Friday, December 17, 2010

Last Day to Register for Advocates for Architecture Day

Just a reminder that registration for Advocates for Architecture Day ends today, Friday, December 17th.

Please register now and be the voice for Texas architecture at the State Capitol on January 25, 2011.

On Monday, TSA will start going through the registrants and begin the process of organizing and scheduling appointments. Anyone not registered by 11:59pm on December 17th will not be scheduled for legislator appointments.

New U.S. Courthouse by Predock (?)

by Stephen Sharpe

In September, when federal officials celebrated the long-anticipated opening of El Paso’s new U.S. courthouse, the design architect was still undecided if he wanted his name on the project. But, even if the architect was still reportedly “going back and forth” about taking credit because of rampant “value engineering,” the building’s dedication plaque includes the name of his firm.

That architect would be Antoine Predock, FAIA, whose idiosyncratic body of work earned him the AIA Gold Medal in 2006. He is best known for buildings that illustrate his ardent interest in nature and the geological conditions of a site. Two examples are the Austin City Hall (2004, in association with Cotera+Reed Architects) and Trinity River Audubon Center (2008 in association with BRW Architects).

As reported in the Nov/Dec 2007 Texas Architect, Predock sent a letter in 2006 to the General Services Administration – the “landlord” of most federal properties, and the client for the courthouse project – requesting that his firm, Antoine Predock Architect, no longer be identified as the project’s design architect. At that time, the project was under construction and several significant changes to Predock’s design were being made due to budget overruns. Those “value engineering” alterations included replacing limestone on the exterior with burnished concrete block and eliminating copper elements. In response to Predock’s request, GSA began referring to ASCG as the “design firm of record.”

The new courthouse, named after late El Paso judge Albert Armendariz, Sr., is located on a 3.5-acre site in El Paso’s central business district. With 239,600 gross square feet, it contains 11 courtrooms and will serve 13 judges (five resident district judges, two senior judges, five magistrate judges, and one court of appeals), consolidating El Paso’s court services into one facility.

Perhaps its no surprise that GSA’s press release announcing the official opening of the courthouse in September did not mention the name of any architectural firm. Instead – again, no surprise – the little architectural information contained in the release focused on elements of the design that gained the building’s LEED Silver certification.

That oversight on credit prompted this reporter to make an inquiry to the GSA’s public affairs office, which responded by stating that BPLW was listed as architect of record. Indeed, Albuquerque-based BPLW Architects & Engineers was the original architect of record, but the firm later merged with ASCG of Anchorage, Alaska. That firm subsequently changed its name to WHPacific and now has its headquarters in Lakewood, Colorado.

Despite the muddled facts in regards to official credit for the courthouse design, the dedication plaque installed inside the courthouse clearly states his firm as a member of the architectural team.

In mid-December, an inquiry to Predock’s office about the credit yielding this response: “Antoine goes back and forth on it.

Curiously, the website for Antoine Predock Architect includes the El Paso project in the firm’s online portfolio. The online description of the project makes it appear that the project is his. For example: “The new Federal Courthouse is a civic monument that defines the edge of downtown El Paso, framing the magnificent view toward Mount Franklin, while simultaneously establishing a hierarchy of urban spaces that connect the city fabric to the inner spaces of judicial proceedings.

” The only images on shown on the website are renderings, and there is a disclaimer that states: “Not constructed as depicted above.”

Larry Speck, FAIA, Awarded the 2011 Topaz Medallion

Larry Speck, FAIA

Larry Speck, FAIA, the University of Texas-Austin architecture professor and former dean renowned for combining teaching and practice in ways that make architecture accessible and vital to a wide community of students, is the 2011 AIA/ACSA Topaz Medallion for Excellence in Architectural Education recipient. The Topaz Medallion honors an individual who has been intensely involved in architecture education for a decade or more. Speck will be awarded the medallion at the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA) annual meeting in March in Montreal. The AIA will also recognize Speck at the 2011 National Convention in New Orleans in May. Read more here.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

To Have An Architect Or To Not Have an Architect

In response to a 3rd Court of Appeals decision last week, the Texas Society of Architects|AIA submitted the following “Guest Editorial” under Interim EVP Tommy Cowan’s name to the Austin American-Statesman. We did this in response to a perceived need to educate readers on how far-reaching the three-judge panel’s (split) opinion will be if it’s not amended or over-turned. In summary, an architect’s potential liability under contract or construction administration clauses could be exponentially expanded based on construction “observation” being construed to be “supervision.”

The Society has been involved in this specific case now for months, having already supplied an Amicus brief, engaging the review and support of the American Institute of Architects, attending oral arguments and in consultation with defense attorneys. We will continue to update the membership of steps we take to prevent this expansion, if not reversal, of legal doctrine. TSA will continue to help fight this and every other significant legal case that could adversely impact the practice of architecture in Texas.

Meanwhile, members should carefully consider potential implications that might be assumed to be included as part of contract administration.













 December 15, 2010

To Have An Architect Or To Not Have an Architect

Last Wednesday, December 8, 2010, a Texas Appellate Court released an opinion that affirmed a judgment against an architect for $410,000 for not catching a construction defect.  That defect was created solely by a subcontractor, who was uninsured and hired by the general contractor.  The subcontractor deviated from the architect’s design and used nails, rather than bolts, to attach a balcony to a house.   Because of the subcontractor’s deviation, the balcony collapsed and severely injured a woman. It is undisputed that a “design defect” did not cause the balcony to collapse.   Shockingly, the subcontractor ignored and deviated from the architect’s drawings simply because he had no bolts with him on the day he attached the balcony to the house.

 The precedent that this opinion sets is monumental. If by setting foot on a construction site, architects are now expected to examine every nail, bolt and connection, the architect may just as well become the contractor and be compensated to serve in that capacity.

Most construction contracts, just like the one that was before the Appellate Court,  typically promise and guarantee that the contractor will build the building or home in accordance with the architect’s plans.  The architect never contracts to ensure that the contractor will do his job.  But if that is now the level of responsibility that Texas courts will force the architect to bear merely by setting foot on the construction site, then most consumers will never be able to afford the charges that the architects will have to charge to cover their risk and their insurance premiums.   The result will be that architects will NOT be involved in the construction process at all.  Safety concerns will no longer be just an unfortunate rare occurrence, but most likely will become an integral concern for every home or building that’s built. The handoff will be clear between the design professional and the contractor.  The public should understand that contractors are not licensed or accountable to any licensing agency. Architects are, and they serve as a critical bridge between owners and contractors. If this recent court opinion is permitted to stand, then it will tear down that bridge and leave owners to fend for themselves.


Tommy Cowan, FAIA

Interim Executive Vice President

Texas Society of Architects




Lost Pines Chapel Wins Top Design Award

Lost Pines Chapel in Bastrop, designed by Murray Legge, AIA, of LZT Architects in Austin, received a 2008 TSA Design Award and was featured in that year's Sept/Oct issue of Texas Architect. In October 2010, the rough-hewn, open-air chapel was one of three Texas projects recognized with an American Architecture Award, an annual program sponsored by the Chicago Athenaeum to promote cutting-edge design. The Austin American-Statesman recently featured it on

Thursday, December 9, 2010

W Austin Hotel and Residences

Photo credits: 2010 Andrew Pogue

W Austin Hotel and Residences
From Stone Creek Camp to Block 21, Andersson-Wise Architects Create a Sense of Place for Their Projects

By Noelle Heinze

Standing at the intersection of Willie Nelson Boulevard and Lavaca Street in Austin’s 2nd Street District on a September afternoon, Arthur Andersson of Andersson-Wise Architects points to the towering structure ahead. It’s the nearly complete W Austin Hotel and Residences (W Austin), scheduled to open Dec. 9 and part of the Block 21 development that when finished will include ACL Live and a myriad of retail, restaurant, and office spaces.

As we tour the building, Andersson describes things in sound bites: windows in the hotel rooms become “linear postcards,” a bathroom nestled behind a wall is “a little discovery,” a lobby bar with an illuminated glass backdrop is “like walking into the Milky Way.” He uses adjectives such as “intimate,” “bohemian,” and “spooky,” as we traverse through a series of street-level lounges and bars inside the hotel and adjacent to its lobby. Andersson is engaging and so is his narrative, which is helpful since at the time of the tour very little of the building’s interior is finished out. Andersson-Wise Architects worked in collaboration with Heather Plimmer of Stratus Properties for the interior concept, which the architect describes as “bohemian and loose, differently modern than other W designs.”

The hardhat tour begins outdoors with an anecdote about the building’s design. “When our firm was selected for this project there was a city council member who had just been elected. She brought in a feng shui expert to make sure we were dealing with the chi of Austin’s City Hall, which is next to the new development,” says Andersson. “According to feng shui principles, a palatial structure will be successful if it is situated facing water and is protected by a mountain. So this palace, City Hall, faces water—Lady Bird Lake, and on the other side is the W Austin—the mountain. So the W Austin was designed to be a suitable backdrop to City Hall and was composed with that in mind. When our firm designs a project, such as Stone Creek Camp in Montana, context is the thing that drives our decision-making, and in just about every case nature drives the design.” (Note: Stone Creek Camp received a 2010 Texas Society of Architects Design Award. The project is a residential compound built on a ridge overlooking Flathead Lake in rural northwestern Montana. It's featured in the Sept/Oct issue of Texas Architect magazine and on the Texas Society of Architects blog.)

As we approach the W Austin, Andersson notes that site is unencumbered by other tall structures, and that the project was conceived to have all the public spaces at the lower levels, such as office space and meeting rooms. "The tower is designed as a cliff dwelling…like Mesa Verde in Colorado," he says. "The hotel rooms are recessed into the body of the building, and the residences have a broader floor plan, which creates an overhang for the hotel and deep shadows that protect the windows in June, July, and August. This is meant to be a building that responds to the sun. On the north side are very few balconies, and the condominiums have views of sky and city.”
We cross the street as he discusses how they tried to connect the building to the Austin experience. He uses the example of walking or jogging along Lady Bird Lake with dappled light streaming through cyprus tree branches and how that effect will be created as guests and residents enter the building. “As you approach the building, you will move out of the light, into the shade, and into the hotel, where there will be a giant folded screen with lights behind it. So you move into a soft shape, into dappled light that immerses you, and then into the lobby of the building.”

Because large buildings can be daunting, the architects tackled the scale of their project with solid walls that are held down from its structure, “So they almost read as ruins,” says Andersson. “I grew up in California, and I would visit the early Spanish-American missions, and I loved the sense and the feel of these buildings that were sort of half there, because your imagination fills in the other half. This gives you a really intimate sense of scale.”

The lobby of the hotel is designed in forced perspective with the concierge area and the check-in desk toward the back. Wood walls connect ground-floor rooms and guide visitors from the lobby through the “Records Room,” which features walls lined with vinyl records, to the “Secret Bar” with red upholstered walls. "The floor plan is based on a loop; by the time you reach the Secret Bar, there’s no natural light,” says Andersson. 

We pass through a room called “The Screen Porch,” which faces the plaza and features a glass wall that slides open, immersing the area in natural light again. The hotel’s signature restaurant is adjacent and is designed as indoor/outdoor space with a series of pivoting steel doors that fold back. It reads as bright and cheery. A whimsical touch is found in concrete form ties plugged with chunks of glass. 

After the street-level tour, we head upstairs to view a hotel room, which is organized around an intimate, square floor plan, achieved by the placement of a vertical tower just inside the doorway. An aperture in the tower gives a miniature view into the room. Its design is inspired by the vertical line paintings of artist Barnett Newman. Window height is intentionally low (6’5”) to frame views outside, “linear postcards,” and minimize glass, which plays into the building’s LEED Silver certification. A concrete column plows through the room revealing the building’s structure and adding to the design. The notion of layering different patterns—the pattern of the rug, the floor, and mosaic tile in the bathroom—reinforces the bohemian design.

In contrast to the hotel rooms, the residences feature a wide expanse of floor to ceiling glass, and the ceilings are held back a bit from the walls to give the perception of greater height. In the condominium that we tour, a massive window opens all the way up with only a glass handrail for safety. It’s an unexpected feature that underscores an element of surprise and whimsy that plays throughout the entire project.

At the time of the tour, no photos or video of the W Austin Hotel & Residences were allowed. Check back in January for images and an update on the completed project.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Join Advocates for Architecture at the Texas Capitol

Texas Society of Architects
Advocates for Architecture Day

Tues. January 25, 2011
Texas State Capitol

WHY SHOULD I ATTEND Advocates for Architecture Day?

Texas is facing a HISTORIC budget deficit of $25 BILLION, which is a 1/4 of the overall budget. This means budget cuts will be drastic and revenue sources will be desperately sought!

  • What if architects were procured by price instead of qualifications?
  • What if K-12 schools are forced to choose from state standardized architectural plans?
  • What if sales taxes (8.25%) were imposed on your professional services?
  • What if occupation fees were raised?

REGISTER NOW and be prepared to tell your story. Registrations must be received by December 17th!


AIA Dallas is sponsoring a bus trip to the Texas State Capitol on January 25th, departing at 5:00 am from the Dallas Design District.

AIA Houston, AIA Fort Worth, and AIA San Antonio will also have bus transportation. Contact your chapter to RSVP for a seat.

Training will begin on Tuesday, January 25th at 9:00 am at the AT&T Conference Center/hotel (room TBD) within blocks of the Capitol. The morning will be spent learning what our issues are, how to communicate them to policymakers, and some political insight to the Legislative Session. You supply the passion for your profession and we'll supply all the basic skills, tools and information you'll need to be able to confidently approach Texas legislators and articulate the issues that affect architects statewide. Box lunch will be provided immediately following training.

After lunch, we will all meet at the Capitol (location TBD) for a group photo then we'll head down to our reserved briefing room at the Capitol (TSA's unofficial office) to pick up your materials, leave-behinds and talking points. Visits will be scheduled from 1:00 -- 4:00 pm in the afternoon. Once you're done, head back to our Capitol office to let us know how your meetings went and to fill out personal thank you notes to be sent to your legislators. We expect everyone to be done between 4-5:00 pm, at which point you can spend some time touring the Capitol or head back home, with the thanks of TSA and all Texas architects.