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New York, New York
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Sustainability, Green Ideas, Environment, Networking, Architecture, Engineering, Building Systems, Farah Ahmad, Farah Naz Ahmad

Texas Through a Green Architect


My personal journal: architecture, travel, current events, New York City, & more.

Texas Through a Green Architect

Farah Ahmad

A planned trip to Texas involved an itinerary of sustainable sites and practices- some intentional, and some unforeseen surprises...


Southern hospitality is very much alive in San Antonio!  A family-friendly city with acres of suburban sprawl, San Antonio is currently the second most populated city in Texas (and seventh in the country)! With a population of over one million, San Antonio continues to see growth of migration into its neighborhoods. As I quickly surmised, its historic district, the "tourist magnet", is only a small representation of the city's culture. This downtown core is encompassed by radial patterns of circulation, an intertwining fabric weaving in and out of San Antonio's various districts. During my travels, I was lucky enough to drive through many varying enclaves and catch glimpses of everyday life.


San Antonio's (SA) hidden jewels are its contemporary construction! Click the right handle above to see zoomed in construction details of the modular containers.

A casual drive [OK, it may have been a detour- thanks, construction sites!] surprisingly led me by the site of these shipping container homes! I've since learned these single-family projects by local developers are a growing contemporary living trend in SA, and are pretty affordable- in the $300,000 range. Shipping container construction is sustainable due to its speedy erection (usually produced off site and assembled on site with crane) and reduction in construction demolition waste. Two thumbs up!


The world famous San Antonio Riverwalk is a part of the country's largest direct recycled water delivery system! You'll see, as you scroll through the photos below, that the waterway weaves through man-made landscaping and in and out of buildings! Over 130 miles of pipeline deliver recycled water to San Antonio, and the Riverwalk is simply one recipient of this large system. Aaaaaand, another fun fact!: San Antonio reuses 40% of its water! That's amazing for a city with varying uses and demographics, including a consistently growing population. Click the right handle below.

For all my Architecture fanatics, check out my photography from Architectural Riverwalk delights below, taken from the obligatory Riverwalk cruise tour. I highly recommend GO RIO River Cruises - one cruises for an extended period of time, and boldly towering over guests on either side of the river's edge are buildings that comprise San Antonio's economical development and industrial history: they offer humble insight of the city's beginnings.

Have to slide in a fun travel tip- the bridge in the last photo of the gallery below is featured in the film Selena, starring Jennifer Lopez! 


Once an industrial site for decades, the brownfield site of Pearl Brewery has transformed into a mixed-use development: offices, retail, dining, park space, and more! While there are many environmental design considerations, perhaps the most impressive is its material reuse. Over 300,000 SF of the existing 450,000 SF of historic buildings were salvaged and re-purposed! And, not only are materials reused, but 100% of the water used on site for landscape irrigation comes from recycled water or on-site captured rainwater.

The newly restored 67,000 SF warehouse on site is also an architectural delight- it has achieved LEED Gold certification and receives 25% of its energy from the over 700 solar panels on site (at one point, this project was Texas' largest solar installation). It has also achieved a net EUI of 42 kBtu/sf/yr. To be quite frank, my eyes kept glazing over the interior industrial catwalks and exposed structure- really great expression and aesthetic of the bare-bone!  

I'm highlighting my personal favorite features of my site walk-through below, so click the photos below (I liked this community so much, I came back three times on three separate days, and highly recommend a visit here- the bohemian culture is reminiscent of New York's LES and Williamsburg).

The beauty is in the details: creative reuse of materials and public engagements- door handles, planters, and beer cisterns for rainwater storage all echo the industrial past. The solar power kiosk educates visitors on annual renewable power production.


Green Texan Cuisine

Site programming also echoes the site's green sentiments. Green Vegetarian Cuisine at Pearl serves DELICIOUS vegan and vegetarian options!


 The William R. Sinkin Eco Centro is a local sustainability events and lecture LEED-certified space designed for community interaction with the environment, operated by San Antonio College. I loved how the exposed building systems speak volumes about the center's mission. The rain cistern, drainage system, solar panels, electrical vehicle charging stations are all on display and interact wonderfully with the site. I've included a photo of me with the cistern just for scale! Navigate through the left and right handles below.



I also toured the offices of the City of San Antonio's Solid Waste Management Department, with my friend who serves as their Recycling Coordinator. The agency practices sustainable solid waste management and has several initiatives that align with its mission. Waste diversion, recycling, organic materials weekly pickups, specialized drop off areas (ie electronic waste, household hazardous waste, bulk items, plantings) and current development of a commercial recycling program, are all facets of the SA SWMD!


Austin is home to the country's first green building program, implemented in 1990! Austin Energy Green Building has a scorecard system, just like LEED, but rates three primary markets: single family, multifamily and commercial. To my surprise, the urban district is fairly small (then again, I'm a native New Yorker, and my standards are on a whole other level). I personally felt the 'outskirts' of Austin hold the real adventure. Check out McKinney Falls State Park below with its cratered landscape and aged dense rock formations. I felt compelled to check out what a "swimming hole" was, apparently really popular in the Southern USA, because we don't have those up North!

Now let's continue geeking out on those green sights!..


Everything in Texas really IS bigger. At 999,000 SF, this is the largest state capitol in the country! It is truly a massive complex to walk through, but the tours are informative and intimate, given how popular they are.

Two environmental design features I personally appreciated:

a) Both the Senate and House of Representatives Chambers (first two photos below) experienced excessive solar heat gain at one point. To remedy this issue, double pane glass was installed in both ceilings, and viola! Also to be noted is that since the building is on the National Register of Historic Places, historic preservation likely played a role in any fenestration replacement.

b) Daylighting is integrated into the light courts design of the underground addition, constructed in the 1990s. Click images below to really see the amazing quality of the daylighting, and how it seemingly heightens the space!


This LEED Gold complex is designed with the theme of transparency, allowing the public to see the workings of city government! Austin City Hall offers awesome private tours. We even walked by the Mayor's office and into his conference room, where many international diplomats have gathered over the years! Austin City Hall generates its own energy with its impressive solar canopy and also receives half its energy from renewable resources, thanks to utility provider Austin Energy's Green Choice Program (primarily wind power). 


Limestone, copper, and concrete, all durable materials, comprise the structure. The use of recycled copper is AMAZING, because copper is heavily utilized- wrapped around the envelope as an exterior cladding, and also playfully angled as an interior finish over the core and atrium (the first photo below illustrates its use in acoustic clouds). Interior and exterior shots display the patina of the copper over time due to oxidation. The brilliant, reflective interior hues have now faded into a muted dark brown tone, and in approx. 30 years, will become green (think Statue of Liberty). 

Super neat mechanical system features were also highlighted during the tour. The building's HVAC condensate is recycled for its landscape. Even cooler (no pun intended) is that Austin City Hall is part of Austin Energy’s Downtown District cooling system- ice is generated overnight in a plant and used to chill the water that cools the building!!


This zero-waste store is a small but truly impactful gem! 99% of its overall waste and ZERO percent of its food waste is sent to the landfill. In addition, all food items are locally grown by farms in the area. Check out the certificate presented to the store below by Austin Energy, which congratulates in.gredients for its commitment to renewable energy by "purchasing electricity from clean, renewable energy sources!"

Locals also informed me that Texas' power is deregulated: in other words, homeowners and businesses can select their utility provider. That means there's an easier way for citizens to go the path of clean energy, as this business has committed itself to!


Green Cleanse


This popular Austin chain takes raw juices and blends into a healthy drink. But, this is just easier to make at home. Click here for creative ideas!


While in Austin, I also attended out the STAR (State of Texas Alliance for Recycling) Summit mixer and was inspired to see how conscious folks are of waste collection efforts. They have found that GREEN business is GOOD business, and have dedicated their careers to this cause. If you're in the area, check out this annual conference which brings together both local and regional professionals.



No trip to Austin is complete without climbing up the clock tower on the University of Texas and checking out the skyline. Embedded in the skyline is the LEED Gold Frost Bank Tower. By the way, as of 2017, Texas ranks in the top ten states for LEED certified buildings, as reported by the United States Green Building Council. No surprise that there are thirteen LEED certified buildings on the UT campus alone!