Strange Places That Don’t Exist [Urban Artists’ Colony]

This building is something like a monastery, a co-working studio and a slot canyon. Visiting artists spend a season here living and making art in community. It’s a vertical village organized around an extremely tall and narrow central courtyard (the canyon), with a single circulation path of connected halls, ramps and stairs (the trail) spiraling up to a skyward-pointing library and rooftop gardens (the peak).

It’s an austere experience of ascent in the middle of a hectic city, like a sudden hike in the mountains. Visitors to the building progress from the cool shadows of the courtyard floor to the sun-drenched promontory of the rooftops. Residents of this cloistered environment adjust their daily lives to the constant necessity of ascending and descending as they move from any one space to another in the building.

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Young Marriage / Old House [Curb Appeal]

When Bekah and I moved into our little 1890s house and started renovating, we knew we wanted our private act of homesteading to plug in to the wider public atmosphere of life within Dignowity Hill. Life in this neighborhood was just too rich not to want to take part in it as fully as possible.

It’s always been a neighborhood of eccentricity and off-the-radar downtown living. There’s an overabundance of atmosphere in this little corner of San Antonio. It’s a crazy old patchwork quilt of falling down mansions, newly restored mansions, backyard shanty towns made of corrugated metal, giant pecan trees, old-fashioned neighborliness where everyone knows everyone else’s business, Union Pacific railroad noise violations, old timers who remember when it was all once a thriving and diverse family community, homeless people under the I-37 overpass, newcomers buying crumbling houses that nobody wanted for decades, and long conversations with friendly strangers in the middle of empty streets. We saw the richness of this smorgasbord and knew this place was speaking to our souls. (We’ve got weird souls.) Continue reading →

Design Drawings for East Africa [Kira Farm Development Centre]

When I was an intern based in Engineering Ministries International‘s Kampala, Uganda field office I worked on a series of master plans and concept designs for a variety of local churches, ministries and international faith-based relief organizations throughout East Africa. Our project team of itinerant architects, surveyors, and engineers would arrive together at a new place, soak up the local building traditions and daily rituals of our clients, and then commence designing. This often happened in a makeshift room on an uneven table surface with a generator providing unreliable power for our arsenal of laptops and travel printers.

Our job on site was to stitch together on paper the dreams and (sometimes sprawling) visions of our clients. These were passionate people who dreamed big dreams. In their own ways and through their own earthy callings they longed to see nothing less than the total healing of a broken world. They took the Great Commission seriously. They believed that the meek were blessed and would inherit the earth.

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Young Marriage / Old House [Feast in the Back Yard on a Hot Winter Night]

We had recently landscaped our house, Bekah was seven months pregnant, and she was soon going to say goodbye to her twenties. We decided to celebrate.

It was a usual balmy January night in San Antonio. We lit a fire anyway because we really wanted to try out our new fire pit. We dragged all the dining room furniture into the back yard. Houses with peeling paint surrounded us on all sides. Some of our oldest friends (as many as we could fit at the table) gathered at dusk. Sweet Yams (world’s best organic soul food shack that also happens to be in our neighborhood) catered the dinner. White wine, Mexican Coke and Alamo Beer (our neighbor three blocks away) flowed freely. (We love our neighborhood.) The gregarious Rottweilers fretted and muttered things under their breaths from their exile in the laundry room.

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Exploring Luxury in the Hotels of Peru and Ecuador [Part 8: Bedrooms]

Hotel bedrooms very nearly have to accomplish the whole agenda of your entire house in one tiny footprint: they’re private lounges, dining chambers, storage closets, dressing rooms and work studios all rolled into one. Also of course they have to provide the ideal environment for a healthy night’s sleep.

Hotel bedrooms carry a lot of responsibility. The atmosphere they project when you walk through the door for the first time has to make you feel at home in one glance. Or if feeling at home is not desired, then at least they have to compel you to play along with whatever suspended reality lifestyle you’ve sought out.

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Exploring Luxury in the Hotels of Peru and Ecuador [Part 7: Bathrooms]

Hotel bathrooms have to pack a lot of odd technology and odd experiences into a really small space. There’s a huge potential for chaos and clutter here, not to mention the problem of foul odors, hard surfaces near exposed skin, air and water temperature regulation, lighting that’s either too glaring or too dim, noises that travel where they’re not supposed to, impeding the spread of diseases, etc. It’s always an impressive feat when a bathroom can address all of these parameters and still end up feeling gracious or uncluttered or comfortable or tied in some way to the overall atmosphere of a place.

Sometimes this gracefulness is accomplished through sheer ingenuity or a meticulous sense of composition. The exact placement of a tissue box or the careful filtering of natural light becomes extremely important here.

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Exploring Luxury in the Hotels of Peru and Ecuador [Part 6: Swimming and Pampering]

Spa culture is kind of weird. Once, in the weeks leading up to our wedding, Bekah thought it would be hilarious to convince me to join her for something called a facial. In a dark earth toned room they wrapped my head up in a boiling hot cloth, provided me a library of scents to select from and informed me that I was about to be taken on a sensory journey. Then they repeatedly jabbed a little steel instrument deep into the tip of my nose. That was my first spa experience.

Every kid grows up loving hotel swimming pools. Immersion in water is a primal experience. It’s inherently appealing. A swim in a pool is a simple way to engage with a place on a tactile level.

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Exploring Luxury in the Hotels of Peru and Ecuador [Part 5: Dining Rooms]

Hospitality is an artform that engages all the senses. In this artform the hotel dining room can play a pivotal role. These spaces are the points of convergence for multiple agendas (architectural, culinary, cultural) where all of a guest’s senses are fully engaged. These are the epicenters of the hotel experience.

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Exploring Luxury in the Hotels of Peru and Ecuador [Part 4: Exteriors]

Hotels can be very secretive little worlds. Yet even the most secluded and off-limits place has to come to terms with the fact that it still exists under the same harsh sun as everything else and still has to do the unglamorous work of keeping out the rain. It still has to have a physical presence in a wider landscape or a city.

The hotel environments that Bekah and I explored recently all had to transition at some point from carefully curated interiors to unpredictable landscapes and weather conditions that lay waiting outside the front door.

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Exploring Luxury in the Hotels of Peru and Ecuador [Part 3: Lobbies, Lounges and the Drama of Arrival]

Checking into a hotel doesn’t always mean just standing at a tall desk and having paperwork slid across the countertop at you before lumbering off alone to the elevator. There are more fitting ways to celebrate the miracle of successfully arriving somewhere. When you show up for the first time at a hotel you get to play a part in the drama of arrival. This is a drama that has been acted out over and over since the beginning of time, and it has the potential to convey not just a sense of welcome but maybe even a sense of wonderment.

The first moments of exposure to a new place are what this drama is about, and these moments are your chance to gauge how seriously that place values hospitality. In other words it’s your chance to gauge just how much that place actually wants to honor you.

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