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In a Field in East Austin

A quarry turned landfill turned nature preserve is about to go undergo another radical transformation.

Considering the explosive growth happening around the city, it’s hard to imagine there is any spot in Austin that feels undiscovered. But in a field on the east side of town, tucked away off Grove Boulevard in the Montopolis neighborhood, there is a patch of land that reveals itself like a hidden gem just a few miles from the hustle and bustle of downtown.

Despite its expansive vistas, trickling streams and exotic wildlife, this area has a storied history buried beneath. In its past incarnations, the area has been home to both a quarry and an illegal dumping ground. Today the 9.7 acres serves as a nature preserve run by local nonprofit Ecology Action, complete with forest, wetland and grassland environments.

In November, the area officially known as Circle Acres will once again be transformed, this time into Field Constructs, a series of temporary installations that will showcase work from international, national and local architects, artists and landscape designers.

The brainchild of Rachel Adams, Catherine Gavin and Igor Siddiqui, the Field Constructs Design Competition (FCDC) aims to connect ecological issues with architecture. The team met when Gavin, who publishes the esteemed industry publication Texas Architect, asked Adams to write a story about Siddiqui, an associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin School of Architecture. “We started talking about how small scale things can have a big impact,” says Gavin of their initial conversations.

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"99 WHITE BALLOONS"

Invivia, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Say the designers: “99 White Balloons is activated by a series of microphones and proximity sensors as well as 396 LED lights that float high above the ground with the balloons. When a person (or deer or other wildlife) approaches the proximity sensor, a stepper motor slowly draws the balloon cable closer to the ground at that anchor tower. As they move away, the balloon cable is released.”

Over a coffee in November 2013, the trio began to throw around the idea of hosting a design competition geared towards emerging architects and designers. “A conversation about temporary architecture having a larger impact had us thinking about what that would mean for the city of Austin,” says Siddiqui. “Each of us from our own professional perspective realized that some of the things [we were] doing elsewhere didn’t exist as opportunities here.” The team wanted to start a conversation that married architecture with both the cultural and ecological factors that define Austin. “[We wanted it to be] very inclusive and multidisciplinary about how landscape and architecture work together,” says Siddiqui.

Critical to the competition was landing a perfect space, something the FCDC secured when Ecology Action’s former executive director Joaquin Mariel offered to host it on Circle Acres, a tract of land the nonprofit had purchased in 2010 and spent years rebuilding and maintaining. The location, says Gavin, was a perfect backdrop. “It was originally a place that was used because it’s close to water, then it becomes a quarry, then it becomes a landfill and now this not-for-profit comes in to take it over,” she says.

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“BLURRED BODIES”

Studio Roland Snooks, Melbourne, Australia

Say the designers: “Blurred Bodies hovers between the natural and the artificial. It shifts between camouflaging with its environment and reveling in its alienation. The project has been designed using behavioral-based algorithms in which a turbulent surface emerges from a swarm of ‘agentBodies.’ This process imbues the project with a natural character, which is balanced against the industrial nature of its fabrication process.”

After finding the perfect locale, the FCDC landed some impressive partners which included Ecology Action, as well as design powerhouse Pentagram, Texas Society of Architects/AIA and UT’s School of Architecture (see sidebar). Armed with the idea, a location, and an identity crafted by Pentagram, FCDC began reaching out to younger architects to submit proposals. “We’ve always conceptualized this project as an opportunity for emerging architects, landscape architects, designers and artists,” says Siddiqui.

In November 2014, a year after the idea was born over coffee, the competition officially launched. Through social media channels and word of mouth, the idea took off, and the FCDC team, which expected maybe a dozen proposals from local firms, was shocked to receive more than 80 ideas from architects and designers from as far away as Europe and Japan. In June 2015, the jurors announced the four winners: “99 White Balloons” by the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based firm, Invivia; “Blurred Bodies” by the Australian-based Studio Roland Snooks; “Duck Blind in Plain Site” by a team of Brooklyn architects; and Hybroot from Austin’s own OTA+.

Next month, Austinites will have a chance to see these ideas come to life when Field Constructs takes over the Circle Acres property. Beginning November 14, the four winning installations will be on display and open to the public through November 22. For Austinites, it’s a chance to not only experience one of the city’s most beautiful unsung outdoor spaces, but to experience innovative design from across the world.

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“DUCK BLIND IN PLAIN SITE”

Jonathan A. Scelsa, John Paul Rysavy, Jennifer Birkeland, Isaac Stein, Nick Mitchell, and Erin Wythoff, Brooklyn, New York

Say the designers: “Duck Blind in Plain Site’s exterior, shrouded in camouflage, seeks to hide within its pastoral setting, while its interior attempts to subvert the exterior’s camouflage with apertures and thresholds showcasing bright chromatic interior claddings. The installation’s contextual tension is heightened through its material composition: a double-sided brick construction featuring high-contrast post-consumer recycled materials as cladding on the interior, and, on the exterior, grass harvested from the seasonal cycle of local ecologies.”

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“HYBROOT”

OTA+ (Kory Bieg), Austin, Texas

Says the designer: Hybroot reflects the balance between urban fabric and natural landscape indicative of the project site. The form, color and material of the installation mimic the surrounding grasses and tree canopy, while the fabrication, assembly and surface patterning evoke a more synthetic sensibility. At first glance the two are inseparable, but on closer inspection one notices artificial formal compositions, unnatural pixelation of colors, and the artifact of the CNC-lathing process left as surface texture.”

THE TEAM

RACHEL ADAMS

FCDC, co-founder, co-director

CATHERINE GAVIN

FCDC, co-founder, co-director

IGOR SIDDIQUI

FCDC, co-founder, co-director

DJ STOUT

Pentagram, partner

MARIANA CANO

Pentagram, graphic designer

KRISTEN KEISER

Pentagram, designer

JOAQUIN MARIEL

Ecology Action, former executive director

For more information and full details, head here.

CREDITS

Photography by Kenny Braun | Illustration by Ashley Horsley

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