4.22: An Earth Day Perspective | 
What Kind of Footprints Do We Want To Leave Behind?

It’s all Agritectural to Me

Love: our globe, design, architecture.

The combination of these elements moving us toward a more sustainable and healthier environment, enter: Agritecture.

After a day of heartbreaking scenes from Notre Dame in Paris and coupled with the consistent concerns of EPA news and assaults on the environment – the information download and resulting urge to ‘do something!’ to counteract the negative impacts can feel – well, overwhelming.

In an effort to take things down a notch and as we, the people, can all use a quick pick-me-up right now, I wanted to share these very uplifting concepts that individuals – and entire cities – are developing, even as you read this. So unplug to connect, and read on.

Agritecture is where creative scientists (also known as architects) work hand-in-hand with agricultural biotechs (otherwise known as farmers or people like me that just like to garden) to make creative spaces that offer multiple functions on top of their aesthetic appeal. 

A couple of months ago, The Guardian (see article) highlighted some very earth-positive ideas and jobs (overwhelmingly!) well-done. Houston alone has very specific issues when it comes to potential weather extremes, catastrophic flooding, lack of green space, and an increasing population. But there is another general and global opportunity to grow – literally, and not only above-ground.

Take a look, be uplifted, get inspired, and do something to support this April 22 Earth Day by creating a cleaner, more sustainable space – even if it’s just your own.

You know what they say…if you build it, they will grow.

ReGen Villages | Netherlands: A model for the development of off-grid ecovillages to power and feed self-reliant families around the world. A regenerative and reuse concept that uses the outputs of one system for the inputs of another, while combining a variety of innovative technologies such as energy-positive homes, energy storage, and water management



Urban Hives | Beirut: Artist Nathalie Harb proposes food-growing plots for parked cars. Low-cost and easy to construct, the platforms provide shaded parking (prime real estate) and spaces to grow food and congregate in the heart of a city – this one in Beirut. Houston, take note!


Edible Education | Berkeley, CA: Thank you Alice Waters.


Buzz Building | Taipei: Last but not at all least, a conceptual insect farm and safe space for endangered bees, called the BuzzBuilding, to be built in the Taipei Ren-a-Circle roundabout offering over 10,000 square meters of farmable surface. Concept by Belatchew Arkitekter.

Buzz Building – Night View

Buzz Building – Bee Habitat

“Summer of Cool” I.D.2018

I love tearing through design rags and eating up every sketch, color, detail, and space. There’s so much to consume that you get full quickly. All of those handcrafted objects, bent steel widgets, and angular pastel shapes take on some iteration of De Stil or Bauhaus and get lost in the forgettable. Some, however, are absolute fire!

The really cool stuff pulls you so hard you scan the room for a waxed pencil and a bright pink post-it to earmark the thing. The thing can be any of the thousands of well-designed objects and spaces curated by the periodical. I once ogled over a corked topped side table for the form and orange of the stems that held it upright. I do the same for colors in textiles, modern typefaces in corporate branding, patterns in Scandinavian quilting, buildings finished of soft pink stucco, and bright yellow stainless-steel ranges. Those items that evoke are hunted, discovered, collected, and categorized.

I then tear through the design magazines, literally. When an object calls, it is cut out using clunky school scissors, my fat hands, or an Xact-O knife if care is needed. Each piece of cool is labeled “color”, “pattern”, “typeface”, “product”, or “space” and then composed onto an art board of cheap butcher paper and titled with the periodical’s name and release date. The final composition is simply my edit of the magazine I spent 30 minutes scavenging.

With so much stuff to see, only a handful of things really matter.

I recently rummaged through the summer issues of Interior Design – May through August 2018 – and offer you Rick’s “Summer of Cool”.


ID May 2018
Typeface – MTT Milano Black; OFS Corporate logo
Pattern – “Paris” Wall graphic by Rapt Studio at TV Studio Turner. ATL
Space – Learning Annex by BC Architects. Morocco.
Product – “Darning Sampler” Textiles by Maharam.
Color – Pantone P5-5C
Color – Pantone 10129C
Color – Pantone 3538 UP


ID June 2018
Color – Pantone 101 12C
Typeface – Nimbus Sans Novus Heavy
Architecture – “Kitz” Hotel. Germany; Meyer Architecture


ID July 2018
Product – “Courts” Rug by Coombs, Corrado, & Kaplan
Product – “NudaFlat” Lavatory by Ceramica Flaminia
Pattern – “X” by Lissoni Architecture
Typeface – Swiss 721 + Europa Grotesk SH Demibold
Color – Pantone 3588 CP


ID August 2018
Color – Pantone 13 – 1520 TCX
Typeface – Uniform Rounded
Pattern – “Steps” by Alexander Girard

Analysis of a Design Charrette

char·rette /SHəˈret/

Late Middle English (denoting a cart or wagon): from French charrette, literally ‘cart’; current sense dates from the mid 20th century, possibly with reference to the use of a cart in 19th-century Paris to collect architecture students’ work on the day of an exhibition.

A charrette is defined as an intense period of design or planning activity. The term originated in France at the École des Beaux-Arts school in Paris where students would typically work up until the last minute, placing their designs and models on a charrette (or, more commonly known by Americans, a cart) upon completion for review.

Never being ones to sit out on a design competition, our firm has participated in countless local design charrettes since our doors opened in 2002. Typically used as a way to reimagine particular neighborhoods or districts throughout the city of Houston, charrettes are a great way to pool together ideas from students, young designers, or architects.

This past January, B/A participated in one of Rice Design Alliance’s charrettes, the goal of which was to reimagine the Allen’s Landing district to promote resiliency, connectivity, and activity in the surrounding neighborhood.

With five hours on the clock, we had to put together a design and presentation that appropriately conveyed our vision — a community amphitheater.

The images below document both the process that our team went through as we planned our design and a few slides from our final project presentation the to judges.

After several hours of intense design (and a few slices of pizza), we were ready to present our final product to the judges. Ta da!

Although we didn’t win this particular charrette, we are always proud to be a part of initiatives to reinvigorate the Houston community we love so dearly. We look forward to the next one!

Houston History Launch Party + Panel Discussion: Latinos in Houston

Yesterday evening, some of the BRAVE team went to Talento Bilingue De Houston in Houston’s East End in support of B/A’s Architectural Intern, Alicia Islam. Alicia recently wrote and contributed an article to local publication Houston History titled “Past, Present, and Future: The Women Shaping Houston’s Architecture” where she discusses the historical and profound impact that women have had on our city.

Last night’s launch party featured a panel discussion between retired educator and University of Houston administrator, Dr. Dorothy Caram, lawyer and former Mayor Pro Tem, Gracie Saenz, and lawyer and owner of Villa Arcos, Christian Navarro on Latino empowerment and their contributions to our community. The discussion was led by Houston History editor and University of Houston Honors College history professor, Dr. Debbie Harwell. Harwell, a former professor of Alicia’s, created Houston History with the goal of making our region more aware of its history and more respectful of its past and to contribute to the development of a stronger historical consciousness in Houston.

Click here to read Alicia’s article featured in Houston History.
Issues of Houston History Magazine can be purchased here.

AIA Houston’s Kids & Architecture Sketching Class

AIA Houston’s Kids & Architecture Committee scheduled another great class on a beautiful Saturday, pairing architects with students to meander around a section of Houston and lay down some pencil (or pen) to paper. This past weekend, the focus was on Hermann Park and the Cherie Flores Garden Pavilion.

AIA Houston schedules the Kids & Architecture Sketching Classes every so often and will reconvene in the fall once school starts up again.

Walk This Way: A Resident’s Plea for More Sidewalks in Houston

Many people laugh when I say that Houston is the largest small town I’ve seen, but think about it. We have the population, the arts, the restaurants and yet, how do they interconnect? Look out your window. Is there anything missing? If you see a wide (five-foot minimum), well-maintained, accessible, and unobstructed sidewalk — congratulations! You are an exception and may be part of positive development of the city.

I keep hearing people wonder how to attract large corporations, innovators, and young entrepreneurial talent to Houston to push it to the next level. We have to realize that every property without a sidewalk is a clear statement saying, “you, pedestrian, neighbor, are not welcome here.”

New development, blocks away from the Museum District.


Southgate Boulevard, blocks away from the Medical Center.

All of us have a role to play in the development and success of this city and are responsible for maintaining the small section of Houston located along our property lines.

Think about the benefits associated with a well-maintained sidewalk:

– They significantly reduce chances of a neighbor getting run-over at your front door (this should be a good enough incentive on its own, but I’m just getting started…).
– They provide greater opportunities for neighbors to meet and interact with each other. Nobody stops and chats in the middle of the street — this magic opportunity only happens when people have a safe place to pay attention to each other and forget about the traffic passing by.
– They provide increased safety. Pedestrians walking along a safe path pay much more attention to the details in the activity of the community when they don’t have to worry about oncoming traffic. Well-organized Neighborhood Watch groups (like this one in Idylwood on the east side of town) are very effective at alerting the community about unusual activities.
– They create increased property value. Sidewalks improve curb appeal, increase a neighborhood’s desirability, and with it, its property value many times over.
– They establish the grounds for a healthier community. A small amount of daily exercise can improve overall health and sidewalks provide the easiest, quickest, and cheapest option for neighborhood walks.
– They promote increased sales for commercial properties. Chances are higher for a pedestrian to get “tempted” by an appealing storefront along a sidewalk than a driver getting the urge to make an impulsive purchase just by noticing your logo across a massive parking lot.
– They also promote a reduced dependency for vehicles. It doesn’t matter how many means of public transportation a city implements. None will be used regularly if people have to risk their lives to reach them.

One of many abruptly-interrupted sidewalks, this one at Bell Park in Montrose.


University at Morningside, West University area.

I understand that Houstonians are very attached to their lack of regulations, but the city should consider the valuable opportunities lost due to lack of planning. Houston’s Planning Commission has been working on additional regulations for new development.

But what about existing properties? Do we wait 100 years until every property has undergone a major renovation? A more aggressive approach is needed to see any kind of meaningful improvement. Perhaps implement a plan to have sidewalks along every property within the city limits? With a strict deadline, incentives, and/or penalties? Although there is a cost associated with these improvements, some of the worst offenders I’ve seen are multiple sections of central, high-end neighborhoods such as Southgate, Old Braeswood, and River Oaks (the latter of which was originally touted as a pedestrian-friendly neighborhood that now has multiple blocks of a once-service road turned major artery like San Felipe Road running through it, completely deprived of pedestrian access). The examples are plentiful and extend as far as the city boundaries. I haven’t even mentioned ditches, old and cracked three-foot wide strips of concrete, or utility poles — the list of obstacles is long.

San Felipe Road in the River Oaks district.

Our community is strong and has many opportunities for growth that go beyond reaping the benefits of an oil-based economy.

Houston, it’s time for all of us to get serious and do our part. Build an appropriately-sized sidewalk along your property and maintain it. Join a community organization. Make your voice heard. Together, we can make Houston a healthier, more resilient city.

Great sidewalks along Montrose Boulevard.


Generous sidewalks along the new MFAH Glassell School of Art.

Here are some great resources for finding out more about building healthier environments:

On Our Desks
by: Robert McCarter
Edited by Phaidon

We just received a copy of the most comprehensive book ever written on the work of Marcel Breuer (1902-1982). The monograph contains the architect’s work plus all his furniture design. It highlights his association with the Bauhaus and Walter Gropius, his work in Europe and the US. The book is illustrated with fantastic photographs, plans, and sketches of the master’s work. It is a great reference and a prized addition to our ever-growing library.

Ghetto vs. Biblical City: The Role of Architecture in Italian Mafia TV

This week I finished watching Suburra, a ten-episode TV series about the Italian Mafia. The series, a spinoff of a movie of homonymous title, piggybacks on the success of another mini-series of the genre. The difference between one and the other is palpable and, although I enjoyed Suburra, I found it to be the light, caffeine-free version of its TV predecessor, Gomorrah.

Initially, I intended to make an observation of how architecture plays a character role in the series Gomorrah. Having now watched Suburra, I find myself making a cinematic comparison between both, going far beyond my intended objective.

The titles of both series are phonetically related, leading me to believe there was a quest for emulation (both are named after movies that preceded them). Both titles allude to location. But there, in the titles, clearly stands the difference. Suburra is named after a lower-class squalor outside of Rome where “not-too-good” things happen. Gomorrah refers to the city of biblical mythology which found its fate through incorrigible misbehaving. One is real and tangible; it can be entered and escaped. The other is mythical; it exists solely in an imagined world.

In Gomorrah, which is now under production for a third season, there are no characters who are redeemable in any way. Everyone is callously perverse – even the architecture, a character in both. While Gomorrah exudes European film grit, Suburra appears to be coated with the naiveté of American film. Undoubtedly due to its American producer Netflix, Suburra is imbued with a puritanism which permeates the production. One big difference is how film locations and architectural settings were chosen by both productions. Besides architecture, both series show their larger settings, the cities, in wide angle. Suburra shows Rome in all its glory. Events take place in front of the Pantheon, along Via Condoti, near the monument to Vittorio Emmanuelle, by the Forum. In Gomorrah, we see Naples in its deepest degeneration. Both series are set by the sea, which also plays a role; soothing in one, menacing in the other.

Both series have distinct cinematography in how shot-framing is carefully studied. Suburra’s frequently-used one-point perspectives and well-behaved symmetry are a counterpoint to Gomorrah’s unruly, asymmetrical views. While Suburra utilizes some strange cinematographic tricks like veiling all scenes involving the gypsy clan in a greenish-yellow hue (reminiscent of Batman’s TV series where scenes shot at the archenemies’ quarters were always tilted as if to convey the crookedness of the actions they portray), Gomorrah is shot with Michael-Mannesque aesthetics, especially the night scenes.

Parallels abound, so a side-by-side comparison is merited.

Generationally, elements in Suburra show the main characters’ progenitor generation as wicked to the core, while the millennials all have a good side. Be it through a struggle to save a mother’s dream or spare an enemy’s dog’s life, fulfilling a father’s desire of moving beyond the limitations of a blue-collar future, or being able to achieve and maintain friendship, we can see a saving factor in each of the three main millennial characters in Suburra. You want the good in each of them to come out; you want to save them. In Gomorrah, only one’s inner-demons can bond with such monstrous personalities.

Comparable characters in both series have intrinsically differing structures. In Gomorrah, Gennaro Savastano, a mean, over-ambitious oddball, will stop at nothing to realize his determined quest to replace his father as the top kingpin, even if he has to have him killed. “Genny” is not good looking or gracious. He does not dress well, is inarticulate, and moves awkwardly. Spadino Anacleti, a member of the gypsy clan in Suburra, sports the exact same peculiar hairstyle as Genny. Spadino is fun-seeking, has great dance moves, and even shows an inclination for the romantic. Genny is a monster with whom the viewer cannot possibly find a way to relate. Spadino, a child who is transitioning to young-adulthood, struggles with his sexuality, engaging the audience who wants to see him succeed as he finds his true self. What both characters have in common is that they come from families with the kitschiest of tastes; perhaps this explains their choice of haircuts. Both live within well-guarded walled compounds.

As any Italian mafia portrayal would dictate, females in both series are clad in tasteless clothing, including furry collars and abundant leopard print. In Suburra, however, female characters are shown as having the “requisite” sensitive side that would make males in the audience feel more at ease. In Gomorrah, the leading females are as driven and heartless as the men. In Suburra, females reach their goals through seduction; in Gomorrah, they rule without having to resort to gender-based qualities. When it comes to sex scenes, Suburra has plenty of them. The series opens with an orgy and has multiple sex scenes throughout its ten-episode arc. But after the initial shock, one distinguishes the scenes as having been dreamed up by a repressed and overactive adolescent male mind. In Gomorrah, there is no sex; the characters’ lives cannot afford such commodity. Its characters’ connections are more primal than carnality.

In Gomorrah, where the characters are at their most primitive, the church, which appears in understated tone, is respected and feared. In Suburra, there is expressed disdain for the Vatican. In Gomorrah, all vehicles are European; in Suburra, the bad guys drive American. In the former, Ciro di Marzio – it took me almost the entire first season to understand he was the main character – looks and acts 100% Neapolitan; in the latter, his counterpart, Aureliano Adami – who in the movie version appears like a euro-skinhead – looks Angelino in the TV series, even when he is not driving his American-made Jeep. In Suburra, Aureliano compassionately rescues the dog of one of his victims. In Gomorrah, Ciro smothers his wife to death.

Both series allude to the construction industry, and while watching I was reminded of an old employer who once who told me, “If you want to see the reach of the mafia in any country, look no further than at their construction industry.” – Heavy!

Suburra’s entire plot gravitates around the mafia seeking control of Ostia, the coastal town west of Rome, to build a new port and turn it into “the new Las Vegas”. One of the characters, perhaps the only decent one, is a builder. In his office, we can see architectural models and drawings. In one of Gomorrah’s many underlying plots, Genny marries the daughter of a construction magnate who wants to bring him into the family business, one that (in addition to being murky) seems “cleaner” than those of the Neapolitan mafia. Another character in Gomorrah, Salvatore Conte, hides his drug business behind a real estate development empire in Barcelona.

Architecture is a critical character in both series and plays the role of the “good guy” or “bad guy”, depending on which series you’re watching. In Suburra, architecture appears as a character in the form of an abandoned seaside restaurant belonging to Aureliano who wants to restore it to its former glory when his long-deceased mother ran it. This endeavor is likely to be interpreted as a bonding crusade between Aureliano and his mother, whom he lost as a baby. The old wooden structure is picturesque, and although now in disrepair, the many coats of brightly colored paint give witness of having been cared for. In a way, one could also presume that the building wants to save Aureliano from a life of immorality, much like a good mother would.

In Gomorrah, Le Vele di Scampia, the derelict set of social housing buildings where most of the action takes place, shows up as a principal character on the series promotional posters where architecture plays a defining role. While Aureliano’s seaside kiosk “smiles” in hopes of being restored, of being redeemed, of saving his owner, Le Vele is at guilt. The somber housing complex knows its architecture is the root of all social evil. That it is the cause of their indignity and moral decay. And for that, it suffers; it groans, it even constantly weeps (water drips from everywhere). Opposite to Aureliano’s wooden shack, the buildings of Le Vele di Scampia scream to the viewer that they’ve never been cared for. That their existence has been a downward spiral from the onset. That they know of their complicity in the bad that dwells in their guts.

Abandoned industrial sites and port settings constantly appear as backdrops in both series. The gangsters in Suburra often meet under freeways or in impressive skeleton-like concrete structures such as those in the failed and abandoned Santiago Calatrava project, Sports City. Their white-collar counterparts do so in glorious Roman sites which include the Palazzo Senatorio and other monumental and institutional structures. In Gomorrah, there are no white-collar criminals outside of one or two very minor characters, and all meetings happen in the open, the majority of them on terraces or open hallways of Le Vele.

I enjoyed and recommend both series. For those looking for an easier to digest, faster-paced crime story, Suburra is the choice. But for those who can tolerate few words and can stomach primitive European mafia gore and ruthless violence – both physical and psychological – Gomorrah is the option. I’ve always been strangely attracted to the superstructures of Italian social housing, from Futurism through Modernism and until the 1960s and 1970s, when Le Vele di Scampia were completed. I am particularly fascinated with the counterpoint between the positive impact they continue to have from an architectural design standpoint and the diametrically opposed adverse effect they had over the lives of those they were originally intended to help. Given the option, I choose Gomorrah.

AIA Houston’s 2017 Gingerbread Build-off

This past Saturday, the BRAVE team participated in AIA Houston’s annual Gingerbread Build-off. Having taken home the Grand Prix de Show in 2016, we felt the pressure to come up with a unique concept that spoke to our design aesthetic while also having a feeling of playfulness throughout (and hopefully come home as back-to-back champions!).

Inspired by French landscape architect Yves Brunier … READ MORE

Product Runway 2016.2

LENTICULAR “Pleat-scape”
charrette no.2

Movement = Visual Transformation
Pleats, Planes, Canvas, & Vantage Point.

How to make pleat?
Pleat and dress form?

Product Runway 2016


charrette no.1
“Transition” as driving concept.
Think of the stages of change – multiple phases of change.
Litertal to abstract. Abstract to literal.
Calder to abstract. Abstract to Calder.
How to make the transitions work with the hard & soft materials?
Color = Black, White, Grey, and one accent color (Calder uses primary colors)