Adam Rice

My life and the world around me

Category: Austin (page 4 of 8)

The house for nudists

I was at the annual Blue Genie Art Festival last week. While I felt that the 2003 edition of this had gotten a little stale, there seemed to be enough fresh blood this year to make it worth attending. It was also fun because we seemingly ran into everyone there. And Sage & Zarah put on a show, which is always a treat.

Among the many people we ran into were Wells & Lisa of Ironwood–Wells made a couple pieces of furniture for me a few years back, and does really nice work. He mentioned that some of his stuff was going to be on display at an open house over the weekend, at a house by a local modernist architect. So Gwen and I were certainly interested, and yesterday, we went to check it out.

The development in question is a pair of houses–not a duplex (they don’t share a common wall), but built right up close to one another on overlapping lots. The location is 1903 Alegria, up around Arroyo Seco. Before we even got out of the car, we saw lots of People Like Us, which kind of creeped me out.

The architects (annoying flash-based site) have some good ideas and some stinkers.

The bad idea universally commented upon by the visitors is the absence of closets. I don’t mean the houses have inadequate closet space: they have no closet space. As far as I’m concerned, the first commandment of modernist house design is thou shalt build in lots of storage. Unless you just don’t have any stuff, modernism pretty much demands that your stuff be put away…and a modernist house needs to give you some place to put it. In fact, it’s hard to see where the architects managed to hide 1400 sqft on these houses without some storage. The first floor consists of a smallish living area and a kitchen with a derisory amount of counter space and storage; a small hallway at the back leads to a powder room and utility room. One wall of the first floor is monopolized by a staircase to the second floor; this has one of the really nice touches, a translucent plastic wall that should let in a huge amount of natural light (assuming it doesn’t crack or discolor).

The staircase lands upstairs at a small common space between two bedrooms, with no doors between them. The bedrooms are separated by a pair of back-to-back bathrooms, which are pretty nice and have big walk-in showers (no bath for you!) on slatted ipe floors. The floors in the shower areas are removable modules like miniature freight palettes, but the ipe slats are screwed into the floor in the rest of the bathroom, suggesting cleaning problems.

And no closets. I assume these houses are for two unrelated adults who have no clothes, no desire for privacy, and little desire to cook at home. I guess you could fill up the place with armoires, but what’s the point?

Another aspect of these houses that I found more philosophically offensive was the entrance. You need to go through the garage (or something that looks very much like a garage–perhaps it’s supposed to be an industrial patio with a garage door?) to get to the front door. The view out the nicely glassed-in front is of the garage, with the outside world peeking in through openings at the edges. This goes beyond a snout house and makes the garage (and by inference, the car) not only the front of the house but really the centerpiece of life in the house. You look out the front, you’ve got a view of your car. Super.

There was a zigzagging path alongside each house leading to a jewelbox of a back yard (with, amusingly, an underground watering system). These paths, which have a cinderblock wall hung with big iron planters on one side, and the milky plastic wall of the house on the other, are probably the best spaces in the entire development.

I didn’t bother finding out how much the houses are going for.

More on Mueller redevelopment

Because some commenters asked:

  • The Austin Chronicle just published an article on Mueller
  • The city has a not-very-friendly Master Development Agreement page, linking to a lot of information about the project. There is a citizen-oriented FAQ there, but it’s in Word’s .doc format (go figure). I have taken the liberty of posting an HTML version of the Mueller FAQ (apologies in advance–probably some formatting bugs).
  • There’s also an interesting set of design guidelines linked from the city’s page, but Chapter 1 clocks in at 38 MB for just 12 pages, and each page takes forever to render on my machine. I’ve extracted a couple of maps:
  • [Later]There’s a whole website for the Mueller redevelopment

In short, the general intent apparently is to integrate Mueller into the city fabric and make it a showpiece for New Urbanism; there are a lot of encouraging-sounding noises about being pedestrian- and bike-friendly, etc. While I have no doubt that there have been a lot of dubious decisions and questionable deals made in the process, I hope the product will be a benefit to the city as a whole.

Mueller under the backhoe

thumbnail image of the old Mueller Airport site under construction

It’s about time.

Remnant of old ad

Spotted in east Austin:

sign on side of gutted building for lemon-lime soda

Toll roads

Talk of toll roads have been much in the air around Austin lately, after CAMPO proposed a plan to convert segments of almost every area highway into a toll road.

Proposed tollroads map

(source: CAMPO “Adopted Tollroads Amendments.” Click for larger version)

My visceral reaction to this was negative, which surprised me: I’ve always been in favor of less driving, less sprawl, and honest road-pricing. Toll roads are consistent with all of these goals. So I decided to give the matter more thought, and I’m still against it in this case. Why?

Tolls seem to be imposed for one of a few reasons: to ration access to overused facilities (Singapore and London have applied road-pricing to downtown roads), to pay for expensive infrastructure, such as bridges, and as a general revenue-enhancement trick. The first two of these are reasonable, the last is unsurprising but infuriating. None of these apply to the current plan, except for the third, in an oblique way.

Although this plan issues from CAMPO, it benefits the Texas Department of Transportation. CAMPO is acting as TxDOT’s fall-guy. It is important to understand a few things about TxDOT:

  1. TxDOT does not exist primarily to improve general transportation in Texas: if it doesn’t involve new-road construction, they’re not particularly interested.
  2. TxDOT does not exist to maximize road-transport efficiency in Texas: they are really the Texas Department of Corporate Welfare for Construction Companies.
  3. TxDOT is the only state or local organization that takes planning seriously. Unfortunately, their planning reflects their warped perspectives. Other state and local agencies take their planning cues from TxDOT.

In most cases where toll roads are introduced, there’s a toll-free alternative. The CAMPO plan is no exception: new segments of non-tolled roads will be built alongside the tolled sections to be introduced. In other words, TxDOT gets to build more roads. So this is a boondoggle. It also means we’ll have the environmental fights over more green land getting paved over–in theory, this means there might not be untolled alternatives to the tolled sections. Assuming there are, though, one wonders how many people will use the toll roads. And the whole project promises to be expensive: $1.7 billion. Perhaps the tolls will pay for that. I wonder.

Another reason is the bait-n-switch feeling the plan leaves in my mouth. Although I live in central Austin, and live most of my life in central Austin, even I find myself increasingly dragged to the fringes of the city because that’s where so much retail has moved to. Austin, for worse (definitely not for better) has grown up with a sprawl-oriented model of development, and everyone who lives here (short of Amy Babich) in some way must accommodate that. Now CAMPO tells us, now that we’ve been suckered into this topology, that we’ll have to pay for that trip out to the Salt Lick, down to my friend’s place in Oak Hill, over to the bike store on 360, out to the UPS station.

Finally, most people don’t like pay-as-you-go. We don’t want to think about the money being taken away from us each time we use a service: we’d rather pay a big upfront fee (even if it’s more than we’d otherwise pay) and not have to worry about it after that. While some moderation in road use would certainly be a good thing, demand for the roads is probably more inelastic than a smoker’s demand for cigs.

Rajamani at One World Theater

Gwen’s been a fan of Oliver Rajamani for quite some time, so when she found out he was having a CD release party at One World Theater, she figured it would be a good show and a good excuse to see what that venue is like for a relatively low ticket price.

The show was pretty good. I have mixed feelings about Rajamani’s music: he’s good at what he does, and I do enjoy some of his stuff, but some of it gets into these aimless, hypnotic jams that don’t do much for me. But when he’s good, he’s good. He had a good band assembled around him, too, including an acquaintance, Steve Marcum (one of the original instigators behind the full-moon drum circle). He also had Nagavalli Medicharla, a female vocalist, on stage with him. She wasn’t in the show much, but she was one of the high points–she has a voice that really makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up. I’m looking forward to hearing the album, as I expect it will probably edit the rambling bits out.

Neither Gwen nor I had ever been to the theater before. While the grounds are great, and the building is really interesting from the outside, the room itself is no great shakes. The acoustic seemed fine, and there didn’t seem to be many bad seats in the house, but we were expecting something a little more interesting. Gwen pointed out that the wings set up on stage were obvious afterthoughts that didn’t fit in with the rest of the building at all.

After the show, there was a reception downstairs, where I ran into one of my Japanese teachers from back in the day and one of my fellow fire-freaks.

Think globally, act locally

Casey’s New Orleans Snowballs offers its menu in English, Spanish, and Japanese.

caseys-jp

Beyond Black Rock

Last night Jo’s Coffee hosted an advance screening of Beyond Black Rock (surprisingly, not in the IMDB), a documentary by Austin locals about Burning Man.

Quite a crowd turned out: the entire parking lot behind Jo’s was jammed full–perhaps 500 people. Some of my fellow fire freaks and I were going to provide a little pre-show warmup; as it turns out, I was the only one of the people slated to perform who actually did show up; the guy who was supposed to be coordinating this (and shall remain nameless) called me at the last minute to inform me of his non-appearance and, implictly, to hand off the baton. There were plenty of fire people there, though not many actually had their rigs with them, but in the end, four of us went up and burned, and there was much rejoicing.

Oh yeah, the movie! Enjoyable. Focused a lot on the people who organize it and the organization of it; also featured at some length a couple of artists (including the amazing David Best) who were putting in installations there.

H2Hos

Synchronized swimming. What can you say? Well, the Ho’s website (actually, that’s a dated version–the current one seems to reside only in Google’s cache) has some pomo feminist claptrap, but basically it’s campy good fun. Elaborate costumes, live band, big friendly crowd.

I dug up some pictures from a 2003 performance

Sputter

Spotted the premiere edition of Spot Magazine sitting on the free-literature shelf at Flightpath today. For those who have not heard of this ground-breaking, earth-shattering, epoch-making periodical, it is a content-lite lifestyle magazine for trendy Austinites and their dogs (though there’s a token article for cat-lovers too). This is almost certainly the most unnecessary exercise in print onanism I have ever seen.

Do we need this? Does anyone need this? Has there been any unmet need for a designy magazine that advises you whether you should take your dog in for reiki treatment (for crissakes), reports on the way dogs fit in with the local music scene, or profiles of pet-friendly workplaces? Going out on a limb, I will answer that with a No. I am amazed that this wankfest made it past the five-minute “wouldn’t it be neat if” bull-session, and not only that, somehow actually got made. Anyone want to bet on whether we’ll see an Issue 2?

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