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Let’s Talk about Austin, Texas

Keep Austin Weird
Let’s think about Austin.

I’m thinking about  Austin and the terrific three day experience I had there with the AustinExchange group from Grand Rapids in February.

Republic of Texas

It’s hanging in my mind.  Why?

Austin is hip  and cool, everyone wants to live there. Why? The music.  The culture of non-conformity, the do-what-you-want vibe, the anti-materialism undercurrent, the high tech intensity.    Doesn’t matter how much money you have.  It’s how creative you are that counts.

But we learned that Austin is “growing up.”  It has been described as the “off-beat teenager coming of age.”  Its a huge city now, having gone from 250,000 to over a million people in 20 years with hordes piling in every day, looking for affordable housing, clogging the roads and searching that off beat authentic Austin that stimulated the ” Weird” reputation.

I liked the architecture.  We saw an amazing mix of funny funky old places and bright shiny new and sleek.



Austin City Hall

Take the City Hall. We spent an hour or so there meeting with the Deputy Major, touring the People’s Art Exhibit and enjoying the light in the structure characterized with huge and unconventionally shaped windows.

I was mesmerized with the play of light on the wood, copper and glass.

Austin City Hall





Rainey Street

Not too far away is Rainey Street. Major contrast.   An eclectic accumulation of small bungalows on a tree shaded street, turned into bars.  Food trucks parked int he driveways, sometimes, stacked end to end.

Totally unconventional. When leaving one bar, I mentioned to the host that we were getting something to eat.  He said, “Oh come back and bring your food with you.”

Mixed into the old stuff was a bar made from shipping containers and another one with a huge lighted serpent in the yard.  Fun.







I’m not going to try to write about the Sixth Street Entertainment District.  You just gotta go there.

My Neighborhood: South of Congress

I liked the neighborhood near the cool hotel where we stayed (Hotel San Jose).  Funny funky homes. Old shacks really,  with junk piled in the front next door to cool contemporary renovations.  Houses with murals.  I could spend days meandering around camera in hand capturing the creative and independent spirit.






But don’t think there aren’t modern buildings springing up.  They are popping up faster than you can buy a pair of cowboy boots.  What we learned is that Texans have an aversion to zoning so you’ll see a huge 500 room hotel going up right near an old Texan Bungalow.  No one seems to care.  Maybe they do, but can’t do anything about it.

The Plant in the Hill Country

The highlight of the trip architecturally was a cocktail party (complete with a drone)  at  The Plant, owned by our hosts.  This is an architecturally significant home situated on a remote piece of land in  the Hill Country. It was built in the late 1990s out of materials repurposed from a San Antonio Cement factory.

This home is now used for private gatherings and is available to rent.  It is spectacular.  Soaring beams and screened in spaces.  Volumes of limestone.  Repetition of forms.  Isolation creating perfection for those desiring to truly “get away” in a inspiring environment.




Click here for more about The Plant  It is fabulous!

Post Author
Susan J. Smith
Susan's career includes writing for newspapers, lots of community work and a wonderful family life. Now she is enjoying traveling, photography and writing for DesignDestinations and Grand Rapids Magazine. She welcomes you on her journey and appreciates your comments.


  1. posted by
    Apr 7, 2015 Reply

    This makes me want to return to Austin when I have more time to explore!

  2. posted by
    peggy depersia
    Apr 7, 2015 Reply

    Priceless line……..No one seems to care. Maybe they do, but can’t do anything about it.

    You’ve really captured something essential here and it’s interesting to contemplate.
    Have heard so many good things about Austin for so long that it makes me yearn to visit. Having a guided experience over a period of days seems like a good way to go… get the highlights and can fashion reasons to return and explore.

  3. posted by
    Kati Boland
    Apr 9, 2015 Reply


    Great photos!!! I love Austin and have family that lives there so love to
    visit. It is a great city.


  4. posted by
    Hill Country Highlights | DesignDestinations
    Jan 18, 2016 Reply

    […] Let’s Talk about Austin, Texas  […]

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