Southwest corner of Kirby and Westheimer [Photo Raj Mankad]
Yesterday, I noticed a clever intervention at the site of the West Ave development. On the temporary wall along the construction perimeter of this soon-to-be “vibrant urban village” is a series of silhouetted images. Slim women in skirts drink wine, pick out party dresses, walk dogs, and dangle shopping bags from their arms. Men in suits read newspapers or gaze at the women across their drinks. The images have been there for months. They are only one set of many such graphic overlays showing the bourgeois life that new high-rise and mid-rise developments promise.
Some person or group has playfully inserted images of male construction workers using color-matched cutouts stapled to the wall. It’s well executed. Perhaps too subtle. I only noticed the intervention at the last minute and had to make a full circle around the block to get a good look.
A home on Cavalcade that backs up to an apartment building in disrepair, September 2009 [All photos April Lind]
Coming from a lower-middle class family in a small town in the Texas Hill Country, I was awed by the sheer opulence of everyone and everything around when I came to the “big city” to study at Rice University. Despite news reports and rumors of there being another, grittier side to Houston, the only one I experienced was where everyone had more than enough to get by—until the summer of 2009.
I worked for Avenue Community Development Corporation, a local non-profit that focused on bringing more affordable housing to the Washington Ave and Near Northside areas of the city. Far from the manicured and quaint ranch style homes of the West University area where my apartment is, much of the Near Northside looked like the photograph my grandmother once showed me of the Depression-era Austin she grew up in.
Peter Buchanan is one of those individuals touting many titles: writer, architect, critic, urban designer. It was primarily as a critic that Mr. Buchanan approached the subject of the evening, Towers in Architecture, as a critic of the decadence of the architectural object and of the American influence on the inhabitation of our cities. (For Zeke Minaya’s report on the lecture, entitled “Getting High or the End of a Bad Trip,” click on this link to ricedesignalliance.org.)
Given the current state of the economy many of us nod along with his argument. Towers are “abandoned half-way up,” commissions have been canceled or slowed, project scopes have been drastically reduced.
What if we re-imagined that public infrastructure was for people instead of automobiles and re-prioritized our spending in favor of alternative transportation? What if we re-purposed the networked infrastructure of the HOV lane into a bike-way — with non-stop, easy access service to points throughout the city?
Sept. 10 marked the release date of the latest issue of Cite. It focused on infrastructure; largely ignored by most but, nonetheless, the bedrock on which all other endeavor— literally and figuratively—rest. During the time that the editors of Cite worked on the issue they came across several books that added significantly to their understanding. Below are their reading recommendations if you are looking to get your infrastructure fix.
I know a book is good when it makes me see everyday life differently.
Cite 79 Cover: A map of all the pipelines of North America, excluding waterlines, courtesy HTSI
Letter from the Editor
My day normally begins with a bicycle ride through the bungalows near the Menil Collection, across the Dunlavy bridge over the Southwest Freeway, and through Boulevard Oaks and Southhampton to Rice University. The nearly continuous live oak canopy keeps me cool on the hottest of days. I add extra loops and turns to take in the museums and architect-designed homes, many of which have been featured in Rice Design Alliance tours and Cite reviews. If that is what you want to read about—that soothingly coherent world—don’t open this issue.