Oh! Many a widow, many an orphan cursed
The building of that fane; and many a father,
Worn out with toil and slavery, implored
The poor man’s God to sweep it from the earth,
And spare his children the detested task
Of piling stone on stone, and poisoning
The choicest days of life,
To soothe a dotard’s vanity.
— Percy Bysshe Shelley, “Queen Mab”
What the hurrying eye has seen merely from the car it cannot retain, and the vanishing landscape leaves no more traces behind than it bears upon itself.
— Theodor Adorno, “Minima Moralia: Reflections from Damaged Life”
I want to ride my llama
From Peru to Texarkana
— Neil Young, “Ride My Llama”
There is a need for revision — not just of how we design and build our domain, but also of how we think about the project to begin with — a re-conception of what Texas Architect is here calling “Groundwork,” or the foundation of what gives rise to our cities and their connective tissue. Policies that guide development; design decisions that affect public space; the very materials with which we structure buildings — all must be viewed through a new lens. The current mode of profit-oriented construction, greenwashed as it may be, has produced an environment that is inimical to good life. Rather than asking for efficiency, why are we not asking for happiness?
In this Groundwork feature, TA visits Houston one year after Hurricane Harvey to check on the resiliency response, investigates the qualities of two high-profile Texas public spaces, looks at aspirational urbanization plans for two very different cities, and feels out the possibilities of unfired earth building systems.