2010 Meeting Recap: Austin’s adopted codes explained
Austin’s adopted codes: explained!
What are these new codes that the City of Austin has adopted? Is Austin’s version different from other cities? Do we need to change how we design buildings? For our October committee meeting we hosted several key plan review and inspection officials from the City of Austin- Jose Roig, J.B. Meier, Ron Menard, Carl Wren, and Joe Limon. They presented slides, videos, and handouts to shine some light on where the building and fire codes have changed this month. I will mention a few items here, and link to the full powerpoint presentations. [Building code:] High rise exit codes (number of stairs and elevators, and separation distance have changed). // Bars and restaurants over 100 people are now to be sprinklered. // Roofs that support occupied roof decks are now required to be fire rated. // Guard rails, where required, now use 4” sphere regardless of height. // Ambulatory facilities (day surgery centers) now require sprinklers in most cases. // Residential dead-end corridor and common path of travel distance increased if sprinklered. // Building code powerpoint [Fire code:] Carl Wren is involved in the IFC code technology committee, and shared some of the science and testing behind the recent code changes. Improvements were also made based on the findings of the 9/11 commission, and local amendments have been informed in part by the Echelon disaster. Carl has joined us before, but this time he brought videos and we got to watch stuff burn. A twin mattress (synthetics) has over 1 megawatt of heat energy waiting to be released in a fire, and an office workstation has 6.6 megawatts of energy. Do not try this at home. Fire code link here ___________ Thanks to all the City officials that spent a two hour lunchbreak teaching us about the new codes, to Gary Devin for organizing the event, and thanks to Sally Fly and the AIA staff for hosting our record turnout of 60 people!

Meeting Recap: IH-35 Corridor Tunnels and Alternates

Our September topic included future transportation options along the IH-35 corridor. Comparisons and alternatives included a sunken roadway section, a tunnel, and a boulevard. Particularly of note was the discussion on rail—on the surface, within a tunnel, or along other corridors altogether.

Although it is tempting to regarding IH-35 as purely a transit problem, there is an underlying racial tension regarding the east/west demographic divide along this same line. We must be sensitive regarding changes to IH-35—tunnels or sunken roadway sections that minimize the perception of a physical barrier also change the character of communities. Which changes allow for healing, which foster gentrification, which trigger rapid increase in tax values, and which provide habitable public space?

Regarding traffic, the suggestion of parking garages near tunnel exits and rail stops seems to be a viable means of encouraging multimodal transit. The question of locating rail stations and tunnel exits at currently under-developed areas is also an interesting one, since transit improvements can certainly be a growth tool.

Our thanks to Gonzalo Camacho for his presentation; Freese and Nichols, Inc generously sponsored lunch.

Our next meeting has been moved to Friday, 29 October at 11:45 AM.

Meeting Recap: A City Architect for Austin

A 28 July 2010 job posting at City of Austin Public Works for “City Architect” unintentionally launched an avalanche of emails within our Committee pondering what a “City Architect” should be: What would the impact be of a staff architect point person for design issues?

Within the context of the Comprehensive Planning process, it would appear that changes are coming which, if adopted, will prompt revisions of a whole host of ordinances and design standards. What would it be like to have a consistent, central architectural voice within City staff that could identify certain policy items that need more careful consideration?

There are, in fact, a number of architects on staff at the City of Austin. Not only are they present in Public Works, they are also on staff within Urban Design and Planning and in Austin Energy. The role of architects within Public Works was discussed by the AIA and the City’s Design Commission way back in 1997, and briefly appeared in the Austin Chronicle (attached).

The relevant point for our commitee is whether the City has an architect empowered to speak with authority on design issues that would arise from the adoption of the Comprehensive Plan, and if creating or refining such a role would be advisable.

After a thoughtful and well-attended meeting of our AIA Austin Urban Design and Government Affairs Committee, we have decided to take a look at what some other Cities are up to in this area. Below we will attempt to gather some relevant comments and links.

Our research volunteers: Larry (looking into Fort Worth), Steve (Denver and Savannah), Emily (San Francisco), Paul (Seattle, Munich), and Richard (Portland)

Meeting Recap: How Urban Design Affects Property Values

CNU Austin recently had a presentation by Andrew Burleson from Houston on How Urban Design Affects Property Values. The urban realm between specific buildings and transportation conduits were compared with each other and related to property values. Examples of Houston “patterns” and streetscapes were analyzed. Houses with shaded walks were shown to have more value than houses nearby on streets without sidewalks. The speakers theory is that more people a property attracts, the more valuable it is. Also an argument was made that developments with good streetscapes tend to encourage other developments with good streetscapes. Buildings need to address the street to contribute to a quality urban environment. Interesting take-aways for me included over-entitlements can work against urbanism, first ring neighborhoods are usually more walkable than the downtown they surround, and growth should be managed. These issues were shown by Houston tower projects large enough to suck up demand and thus leave nearby properties under or undeveloped. Adjacent owners held out for high prices, but without the demand, the properties usually remained surface parking. These Houston towers, often without consideration for streetscape, where shown to have street facades primarily dedicated to structured parking and building services. Mid-rise developments were shown to lend themselves well to supporting an active urban realm.