Monday, October 26, 2015

Lean Urbanism: An Introduction

A few days ago, I had the pleasure of listening to a lecture by Andres Duany at Rice University. The lecture was part of a three day People + Nature Conference in Houston. The Conference focused on how to create cities that are "well connected, walkable, bikable places designed for human connectivity (. . .)  rich with nature, wildlife, and local food."

Andres Duany is an architect, urban planner, and founder of the Congress of New Urbanism. You may know him as the developer of Seaside, Florida (the town featured in the Truman Show). I had visited Seaside a few years back and was charmed by the personality of the town, the easy accessibility of restaurants and stores, and the seemingly effortless integration of nature with architecture. During his lecture, the charismatic Mr. Duany concentrated on the concept of "Lean Urbanism"; Lean Urbanism is "is small-scale, incremental community-building that requires fewer resources to incubate and mature." My favorite highlights of the lecture include: Detroit as "the next Brooklyn," Pink Zones, Tony Goldman's development of the Wynwood Arts District, Woodbury University, Auburn University's Rural Studio, and the Vietnamese District in New Orleans.

While not the same lecture, you can listen to Andres Duany speak here:

To learn more about his work visit his Website here.

To view more videos featured on People + Nature website about nature in our cities here.

Keep Exploring!
The Bayou Botanist

Thursday, October 22, 2015

An afternoon at Rienzi: You had me at Porcelain

A view of the back of Rienzi in the Gardens 
Some of my favorite museums around the world are in former private homes; the Rodin Museum in Paris, the Leighton House in London, The Contemporary at Laguna Gloria in Austin, and the Bayou Bend in Houston. Down the street from the Bayou Bend, the Rienzi is the former estate of philanthropists Carroll Sterling Masterson and Harris Masterson III who generously donated the home and grounds to the Museum of Fine Arts of Houston to house it's European decorative arts collection, including paintings, furnishings, sculptures and one of the largest collections of Worcester porcelain in the United States. The variety of color and form of the individual pieces in the collection makes the tour through the Rienzi feel like a treasure hunt.

The grand ballroom of the Rienzi house 

Every Wednesday, Rienzi opens its doors for open drawing sessions from 1:30pm -4:30pm.  I spent the entire afternoon engrossed in drawing one of the porcelain vases in the main Ballroom.

Sketching in the Rienzi

After a tour of the house, take a moment to wander through the Rienzi Gardens. The grounds are 4.4 acres of Texas woodlands and formal gardens including stunning southern magnolias. Also, make sure to include the Rienzi as part of your annual Azalea Trail in March 2016.

Magnolias and hedge gardens leading up to the entrance of the main house 

Finished version of drawing from the Rienzi; color added in my studio 

The Annual "Punch Party" will be hosted by MFAH tomorrow night from 7-9pm at the Rienzi! Try a historic English punch while wearing your pompadours and listening to a string quartet on the terrace!

Keep Exploring!
The Bayou Botanist

Read more about the Rienzi here.

Rienzi Hours: 
Wednesday–Saturday, 10 a.m.–5 p.m.
Sunday, 1–5 p.m.Visits are by docent-led tour only.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

A Tour of the Buffalo Bayou: Part 3

It's Fall, ya'll! This morning was a perfect 72 degrees as I rode my bike through Buffalo Bayou Park. As you know, I started my journey by boat, then joined the runners pounding ground from bridge to bridge, and today, I spent two hours biking around the loop of the Park.  Full disclosure: when I say biking, I mean I pedaled my bright orange cruiser as hard as I could and tried to stay in a straight line. I get lots of waves from serious bikers (to which I smile because my hands must remain on the handlebars at all times).
I haven't named her yet. . . so if anyone has a suggestion. .
I found one of my favorite new parts of the Park today: the Wolff Family Grove. Perhaps, it was the gorgeous light streaming down through the trees, the sparkling dust in the air, the musky smell of fresh dirt and fallen leaves, or that there were two dogs sitting on a branch. . . whatever the reason, I felt a deep connection to this serene little grove.
 An unforgettable moment of calm in the Wolff Family Grove; Sculpture by Anthony Thompson Shumate

Just four Park walkers enjoying a rest on a sheltering tree
As you continue traveling East towards downtown, you'll pass several small gardens; including the Jane Gregory Garden and the Eleanor Tinsely Garden. Each one has it's own personality so make sure to stroll off the main path to investigate. You will also notice several large open grass areas:  Sandy Reed Grove, Hines Meadow, and the newly finished Eleanor Tinsley Park.

Spindle by Henry Moore in the Foundren Foundation Meadow
Eleanor Tinsley Park includes the Bud Light Amphitheater lawn, the Nau Family Pavilion, and a sand volleyball court.   
Ducks investigating the human explorers; Waterworks and the Skate Park can be seen in the background

One of the most magical sculptures in the Park, Portrait of Houston; It wasn't a Dream, It was a Flood by John Runnels,  speaks perfectly to Houston's relationship to rising waters

A flock of birds in the sky; dozens of turtles swimming in the water below; view from Sabine St Bridge

Graffiti outside of the Skate park; Fun Fact: Graffiti has been found around the world as far back as 1500BC on the Pyramids of Giza. We need to make our mark.

Two kayakers traveling down the Bayou

Houston Police Officer's Memorial by Jesus Bautista Moroles

I hope you will enjoy the Buffalo Bayou as much as I do! If you see a bright orange bike with a teal basket fly by, make sure to wave, and know that I am smiling back!

Keep Exploring!
The Bayou Botanist

Monday, October 12, 2015

A Tour of Buffalo Bayou Park: Part 2

For the second leg of the journey through the Buffalo Bayou Park, we start at the newly restored Lost Lake and travel to Rosemont Bridge (right past Montrose Blvd). Highlights: Lost Lake, Kayak Rentals at the Visitor's Center, Waugh Bat Colony, Wortham Grove, Johnny Steele Dogpark, and the stunning views from Rosemont Bridge.

Map of the Buffalo Bayou: Journey 2 from Lost Lake to the Rosemont Bridge

Lost Lake and the Visitor's Center; restrooms and Bayou City Adventures (kayak rentals) located inside Visitor's Center. The building also houses the Dunlavy a future restaurant and event space. A wonderful place to read a book. Looking forward to the restaurant opening!

Water lilies growing in Lost Lake: Lost Lake was a former pond that was lost in the 1970's when a dam failed; the new Lost Lake features wetland gardens, canopy trees, and a stunning multi-layered waterfall.

Boat and kayak launch: you can now rent kayaks at Lost Lake on weekends: see the website for more info: Bayou City Adventures

Jackson Hill Bridge connects the two sides of the Bayou
Bats of Waugh Bridge; you can smell the strong scent of Gunao as you pass. . .but you'd expect this to be the case when over 250,000 bats (Mexican Free-Tailed) live in the same location, the second largest bat colony in Texas.
Information about the Waugh Bridge Bat Colony and a great place to watch as the bats emerge at dusk each night

Johnny Steele Dog Park is a two acre oasis for your favorite 4-legged friend; the Dog Park has a large and small dog section

Photo taken in the first few weeks of the park opening; I've never seen happier dogs diving into the water

Tolerance Sculptures by Jaume Plensa at Rosemont Bridge

View of the Downtown Houston Skyline from Rosemont Bridge

Monumental Moments by Anthony Thompson Schumate, 2015 are a series of 6 four-foot words placed along the Kinder footpaths. This sculpture is hidden in front of the dog park; I love how these important words are placed in unexpected locations around the Park.

Wortham Grove fountain known as "Dandelion"; there is sheltered seating surrounding the circular fountain which makes this an ideal location for a relaxing moment or two

Detail of the fountain; whimsical and brilliant
I hope you're able to take advantage of all of these fantastic Buffalo Bayou locations soon! Next up: A Tour of Buffalo Bayou Park: Part 3!

Keep Exploring!
The Bayou Botanist

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Buffalo Bayou Boat Ride

Since moving to Houston two years ago, I have watched the Buffalo Bayou transform into a vibrant and beautiful urban green space. Bikers and runners stream up and down the meandering paths; families have picnics and parties; hundreds gather for the bat colony on Waugh Drive every night; even the dogs have a ball splashing and running in the dog park. In celebration of it's official opening, I will be featuring a different part of the expansive Buffalo Bayou Park over the next several days. To begin, we go to water, the Buffalo Bayou, that led to the founding of Houston itself. While I have experienced the park as a biker, a runner, and a lounger, today was the first time that I have seen the park and other parts of the city from the water.

Every second Saturday of the month, you can take a boat down a small section of the Buffalo Bayou. The 30 minute boat ride also comes with a very informative tour guide who highlights fascinating tidbits from present day and historical Houston.

The Basics:   Where: Sabine St Boat Launch across from the Wortham Visitor's Center 
                      When: Second Saturdays from 10AM- 2 PM every 1/2 hour, last depart 1:30
                      Parking: There is parking at 212 Sabine Street
                      Cost: $7 for adults/$5 for children (ages 4–12)
                                Cash only; payment taken when boarding.
                       What to Bring: sunscreen, water, camera, $7 fee

The newly completed Wortham Insurance Visitor's Center; the top section is a stunning patio area, while the bottom has a bike rental shop, beverages, and restrooms.

To get to the boat ramp, walk down the steps across the street from the visitor's center all the way down to the water

Artwork by John Runnels, 2014
There are 11 canoes throughout the park marking eastward bayou access points

Waiting for the boat to arrive; make sure you arrive early to get a good place in line; it gets busy pretty quickly

Sharing the waterways with kayakers; you can now rent a kayak from Lost Lake

"Seven Wonders" by Mel Chin outside of the Wortham Theater Center commissioned to celebrate the sesquincentennial; 7 70 ft Pillars;  each is made up of 150 children's drawings etched in steel. Apparently, there is also a mysterious red button you can press inside the pillar located next to the Preston St Bridge that causes a giant bubble to emerge in the middle of the Bayou (Big Bubble was created by artist Dean Ruck in 1998). I can't wait to find that button.

Joined by a few ducks as well

Welcome to Houston, "THE TOWN OF HOUSTON"; building in background to be the future home of the Buffalo Bayou Partnership

Bikers on the Bridge waving to us below
 While you're in the area, also check out the newly completed Barbara Fish Daniel Nature Play Area that offers a multi-layered tree house, climbing ropes and logs, a long slide, and sand box all in a natural and playful setting. The entire area has blossomed into one of my favorites in the park. I certainly know where I'll be enjoying a picnic in the future.

Tree house/boat decks, climbing net, and climbing logs at the Barbara Fish Daniel Nature Play Area

Sand Box; part of the Barbara Fish Daniel Nature Play Area
For all you skaters out there, visit the Lee and Joe Jamail Skate Park; open Monday – Sunday, 9:00 am – 10:00 pm
Behind the Wortham Insurance Visitor's Center is a two acre green space; perfect for an afternoon picnic
I hope you're all able to enjoy the Buffalo Bayou from the water soon!
 Keep exploring!
The Bayou Botanist

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