The Texas Society of Architects brought the Design Conference to the Texas Hill Country for its 11th annual event celebrating world-class design. Set deep in the hills of Central Texas, the conference agenda alternated between unique project tours and lectures by renowned architects whose work focuses on architecture designed with sensitivity to the natural environment. The event featured speakers including Frank Harmon, FAIA, John Grable, FAIA, Brigitte Shim, Hon. FAIA, Richard Fernau, FAIA, and Laura Hartman, FAIA, and three days of architect-filled buses traveling up and down rough, rural paths on their way to distinctive ranch projects.
The conference kicked off on Thursday evening with an optional tour of the D’Hanis Brick and Tile Company. On Friday morning, coffee and registration were followed by a trip to the historic Arcadia Theatre in downtown Kerrville. After a quick boxed lunch, Frank Harmon, the first keynote speaker, gave an inspiring presentation about the relationship between the owners and the architecture, as well as the importance of environmental context in design. Continuing the day’s schedule, attendees visited two to Lake|Flato projects — Verde Creek Ranch and SK Ranch — where all photographed, discussed, and observed the impressive detail and careful design of the firm. That first day ended with a reception at the Museum of Western Art that provided an opportunity to unwind and network.
The second day of the conference began with a trek to the Ghost Hangar, a 32,000-sf structure designed by John Grable Architects to house a collection of WWII-era planes. Touring the hangar and seeing the impressive aircraft up close provided a seamless introduction into the lecture by John Grable and his team on the process of designing the industrially scaled building. Afterwards, Brigitte Shim presented on her firm’s exploration of the relationship between architecture and nature and our response as humans.
Next, attendees headed to Frio Cañon, a private community located an hour from Fredericksburg and built and developed by Dalgleish Construction Company. The community is composed of single-family homes designed by some of Texas’ top designers. Following a delicious lunch provided by the hosts, Richard Fernau and Laura Hartman gave an overview of their partnership’s most influential projects. They discussed how their different backgrounds brought balance to their collaboration and allowed their work to be realized in a magnificent way. After the lecture and some quick questions prompted by Frank Harmon, the buses headed to Dietert Ranch by Rhotenberry Wellen Architects for a tour of the home and an on-site dinner. The conference concluded on Sunday with a breakfast followed by book signings and a speaker panel moderated by Brantley Hightower, AIA.
The TxA Design Conference was an impressive experience for me as a third-year architecture student at Texas A&M University. My attendance was possible thanks to the kindness of the architect I am working under as I complete a semester-long internship in Dallas, as well as a scholarship from the TxA Design Conference Committee. Being the only student there, I realized as the conference began that this opportunity would provide unparalleled educational and networking opportunities. My greatest takeaway from this experience was the multiple enriching conversations that I was part of. Sitting in buses filled with architects admiring the architecture of the Central Texas hills was also a fun way to learn about the diverse backgrounds and paths of successful architects. I reconnected with two of my first-year Texas A&M studio professors and even met the second female architect licensed in El Paso! It is my dream to travel the world and experience amazing architecture, and this conference has opened my eyes to the fact that great architecture can be found even in unexpected places — like the hidden hills of Texas.
Miriam Gallegos is a third-year architecture student pursuing a bachelor’s degree in environmental design at Texas A&M University.