Editor's note: Noted Texan architect and educator David Heymann, the Harwell Hamilton Harris Regents Professor in Architecture at UT-Austin's School of Architecture, will read from his recent book, My Beautiful City Austin, Wednesday, 6 p.m., at the Twig Bookstore at the Pearl. The following review was originally posted on the Overland Partners blog, Bird's Eye View.
To be certain, anyone who has ever attended a lecture by David Heymann understands his gift for storytelling. The guy writes just like he lectures: gesticulating wildly, using plenty of salty language, and evincing an incredible lust for life. In the tradition of all good storytellers, his stories evolve, each tale taller than the last.
Amidst backseat armadillo fiascos and sprawl-acne analogies, delicious kernels of wisdom about Austin, architecture, and life pepper Heymann’s first book – "My Beautiful City Austin." Take, for example, his opening description of how Austin’s relationship to the Central Texas landscape construes it as a more user-friendly city. Heymann speaks the language of space fluently, and his critical mind is trained squarely on the practice of architecture throughout the book.
"My Beautiful City Austin" is a faux fictional portrait of an architect and a city coming of age together. Faux fictional, because despite David’s assertion that the stories and people in the book are not his life or clients, they obviously are. The shirtless tree trimmer who sleeps with his married clients, the cigar smoking interior designer who publicly humiliates Heymann, and the pair of horned owls who make intense eye contact with stoned locals are not imaginary. These incredible creatures are real, and they live in Austin.
This book feels especially timely given our State Capital’s recent trajectory. At a New Year’s party this year on Austin’s Eastside, I overheard one local resident describe the city as crowded. This recent article on CityLab confirms that account. If Austin feels over-saturated these days, that’s because it is. The city’s explosive growth has overwhelmed its highways and exhausted its housing supply, pushing people out and prices up. Heymann’s anxiety about that change is palpable, and one senses a man reckoning with his own role in the evolution.
Sidenote: As many lessons as we have to learn from our northern neighbors, it's reassuring to know that San Antonio will never face the problems Austin suffers today. After all, we are a city with a different DNA: older, more industrial, and with a larger capacity to absorb new residents into the central city's existing footprint. That last bit might sound like a euphemism for sprawl, and it is. But San Antonio has a long way to go before it attracts enough Millennials to be called crowded.
Much of "My Beautiful City Austin" builds on essays Heymann originally wrote for Places Journal between 2010 and 2013. His "Landscape is Our Sex" is my personal favorite – straight to the heart of the nature/culture dichotomy from an architect’s perspective. Heymann is as excited discussing landscape as he is architecture, or in his words, “what people want from nature.” At 160 pages – in 14 point font, mind you - the book is his longest piece of writing to date. It is a single-sitting-read, easily devoured by anyone interested in architecture, landscape, or Texas.
Heymann will be signing books following the reading, and just experiencing a moment or two of conversation with this distinguished architect and professor will make your trip to the Pearl worthwhile.
*Featured/top image: "My Beautiful City Austin" by David Heymann (and headshot). Courtesy images.