Day 35 – A Down Day in Austin

Rainwater Tank

Visiting a jobsite with Peter Pfeiffer (on the left) and fellow architect Scott Witt--who is holding open a hatch into a 64,000-gallon rainwater cistern.

27 April 2011 (posted the next morning). Today was an organizing and exploring-Austin day. In the morning, I went through the next batch of maps that Jerelyn had sent to me here—as I try to decide how far east I want to go.

I’m feeling pretty good, but the question may be the weather. Reading about the tornadoes in Alabama certainly gives me pause…. I would like to get far enough to see fully green vegetation–to complete the transition from the Southwestern deserts–but I’m not into biking through thunderstorms and tornadoes! On Tuesday night there was a tornado warning in Austin.

After that bit of route mapping this morning, and video-chatting with our office during the Wednesday staff lunch, I biked into town to explore. As soon as I got downtown, though (and was about to have lunch at Whole Foods–a “local” establishment in Austin), Peter called and invited me to drive with him out to a home they designed in the Hill Country that’s just being occupied. The house and guest house have a combined floor area of 7,000 square feet, and the other architect with us, Scott Witt, mentioned that the total area under roof—including porches and such—is something like 12,000 square feet!

Capturing rainwater

There is enough roof area on this house (and associated buildings) to capture 8,000 gallons from a one-inch rainfall!

Beautiful, but way too opulent and resource-intensive for my tastes. Plus, it’s way out in the Hill Country, requiring burning a gallon or two of gasoline just to pick up a gallon of milk!

Getting back to Peter’s office, I got a tour of his rental properties there—some nice detailing, especially the window awnings—then resumed my explorations. The first stop was the bike shop that I had been looking for when Peter first called me in the early afternoon. I got new biking gloves and had new front brake pads installed.

Pfeiffer rental properties

Peter owns two buildings next to his office that he has fixed up beautifully and rents out. I love how the live oak trees are so integrated into the buildings.

Simple fixed awnings

I'm throwing this photo in for Peter Yost's benefit; he and I have been working on a project about window treatments. These simple awnings/overhangs that Peter Pfeiffer designed keep out unwanted solar gain while protecting the windows.

Porous paving

A nice detail with porous pavers (right side). Peter described how in a heavy rain there will be sheet runoff on the impervious surface that disappears when it hits the porous pavers that sit on a bed of aggregate.


Peter lost a zoning battle to erect a carport for his tenants, because of setback problems, but then figured out that a center-supported structure would circumvent the setback restrictions. An elegant solution indeed!

Barley & Pfeiffer Architects

The main entrance to Barley & Pfeiffer Architects is up the stairs, which wind around this amazing live oak tree.

Conference table

A beautifully crafted conference table in Peter's office.

A stop at a Patagonia store to buy a new pair of shorts, then walk across the street to the Elephant Room, a well-known jazz bar in Austin. There was a great band playing and I enjoyed a beer while listening. That group was playing until 8 pm, then another band was to start at 9:30. I headed out around 8 to look for food.

As I was right on Congress Street and it was just about dusk, I decided to wander over to the Congress Street Bridge to see if I could see some of Austin’s famous bats. The Congress Street Bridge houses an estimated million-and-a-half Mexican free-tailed bats. Each day from sometime in March through the fall, they leave en-mass at dusk to eat insects. Experts estimate that the colony of bats consumes 10,000 to 30,000 pounds of insects per night! We waited about 45 minutes, but finally they emerged—by then it was really too dark to take photos with my camera. It was quite something to be up on the bridge watching thousands of bats stream out of the underside of the bridge and head out along the river!

Congress Street Bridge

Awaiting the bats on the Congress Street Bridge around dusk.

Emerging bats

A dimly lit glimpse as some of the emerging Mexican free-tailed bats from the Congress Street Bridge. The bats have added a unique identity to Austin; later in the evening I had a beer and listened to a musician at the Bat Bar on 6th Street.

Finally some dinner—and the end of an exciting basketball game (San Antonio came from behind to tie Memphis at the final buzzer and then won in overtime)—and an hour or so of exploring 6th Street’s music venues. 6th Street reminded me more of New Orleans than I recalled from past visits to Austin. The focus seems to be more on the binge drinking than on the music, but it’s such a contrast to Brattleboro that it was fun to just wander around a bit.

Then the four- or five-mile bike ride back to Peter’s, and here I sit—ready to get into bed!