Cars are Light, Books are Heavy
With all the new towers going up downtown, building nerds like myself have enjoyed a rather unique opportunity to closely observe current construction practices and building materials in action.
One of the things that has impressed me is how light the structures can be, especially structured parking. It’s fairly hard to find one that doesn’t have the floor ends screened, or otherwise difficult to photograph, but the Spring condos provides one example:
Since I’ve kinda gotten used to see multi-ton vehicles sitting on 6″ concrete decks with wide spans between the beams and columns, I’ve also become quite accustomed to seeing similarly sized structural elements in office buildings and residential towers 30+ floors up. As such, I was quite surprised when, while walking the dog on the lake trail, I noticed a huge hulking frame holding up a low-rise building under construction on Cesar Chavez. Of course it made perfect sense as soon as I realized where I was any my brain clicked into gear: That’s the new Central Library!
And what a structure it is. Look how thick the beams are and how tightly they’re spaced. And most impressive to this non-engineer is that despite those huge floor loads, the columns are still quite slim. The compressive strength of concrete is quite something to behold.
The real fun though is to compare it to the Seaholm condos in the background. The floors of the residences might as well be made out of wrapping paper by comparison. The lower level parking decks are a bit heavier. They might qualify as construction paper, but certainly don’t rise to the level of corrugated cardboard.
I know it’s fashionable for my fellow travelers to drop clichés about cars being two-ton death machines, but it would appear they’re much easier to build housing for than two-pound enlightment engines.
Don’t Fear the Incompatibility
A few weeks ago Opticos Design released their diagnosis of the city’s current land development code. As part of the process related to that document’s release, city staff has scheduled a number of “CodeTALKS,” which are envisioned as “a series of community conversations on the key issues identified in the Land Development Code Diagnosis.” While the topic of the first CodeTALK, “compatibility,” isn’t mentioned anywhere in the diagnosis document, it should have been, so the decision to address compatibility is a welcome one.
Needless to say, “compatibility” is a loaded term, and many others have tackled the subject. Chris Bradford has covered how Austin’s version of “compatibility” severely limits the height of buildings across the city. Ben Ross has argued that the very term “compatibility” is little more than a euphemism for status, and Daniel Kay Hertz has shown the (incompatible) buildings of Chicago’s Hyde Park and facetiously noted that “modern zoning saves us from this sort of hellscape.”
I’d like to extend that last point with some examples from Fort Greene, Brooklyn. I stayed in an Airbnb on Clinton Ave for three weeks in the winter, and while it was immediately apparent how special the built environment was, it was hardly an appropriate time to take pictures as there was no sun, denuded trees, and grimy black snow everywhere. Thankfully, I was back in NYC this past weekend for my brother’s birthday, and rode a citibike down to Fort Greene to take pictures.
The following is my letter to city council in support of the resolution sponsored by Council Members Martinez & Riley to lessen the impediments to the construction of “accessory dwelling units,” commonly known as granny flats, garage apartments, carriage houses, and in-law apartments, among others. For additional background on the current code and the resolution, Chris Bradford has provided an excellent overview.
While the adjustment is a fairly minor one, it is an extremely important step in the right direction, and I urge all Austinites to write to council in support of this resolution. Accessory dwellings are the lowest of low-hanging fruit on the path toward abundant housing in our vibrant and growing city. We should make their construction as easy as it possibly can be. Please contact the city council members to express your support.
Last Friday Project Connect presented the final “Locally Preferred Alternative” to the mayor’s Central Corridor Advisory Group. As expected for months, it connects East Riverside to Highland Mall along the east side of downtown.
While I believe this is a bad plan, and have been heartened to hear new voices espouse similar sentiments, I have been somewhat perplexed by the calls for rail to connect to the airport by both pundits and apparently the general public as well.
Although the entire Project Connect urban rail process has generally been a train wreck, one thing they’ve gotten right is not connecting to the airport. Airport rail connections are a bad investment generally, and would be a terrible use of funds here in Austin. Let me take a moment to explain.
Lazy Michael Hsu
Pike Power Lab, Mueller, 2013
Elan East Apartments, Manor Rd, 2014
These two projects are less than half a mile apart, and given the longer lead time on the larger apartment project, there’s a chance they were in design at the same time. I hope the owners pooled their order and got a discount on the materials!