People of Austin Profile Series
In every chapter of My Beautiful City Austin, a young architect designs an ideal Austin home. Each time, that perfect house never gets built, as the easily persuaded architect bows to the wishes of his misguided clients instead. “It is fiction,” laughs author David Heymann, a University of Texas at Austin professor and architect who has designed, among other impressive projects, George W. and Laura Bush’s Crawford home. “I wrote it in a way to make the questions just a bit more pressing,” he says of his debut novel. “The sense that it’s actually reporting rather than fiction was really crucial to me.” Here, the architect and amateur birder talks with TRIBEZA about our city’s growing pains, Austin’s non-existent golden age, and why his book is ultimately a love letter to Austin.
I wanted to write about a part of Austin that actually kind of falls outside of the normal realm of Austin. There’s a lot of architecture that is visible, but that’s not really the architecture that’s changing the city on a large scale. The large scale changes are houses that are just growing ad infinitum into suburbia. [They] are having — arguably — the most profound impact on environment, on culture of the city, on stuff like why you’re stuck on traffic on Mopac.
ON GROWING THOUGHTFULLY
There’s this positivity towards growth in Austin, but it’s kind of mindless. It’s leaving behind certain things, some of which are great to leave behind, but it’s also leaving behind certain things that are worth preserving.
BRINGING THE OUTDOORS INSIDE
Unlike any other place I’ve lived [Austin] is the kind of place where I sense there are these experiences that are real — I can swim in [Barton] Springs. Where else can you swim in the Springs? Nowhere! I can walk The Greenbelt, do all of these things that I feel are powerfully, palatably real. Why wouldn’t that extend also to the building that you’re making or to the house that you’re making?
AUSTIN’S SO-CALLED GOLDEN AGE
There is this [myth] of a “golden Austin,” but it couldn’t possibly have existed, because for every single person, it’s this slightly different version of that [golden age]. Really what they’re sad about is that it’s entering this kind of more difficult period. I’m actually really excited about this more difficult period. It’s a more interesting time, it’s a time when you make decisions that really have long-term, profound consequences. I wanted to kind of write a love letter to our city about how much I like that particular moment.
STOP TRYING TO KEEP IT WEIRD
I think when you’re in a city that has to worry about being weird, then it’s kind of middle-aged. It’s a little over. I’m middle-aged – I totally understand that need to worry about being weird.
WHAT MAKES THE MOST INTERESTING ARCHITECTURE?
Interesting architecture happens [by asking], “What are the problems that aren’t being solved yet?” Problems for which there are not answers yet, but which arise from the way the world is changing and changes in things like families or landscapes. The most interesting architecture arises initially as a qualitative problem.