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My Best Work

While there are dozens of talented architects changing our city’s skyline, we tapped six who are working to make our city expand in beautiful ways. Whether it’s Emily Little and Paul Clayton’s thoughtful redesign of iconic Austin places like Green Pastures Restaurant, or landscape architect Daniel Woodroffe transforming the under-performing roofs at 816 Congress Avenue into a sustainable amenity, these architects are thoughtfully working to integrate old with new.

Here, they tell TRIBEZA about their biggest mistakes, where Austin architecture is headed, and what defines their best work.

KATIE BINGHAM

Mark Odom Studio

Notable projects: Aviator in San Antonio

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1. The Johanna Duplex and the Waxahachie Lake House rep- resent well the dynamic nature of a lot of our work; we aren’t typically afraid of weaving and crashing forms into one another to create something beautiful. 2. We recently wrapped up construc- tion on Bird’s Barbershops newest location off 183, and have a couple more in the pipeline. They’re great clients who constantly seek new approaches to improving their shops, and who bring an insane level of energy to every meeting. Photos by Dror Baldinger

TELL US ABOUT YOUR FIRST REAL JOB

I started working at Chili’s my senior year of high school. I learned so much from waiting tables about communicating, customer service and smiling in really uncomfortable situations after days on end of working double shifts.

My first architecture-related job was a couple of summers into my undergrad program. I pulled a phone number off a job ad on a bulletin board in Goldsmith Hall at University of Texas at Austin — a local architect wanted to learn a 3-D rendering program. I remember the first day on the job, where we crawled into his attic and I learned how to use a nail gun. After a few weeks of work on the walls, I realized I wouldn’t be teaching him any 3-D rendering techniques, but I would definitely be learning more about working in an un-air-conditioned house during a Texas summer than I ever want to experience again.

What did you learn from those first jobs?

These first two jobs are the ones that humbled me. In both cases, I learned something that pretty much sums up what I would guess most people eventually realize about their careers, no matter the profession: some days are awesome and fulfilling and feel like a luxury, and some days I am completely out of my comfort zone and I still need to show up every day, work hard, and smile my way through it.

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR DESIGN PHILOSOPHY?

Listen, observe and ask questions. Repeat. Be honest about why you’re doing what you’re doing — is it for you, the designer, or for the client? Does it solve the problem that has been presented to you? Don’t worry about how it looks. Buildings go through puberty in design, too, and you just need to keep pushing through it until you get to the other side.

WHERE IS AUSTIN ARCHITECTURE HEADED?

A lot of our fate lies in the hands of planners, voters, city leaders and, of course, developers. We need housing, transportation and access to goods and services throughout the city that a variety of people can afford and we need a level of density that is just right — not so dense that we lose the intimacy that we love about our city but not so spread out that we sprawl like the many other cities we are trying to avoid becoming. It’s not an easy task, but I know many people who are working diligently to help take Austin in the right direction and I remain hopeful that we will come out okay on the other side.

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DANIEL WOODROFFE

Urban Landscape Architect | dwg.

Notable projects: Royal Blue Grocery parklet, 816 Congress, Lamar Union

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1. The roofs at 816 Congress Avenue that serve as a tenant retreat and event space. 2. Royal Blue Grocery parklet.

WHAT PROJECT ARE YOU PROUDEST OF?

Transforming the roofs at 816 Congress Avenue, a project that turned out to be a pivotal moment for dwg. The project transformed unsightly, inaccessible flat roofs into a series of unique amenity decks and green roofs, and subsequently profitable building assets. The resulting 15th level terrace has become a tenant retreat and event space, offering unprecedented views of the Texas State Capitol. This building, which was designed for another era, is now competing with modern and newly built office space in downtown Austin by providing a one-of-a-kind sustainable amenity. The project is only a block from the office, and I regularly stop by. There is nothing that makes me prouder then seeing it being used and watching it mature and grow.

HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE AUSTIN LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE?

In its infancy. Austin is blessed with tremendous natural beauty and sense of place, but the urban environment has traditionally been a rather mediocre “engineered” environment where little emphasis has been placed on design excellence, a sense of local distinctiveness, craft or environmental responsiveness.

WHAT HAS CHALLENGED YOU THE MOST?

Founding and building my firm, dwg. The stars didn’t align until the spring of 2010 when the economy was stalled, business was scrappy and projects were lean at best. It turned out to be the most opportune time to launch a new, freshly focused design firm. The whole business community was in “support each other” mode and people desired nimble, young, fresh, out of the box thinkers that could be very creative on a shoestring budget. Our goal was to be patient and grow the firm at a sustainable pace. Living by the cash-in, cash-out, balance the books and not being in debt philosophy has taught me to be very cautious about the financial decisions we make as a firm. I have to tip my hat to the entrepreneurs out there that, every day, roll with the punches of being the small fish in a big pond.

WHAT’S THE BIGGEST MISTAKE YOU’VE MADE?

Biggest mistake at work was not starting dwg. sooner. Honestly.

DO YOU HAVE A DREAM PROJECT?

Actually yes — it would be the opportunity to use landscape architecture as the driver for a major urban transformation.

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PAUL CLAYTON + EMILY LITTLE

Clayton & Little Architects

Notable Projects: Jeffrey’s and Josephine House, Pearl Bottling House, Hotel Saint Cecilia

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1. Avenue C House, photo by Molly Winters 2. Southerleigh at the historic Pearl Brewery site, photo by Nick Simonite

WHEN AND WHY DID YOU DECIDE THAT YOU WANTED TO BE AN ARCHITECT?

I grew up exploring how parts fit together as a whole while working alongside my mechanic father. Architecture provided a more artful respite. – Paul

My interest grew out of an undergraduate degree in cultural anthropology and the realization that the built environment has a profound impact on our individual wellbeing, as well as the health of the planet. –Emily

DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE PROJECT THAT YOU’VE EVER WORKED ON?

The most meaningful projects for the firm are public projects that impact people’s everyday lives. These include work at Pease Park, Christopher House, the Texas State Cemetery, B’nai Abraham Synagogue and Mother Neff State Park. We are currently enjoying work on many new hospitality projects around town, some of which reinvigorate the culturally meaningful places that make Austin special, such as The Driskill, Jeffrey’s and Green Pastures. –Paul and Emily

WHAT’S THE BIGGEST MISTAKE YOU’VE MADE?

Taking the wrong clients. The excitement at the beginning of a project often veils underlying conflicts that surface later in the project. -Paul

Setting unrealistic budgets at the start of a project. After 30 years, I am finally getting a little better at this. –Emily

WHERE DO YOU LOOK TO FOR INSPIRATION?

Google makes the world a small place. Inspiration is a click away. – Paul

WHAT PROJECT CHALLENGED YOU THE MOST?

THIRST. Working on the team that created the public art installation of a 38-foot dead tree hovering over Lady Bird Lake for three months, has been the singularly most difficult challenge so far. The permitting hurdles were extensive and the structural challenges daunting. It took a small army of professionals of all varieties to bring the effort to reality, and coordinating that team was an incredibly rewarding adventure. – Paul and Emily

TELL US ABOUT THE PROJECT(S) THAT BEST DEFINES YOUR WORK RIGHT NOW?

Green Pastures Restaurant. We thought there was a heavy mantle of responsibility in dealing with the traditions surrounding our renovation at Jeffrey’s, but it is daunting to embrace the renovation of the 120-year-old historic house at Green Pastures, its role as a center of Texas hospitality for almost 70 years, and the successful integration of new buildings on the site. – Paul and Emily

HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE AUSTIN ARCHITECTURE?

In a word: eclectic. At a glance the built environment seems a bit less refined than some other cities. But if you dig deeper, one can find the comfortable, easy-going character that defines what people love about Austin. – Paul and Emily

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CHRIS SANDERS

Sanders Architecture

Notable projects: The W Hotel and Residences, The Moody Theater, AWAY Spa at W Austin, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center Admissions Kiosk

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1. A residential project in Tarrytown. The home, while ideally located, was not suited for a growing family. The project’s architectural objective was to reconfigure the space to accommodate the clients’ style of living. 2. The architect says the admissions kiosk at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center was the most unusual project he has worked on.

WHERE DO YOU LOOK FOR INSPIRATION?

My travel journals. During graduate school, I traveled for six months through South and Southeast Asia. Almost 10 years later, my wife and I lived in Split, Croatia for three months and later spent the rest of the year traveling through Eastern Europe and Asia. On those journeys, every day was inspiring — keeping these journals on my bedside table allows me to revisit experiences and moments of discovery.

WHAT IS YOUR MOST UNUSUAL PROJECT?

The admissions kiosk at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is a tiny building that was built off-site and tries hard to do a lot of things: green wall experiment, prairie roof demonstration, collecting and reusing condensate water, generating solar energy and exhibiting the use of sustainable materials, all the while serving its primary function of collecting admissions and orienting visitors to their visit to the Wildflower Center. It was an experiment in design and construction and it continues to be an experiment for collection of data for the botanists at the Wildflower Center.

WHAT’S THE BIGGEST MISTAKE YOU’VE MADE?

I waited [too long] to go out on my own. Looking back, I had a couple of projects presented to me that offered great opportunities to start my own firm. I hesitated, and missed the chance. Building the foundations of a firm takes time, and sometimes I look back and feel like I could be a bit further along in the process.

IS THERE SOMETHING IN TOWN THAT YOU DIDN’T DESIGN, BUT LOVE?

I love the collection of small pavilions built last century in the parks in central Austin. The buildings, many of them built in the depression era, range from the rustic stone or log construction types of Palm Park, Eastwoods Park and Shipe Park to the Mission Revival style shelter at Little Stacy. These modest little buildings and other more familiar structures like the bath houses at Barton Springs Pool, Deep Eddy, and Northwest Pool were designed from timeless materials, serve simple functions, and link us to the history of our city.

WHAT DO YOU HOPE TO LEAVE AS YOUR LEGACY?

I feel like I’m only just getting started.

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FRANCISCO ARREDONDO

North Arrow Studio

Notable projects: Container Bar, Mettle, Violet Crown Cinema

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1. Container Bar on Rainey Street. 2. Mettle on East Calles Street.

WHY DID YOU BECOME AN ARCHITECT?

I always wanted to be an architect. I grew up in Mexico City. In a place like that, you are surrounded by beautiful, impressive, tall buildings. I lived in their shadow, and at some point I wanted to learn more about them.

WHAT HOME BUILDING TREND DO YOU WISH WOULD GO AWAY?

Homes treated as an investment. Even spaces that are designed or redesigned to turn a profit should be treated with the same respect as forever spaces. It doesn’t mean the most expensive fixtures or vaulted ceilings, but rather retaining quality, craftsmanship and smart design.

WHAT IS YOUR MOST UNUSUAL PROJECT?

Container Bar on Rainey Street — there’s nothing like it in Austin or anywhere else. And the shipping containers are not just for show; the bar was designed taking into consideration the development changes on Rainey Street, and a design was developed that would allow us the opportunity to relocate the entire structure when the inevitable day came when we had to make room for the high-rise buildings on that street. That’s the beauty of it: not only is it unusual and will always attract people, but it will also have a second life somewhere else in Austin. It’s not every day you can upcycle a bar.

DO YOU HAVE A DREAM PROJECT?

There was a time when I thought my dream project would be one with no design restrictions and no budget limitations. I’ve now realized that the dream project is really the type of project where everyone involved on the team — the client, the designer, the craftsmen and the contractor — all share the same goals. I find those to be the most enjoyable projects.

HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE AUSTIN ARCHITECTURE?

We are at a turning point, not only in architecture, but in all aspects of the city life. It’s an exciting time, and we’ve never had the potential to do great things like we do right now. It’s up to everybody in the community to seize this opportunity and contribute to the city we love.

CREDITS

Photography by Bill Sallans

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