; and if the detail doesn’t work, you can guess who gets the blame.

While I’ve heard “The Devil is in the Details” thousands of times, I’ve always had a different view of the problem. The prestigious parts of a project’s design (exterior and interior appearance) are generally either fought over by the team leadership, or handed to some design guru to give his special ‘flourish’ to. The rest of the tasks are handed out the team, usually with some grumbling about who ends up with what, and most of them look forward to the day when they can paint with broad strokes and not have to worry about ‘the details’. No one wants them, except people like me. Design is design, and the joy of creation is in the details as much as it is in generating a building exterior that has ‘street appeal’.

It’s a lot like writing, in a way. There is something I need to say, how to say it? There’s something this widget needs to do, how do I make it work? Sit there and puzzle over it, lay out designs and discard them one after another. Consult some references, lay out more designs, and sit and puzzle some more. Finally in the end it all comes together in a flash of inspiration, and Viola! The joy of creation, doing work that the average clock-puncher looks down on as beneath them.

The old axiom does carry a grain of truth. If you don’t mind the details, if you don’t sort them all out for yourself, then you leave that part of creation to chance. Murphy is a hard task master, and gremlins don’t have a bad rep because they fix things when you aren’t looking. Chances are, if you leave the details to chance, you won’t be pleased with the outcome.

“Mcmansions” or just a sign of the changing times…

Only in Austin would they spit on revitalizing downtown residential districts, and call the resultant housing ‘McMansions’. Everywhere else this epithet is used (and rightly, in my opinion) it is applied to the overly large, over priced, housing that springs up in the suburbs. As an architect with a family to feed, I can share the blame for a good portion of that type of housing. Most of the families who moved into houses that I helped get built were quite thankful to have them. To each his own, I live in the central city because I like the convenience of being near downtown.

Based on the complaints of disgruntled neighbors, the Austin city council took action last week and suspended all pending permits for construction in established neighborhoods, subject to review and possible further restriction by ordinance. (how is this not Ex Post Facto, is what I’d like to know, but let’s not get off on a tangent here) Anyone who thinks this isn’t about the same ‘no-growth’ issues that Austin has always been preoccupied with needs to take a crash course in the history of Austin politics.

All you have to do is see which side the usual suspects line up on. The Austin American Statesman is foursquare against the ban, as can be seen from the multiple Op-Ed columns and letters on the subject. Too bad they don’t consistently side with those interested in preserving property rights. This time the property rights (and values) argument is what is being offered by the builders, so that’s the tack that is going to be taken by those who follow the chamber of commerce side of the argument.

On the other end of the spectrum is the champion of no-growth, the Austin Chronicle. At least they are consistent in lamenting the halcyon days of Austin in the 70’s, back when the city was a town, and it was empty when UT wasn’t in session. I wish these people would wake up and smell the coffee.

That Austin has been gone for so long, it was only a memory when I moved here in the late 80’s. The no-growthers got what they wanted way back then, except they found out they didn’t want it when they saw what it was. Property values crashed, jobs went away, projects were left rotting and half completed. They got it again when they passed SOS and successfully killed development in areas outside the city.

This problem is also of their own making. The traffic congestion which is a result of blocking most of the new freeway work that had been proposed 20 years ago, makes living in the suburbs an almost intolerable commute if you work downtown now. Many people who do so would (like me) like to live close enough to avoid a long commute. This (along with other factors) produces higher demand for housing in central Austin. The resultant rise in land prices (also an offshoot of the FACT that Austin isn’t a sleepy little town anymore; but a full fledged city of more than 500,000) has lead land owners to capitalize on property investments.

Now, horror of horrors, “the growth is happening right next door to me!”, not out in the suburbs. “Gotta call my councilman, and put a stop to this.” That’s how it always starts, and it never turns out like they planned it.

If you don’t own the property in question, you don’t have any right to dictate to the current owner what gets built on it. That won’t stop most people from trying, but what usually ends up happening is the development happens anyway, it just ends up costing more. This is what comes from relying on zoning and city officials to do a job that could more reliably be done with restrictive covenants and/or architectural planners who have a clue about what makes sense land use wise.

But then the chamber of commerce types wouldn’t be able to ram through the developments they want when the tables are reversed…

Common Sense Alternatives

It’s my curse to see them, and then spend my time arguing with complete buffoons about them.

Like the smoking argument, the solution the the drinking and driving problem isn’t less alcohol consumption, or more expensive drinks; just as the solution to problems with second hand smoke isn’t keeping people from smoking. It’s architectural; or in this case, a zoning issue. If it was possible to set up neighborhood pubs or sidewalk cafes as they do in other places, it wouldn’t be necessary to drive down to the pub to get a pint, or to the cafe to get a taste. You could walk there.

De-stressing the forbidden nature of alcohol would go along way in stopping teenage drinking as well.

But I don’t expect anyone will listen to this argument any more than they have to the other ones I’ve offered.