Texans are proud of their often-relentless landscape with its austere vistas and vast skies, most commonly called to mind by expansive views of open plains and, for some, rolling hill country. This is a serene, ascetic beauty that allows the sky to feature prominently in how the terrain is experienced and viewed. For some, it is an acquired taste. Not without some justification, folks from other parts of the country occasionally declare that there is no landscape here at all. In lieu of dramatic geological features, buildings instead define the state’s cityscapes and create their own distinct geography. This is in no small part because urban Texas has evolved a culture of building that overtakes plains and prairies and has overwhelmed the landscape with manmade accommodations. Flat land is easy to alter, easy to build on, easy to misunderstand, and, sadly, easy to ruin.

Alone among large Texas cities, and sequestered at the state’s western edge, El Paso has the distinction of a rugged and remarkable landscape that is a real factor in the organization and growth of the city, in addition to its being beautiful. Surprised first-time visitors confront these mountains, visible around every corner, and admire how they provide an almost sheltering framework to the desert city they surround. Combined with the Rio Grande, this landscape must have appeared particularly dramatic to early Europeans who passed through or settled here. Given the opportunity, an architect working in El Paso (or, really, anywhere in the Trans-Pecos region) can choose to allow the views of these mountains to inform their designs.

– Michael Malone, FAIA (from the cutting-room floor)

Leave a Comment