Tag: architecture

Monolithic Domes: Architecture of the Future

By Helen Fernandez, Madison Hamilton, Melinda Billingsley, Jonny Cramer and Claire Edwards

Portable cassettes, Mr. Potato Head, and Bruce Springsteen topping the charts are all things of the past. However, one relic from 1975 has lived on – and it’s thriving in the 21st century.

After building his first monolithic dome nearly forty years ago, David South has expanded his business to 49 states and 53 countries.

“I will never live long enough to forget the feeling when that dome went up – standing inside, and realizing it’s the building of the future,” says South.

caterpillarBruco, a giant caterpillar composed of seven interlocked domes, is an easily recognizable landmark on the side of I-35. Photo by: Helen Fernandez


Headquartered in Italy, Texas – Monolithic is home to the first dome community. Surrounded by a vast array of domes differing in colors and sizes, South’s two-story dome sits in the heart of the neighborhood.

Although skeptical as first, many have come to embrace the fairy-tale looking structures.

“It’s really comfortable and there’s no extra [electric and water] bills,” says Italy dome resident, Patsy Hall.

However, convenience and economics aren’t the only reasons for Monolithic’s international success.

In 2013 more than seventeen hundred homes were destroyed after a tornado ravaged the town of Moore, Oklahoma – with only one structure withstanding: the monolithic dome. South says dome survivability is a common theme among disaster-ridden areas.

Another benefit is the low cost of building, South explains.

“We don’t need to spend a lot of money, or waste resources to build domes,” he says.

The rounded structures are also eco-friendly.

Despite their unparalleled efficiency, living in a dome has its repercussions. The inflatable Airform building method causes all domes to be the same shape – unlike traditional housing. And although rooms can later be segmented off, many domes in the Italy community are much smaller with less open space than the conventional home.

However, at only $90 per week, living in the Italy community is seemingly economical – which is exactly what South envisioned forty years ago.

“My role since day one has been to teach and help people,” he says. “I really want it to be an industry and not just a David South business.”

The evolution of the Austin skyline

by Lily Morris, Austin Powell and Katey Psencik


The six tallest buildings in Austin were built within the last ten years. Of the top 10 tallest buildings, six of them are residential buildings.

Photos by Lily Morris


Video by Austin Powell

AustonianThe Austonian, one of Austin’s most revered — and most expensive — residence buildings, was built in 2010 and stands at 683 feet and 56 floors. It’s Austin’s tallest building and cost $200 million to build. It’s the tallest building in Texas outside of Houston and Dallas and is visible in four Central Texas counties: Travis, Bastrop, Hays and Williamson Counties.

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img2360 Condominiums, built in 2008, stands at 573 feet and 44 floors. It cost $85 million to build and at time of construction, it surpassed the Frost Bank as the tallest in Austin. It’s the only building in Austin to ever hold the title of “tallest building” that is not located on Congress Avenue. The name “360” was inspired by Austin’s tradition of including “360” in various names — such as Loop 360 and the Pennybacker Bridge, also known as the Loop 360 Bridge.

img3The Frost Bank Tower, a commercial office building built in 2004, was the tallest building in Austin when it opened at 515 feet and 33 floors. The $142 million building used over 200,000 panels of glass in the tower facade.

img4The W Austin Hotel and Residences, built in 2010, stands at 476 street and houses one of the most popular music venues in Austin — the Moody Theater, the new home of Austin City Limits Live. The $260 million building, 33-floor sits right next door to City Hall, and the plaza hosts a statue of one of Austin’s most beloved musicians, Willie Nelson.

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img2Spring, a residential building which stands at 434 feet and 43 floors, was built in 2009 for $60 million. It’s the tallest building in Austin’s West End.

img6Ashton, a building housing rental apartments, was finished in 2009 and stands at 416 feet and 36 floors. The cost of living is high for those wishing to live in this $90 million building with views of the lake — average rent at the Ashton is $2,800/month for a $1,400 square foot apartment.

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One Congress Plaza is one of the older buildings making up Austin’s skyline. Finished in 1987, the commercial office building stands at 398 feet and 30 floors. During construction, the $80 million building had to abide by a 1931 restriction stating that any buildings on Congress Avenue taller than 200 feet had to stair step back from the street.

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One American Center, a commercial office skyscraper built in 1984, stands at 397 feet and 32 floors.


The Four Seasons Residences Austin was completed in 2010 and stands at 394 feet and 32 floors. The $125,000 building features the highest rooftop swimming pool in Texas.

img10The Hilton Austin Convention Center Hotel, completed in 2004, stands at 377 feet. The $177 million building has 31 floors and has the largest ballroom in Austin and a live oak tree at the top of the hotel.

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Podcast by Katey Psencik
Emerging Projects Poster
Graphic of emerging projects in Austin provided by Michael Knox, downtown officer in the City of Austin’s Economic Development Department

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Infographic by Katey Psencik


Barkitecture 2013: House hunting for hounds

By Mary Ellen Knewston, Shawna Reding, Rebecca Wright and Rachel Marino 

A dog and owner try out one of the custom doghouses. Photo by Rebecca Wright

A dog and owner try out one of the custom doghouses. Photo by Rebecca Wright

For 14 teams of Austin builders and architects, there are no small design jobs–only small, four-legged inhabitants.

Each team designed and constructed a unique dog house for Barkitecture, Animal Lovers of Austin’s eighth annual contest and auction to benefit local animal welfare groups. Roughly 400 people attended the Sept. 28 event at Triangle park, its best turnout yet according to Animal Lovers of Austin Board Member Caroline Daigle. She said the nonprofit began hosting the event in 2007 to give local designers a way to place to put their skills to work supporting the city’s animal rescue community.

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“We have so many rescues and animals in Austin,” Daigle said. “This a fun way to bring people together, have their dog come out, test all these houses and do something to help the rescue community.”

Animal Lovers Austin is still finalizing this year’s total amount raised. Daigle said the group handed out $18,000 in grants at their 2012 Barkitecture auction, a total she expects to exceed this year. Grants are distributed to five rescue organizations each year, qualified by an application and voting process. This year’s beneficiaries were the Meals on Wheels and More PALS program, Cocker Spaniel Rescue, Lil’ Paws, Don’t Bully Me and Pug Rescue of Austin.

A silent auction, raffle and the doghouse auction itself funded the grants. Each house opened for bidding at $250, and many spurred bidding wars resulting in much higher final price tags.

“People want to be called to make sure they’re still the high bidder,” Daigle said. “It can get out of control pretty quickly. They get really excited about the houses.”

Seven designs were awarded prizes, in categories such as “Best In Show,” “Best Urban Dwelling” and “Greenest Design.” Winners tended to be houses that considered the taste of owners as well as the comfort level of their dogs. Big D Design Architect Dan Campos explained his firm’s contribution, which won a prize in the “Best Backyard Bungalow” category.

“This house is inspired by mid-century modern architecture,” Campos said. “It has very clean lines, and retro colors.”

He said the house’s side vents allow for airflow, and its rubber roof stops sun absorption to keep dogs cool on hot days. The house’s construction took two weekends, Campos said. His firm has now competed in four Barkitecture events, though this year is their first to win a prize.

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Girl places her dog into the water of the doghouse. Photo by Rebecca Wright

Girl places her dog into the water of the doghouse that won the Most Unusual award . Photo by Rebecca Wright

“We’re very excited,” Campos said. “It’s a opportunity to do something I really care about and that is good for the community.”

A pug brought by Pug Rescue of Austin is excited by the crowds. Photo by Rebecca Wright

A pug brought by Pug Rescue of Austin is excited by the crowds. Photo by Rebecca Wright

For Pug Rescue of Austin, one of the five Barkitecture beneficiaries, 100 percent of the money awarded to the organization will go toward paying veterinary bills for their pugs, Board of Directors Vice President Alicia Zalot said. Typically. The Pug Rescue of Austin’s expenses range from $5,000 to $7,000 each month, and the nonprofit organization relies on donations and volunteers, she said.

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“We are incredibly grateful,” Zalot said. “An event like this really goes a long way toward helping a lot of pugs.”

The organization also brought some of its rescued pugs to meet potential new families. Zalot said the interesting designs and atmosphere are a good way to attract people who would otherwise be unaware of the rescue community. The rescue organization hoped the event would encourage guests to consider adopting.

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Zalot’s organization is one of 110 animal rescue groups partnered with Austin Animal Services, the city’s official animal shelter and authority. Deputy Chief Chris Noble said partners are vetted to make sure they are responsibly run. He said Austin Animal Services relies on nonprofits to solicit donations and to take the lead on most fundraising events around town.

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“As a municipal shelter, we are stewards of taxpayer dollars, we have to be very careful about the money being spent and staying within the expectations of the taxpayer,” Noble said.

He said events such as Barkitecture are a good way to shed light on the homeless animal population in Austin.

To view the winning doghouses, click here.