Architect

Architecture professor David Heymann publishes collection of fictional short stories, “My Beautiful City Austin.” Heymann’s client list includes George and Barbara Bush. Photo courtesy of David Heymann.

What happens when an architect’s client wants a house that looks like it was designed by “a group of super-sized drag queens”? This is the plot to one of seven short stories featured in UT architecture professor David Heymann’s first book, “My Beautiful City Austin.”

This past November, Heymann released what started out as a “really dull” academic paper but became his work of fiction, “My Beautiful City Austin.” The book follows a fictional Austin architect as he deals with his clients’ ludicrous ideas. For example, a pair of grandparents requests that their mansion’s design lure their grandchildren in on weekends. 

One of Heymann’s clients, former First Lady Laura Bush, said in an email she believes none of the characters are based off her. The Bushes’ next project for Heymann is the addition of an art studio for the former president.

“We know David is a terrific architect, and now we know he is a wonderful writer as well,” Bush said. “I take David for his word in the afterword of his book: ‘this book is entirely a work of fiction.’” 

Throughout the book, the young architect struggles to reconcile his own architectural views with his clients’. These conflicts have shaped Heymann’s views on Austin as a developing city. 

“It just seems like Austin doesn’t make active plans,” Heymann said. “That’s what this book talks about. It centers around a young architect who’s trying to figure out what to do in this city that isn’t that sure of itself either.”

Heymann said his book is more than a collection of a few short humorous anecdotes; rather, it’s a platform to discuss the changing landscape of Austin. Heymann said his connection to the city’s infrastructure has grown during his 25-year-long career in Austin.

“When I moved to Austin, I was really shocked about how badly it was being overbuilt,” Heymann said. “I started to write this academic paper about why that was, and it was so dull. I wanted to reach as many people as I could, so it struck me that I could do that by telling a series of stories.”

Heymann insists the clients are entirely fictionalized. He said he intends for his readers to find the characters in “My Beautiful City” both laughable and frustrating. 

“The characters are totally invented,” Heymann said. “My clients seem to be the only people who believe me. The book just doesn’t read false because the motivations behind the houses these people are building are very real and familiar.”

While Heymann’s clients don’t appear in the books, he said the characters are people every architect meets — it’s part of the job.  

“People’s motivations for building can be really weird or screwed up,” Heymann said. “They’re motivated by wealth and consumption or other social issues. The shifting of wealth in Austin is one of the kind of profound agents of change here. It has an effect all throughout the city.”

More than a criticism of Austin, Heymann’s book originated from his appreciation of the city and his concern for its future. 

“The book is meant to be a love song to Austin,” Heymann said. “It’s in this moment when it’s changing from kind of an innocent place to something more. It’s the 11th largest city in the country, but its structure has barely changed since there were 150,000 people here. Austin has some pretty mature decisions to make about how it’s going to grow.”

As the Dell Medical School continues to search for its inaugural dean, UT has selected an architect to design the first phase of buildings for the school.

According to UT medical school spokesman Robert Cullick, Page Southerland Page and ZGF Architects have been selected to design two of the four new buildings on the complex. The firms will design the research building and the medical office building.

“It’s a very competitive process,” Cullick said. “It’s a premier project. We had a lot of different participants from around the world.”

According to Cullick, the University was attracted to the local and outside perspectives brought by the two firms teaming up on the project. Page Southerland Page, an Austin-based firm, has designed buildings for the Baylor College of Medicine and the UT Southwestern Medical Center. Page Southerland Page has also worked on several buildings for three other UT System schools: UT-Arlington, UT-Dallas and UT-El Paso. ZGF Architects, based in Portland, Ore., has worked on projects for the University of California - Berkeley, Stanford University and the University of Southern California.

Citing an agreement with UT, Page Southerland Page declined to comment on winning the assignment.

UT is in the process of selecting a firm to design the education and administration building. According to Cullick, the University expects to select an architect in the coming weeks. Cullick said the University chose to separate the project into two assignments in order to ensure the buildings will be completed by the school’s fall 2016 opening date. 

Seton Healthcare Family selected architecture firm HKS to design the $295 million teaching hospital which will replace University Medical Center Brackenridge in June.

Cullick said the selection of the medical school’s inaugural dean will be the next major step in the school’s development. According to Cullick, the University will review applications during the fall semester.

Follow Jacob Kerr on Twitter @jacobrkerr.

Artist Mika Tajima gives a lecture on the boundaries of perception at the Edgar A. Smith Auditorium on Tuesday evening.

Photo Credit: Luis Jasso | Daily Texan Staff

Standing in the midst of slide projections, scaffolds and paintings displaying vivid and energetic colors, artist Mika Tajima quietly surveyed her work as it neared completion Tuesday in the Visual Arts Center.

At a Blanton Museum event on campus Tuesday, Tajima, the new artist-in-residence at the UT, explained her creation process for her exhibit “The Architect’s Garden,” set to be open from Sept. 9 until Dec. 17 in the Visual Arts Center.

The exhibit combines painting, sculpture, architecture and video and incorporates elements from the UT and Austin community. Tajima said she based her exhibit on the two major standpoints of UT architecture and the idea of cultural refusal.

She said she incorporated aspects of UT architecture with references in the print patterns to the Perry-Castañeda Library, window shapes and building forms.

“I’m always sort of looking to architecture as a reference because that’s the way we navigate, through the space architecture forms — the social spaces we interact in and our human behavior is sort of determined by it” Tajima said.

She said she also used the idea of refusal and how it is dealt with in these sorts of spaces, exploring the different metaphorical modes of being and becoming in her work. Tajima references Austin-based filmmaker Richard Linklater’s “Slacker” and how the characters refuse to take on a prescribed lifestyle and instead take on different roles or routes.

“[Slacker’s] very Austin but a type of idea I’ve been working with in previous shows, a painting refusing to be only a painting,” Tajima said.

Many of the visual references in Tajima’s work are from around the campus and city, said Aimee Chang, manager of public programs at the Blanton. Chang said Tajima used images of books from the PCL website, the stylized word ‘Detour’ from Linklater’s website and created posters with imagery inspired by the history of the Austin Film Society.

Chang said art opens up the possibilities of a lot of different things while not having single answers, and this show does this in particular with its hybrid pieces. It opens up possibilities for people, she said.

It’s especially interesting how she incorporates video, performance and painting into her exhibit, said studio art senior Chantal Wnuk. Wnuk said she is excited to see how the entire exhibit comes together.

Tajima said she hopes to encourage people to look at her exhibit and think about the ideas behind it, and that it sparks something in their minds or imagination.