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2011CriticsArchitecture & Lodging

Best Affordable Housing Intervention
Foundation Communities

An affordable roof and four walls is a good start to getting out of poverty. TLC helps, too. Foundation Communities creates housing for low-income folks through a holistic philosophy that includes literacy training, financial coaching, afterschool care, and counseling. This whole supportive web of services helps families stabilize, survive, and kiss the bad times goodbye. The new M Station next to the MLK MetroRail station is a beautiful example of green-built compassion in action.

Foundation Communities, 3036 S. First #200, 512/610-4008, www.foundcom.org

Best Corridor
Texas Capitol to UT Tower, AT&T Executive Education and Conference Center

A step through the lobby and loggia of UT's delectable on-site hotel leads the weary business traveler, visiting educational consultant, and Longhorn pop alike into a world of exquisitely crafted, Zen-like respite featuring sculpture fountains, paths, and pavers to set the soul to quiet. Central Texas-based landscape architects Coleman & Associates are the outdoor artisans to credit, and in addition to much of the hotel and conference center's planted and planned beauty, the firm is also responsible for an often overlooked bonus just to the east of the building. While many an Austin Capitol corridor sight line has been sacrificed in the name of urban progress, one has remained available to the people: the one between the rosy dome and the UT Tower. Long neglected (to hell in a burnt-orange handbasket), the corridor was gussied up a few years ago when the AT&T claimed its space. The design is spartan and clean, with a ribbon of hedges outlining the median of University Avenue. Finally, a median worthy of the view.

AT&T Executive Education and Conference Center, 1900 University Ave., 512/404-1900, www.meetattexas.com

Coleman & Associates, 9890 Silver Mountain, 512/476-2090, www.colemanandassoc.com

Best Don't Let It Suck (Please)
Seaholm

An open letter, an impelling to the development team behind the Seaholm project:

Dear developer types,
We Austinites have been promised the moon when it comes to urban "progress." Sometimes, this has worked out to be quite lovely (we'd go so far as to offer nods to City Hall, the Moody Theater, the Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge, and one or two of those gigantor skyscrapers). Sometimes, however, the moon is just that: A big, glaring, pulled-down pants salute. Now we don't wish to name names, but seriously, how many more "oooh … condos and ground-floor retail" spots can we gag down our gullets? How many winding streets to nowhere or empty offices can one town take? Seaholm, the very precious treasure you hold in your mitts, has enjoyed an inspirited transitional year as purported "dead space," having teased with her potential as host venue to some amazing cultural fetes: Blue Lapis Light, Art Erotica, Fusebox Festival, Austin City Limits Must Festival and South by Southwest afterparties, Psych Fest, ThrillerFest, Ellen Fulman & that Long String thing. Austin is running out of historically significant, aesthetically ass-kicking, huge, monumental structures that are still adaptable. So we are kindly asking that you not fuck this up. Ah, is it disingenuous for us to couch our request in the negative? Hmmm, let's try that again: You have been entrusted with an Austin icon. The world is your oyster, the sky's the limit, and in the (somewhat supplemented) words of Buzz Lightyear:

"To infinity and (hopefully not Bed Bath &) beyond!"

Seaholm Power LLC, 214 West, www.seaholm.info

Best Hip-Hop Sign
Rabbits Are Back!

For decades, the sign for Long Horn Meat Co. has given Eastside neighbors a landmark by which to give Westsiders directions. And this is especially true when the neighborhood meat market is advertising the return of its hippity-hoppity delicacy, rabbit: "Rabbits Are Back!" screams the sign. Even when the sign is advertising some other meat – pork rinds, for example, or Vince Young sausage – many neighbors along the MLK corridor near the market will offer directions by invoking the sign: "Oh, I live two blocks east of Rabbits Are Back, and you?" Drop by for a sausage … or simply the signage.

Long Horn Meat Co., 2411 E. MLK, 512/476-5223

Best Mustache Rides
Mustache Seesaw

Part of the Pay Phone Revival Project, the installation of a mustache seesaw at El Chilito was an upper-lip bristle that made so many of us laugh out loud (and not bristle). Passing by on any given day, drivers were treated to old, young, and hipster in-betweens bobbing up and down on the bespectacled teeter-totter affixed to the taco shop's sign on the corner of Manor Road and Chestnut Avenue. The project, built and installed by Austin art collective ¡el grupo! has now gone the way of the phone booth, but we hold out the same hope we hold for phone booths – that it might, one day, return.

¡el grupo!, www.elgrupogringo.blogspot.com

Best Naming of a Library
Ana Sisnett Library at the UT Gender and Sexuality Center

We are happy whenever a public space is named after a woman, person of color, or queer. Aside from being a trifecta, Ana Sisnett was a celebrated author, educator, tech goddess, artist, and activist, and the Gender and Sexuality Center at UT has dedicated the Ana Sisnett Library in honor of her contributions to our community through her many works, including her role in the growth of queer people of color group ALLGO and digital-divide bridge Austin Free-Net. We can think of no better name for this space of learning. As we said about her back in 2006: "Ana Sisnett has always been there for us." That's still true today.

UT Gender and Sexuality Center, Student Activity Center, 2201 Speedway, SAC 2.112, UT campus, 512/232-1831, www.utexas.edu

Best Old School South of the River
Fulmore Middle School

The mother falcon of South Austin schools celebrated her 125th anniversary in September, and we can't think of a more fittingly regal home for what is now Austin ISD's law and humanities magnet program. How many schools can turn out such alumni as author John Henry Faulk and Mayor Lee Leffingwell? And how many schools can claim former Gov. Ann Richards as a former faculty member? That's the Falcon spirit for you.

Fulmore Middle School, 201 E. Mary, 512/414-3207, www.austinschools.org

Best Peace, Quiet, and Chill
Texas State Law Library

If the hectic pace of your day and the gripping heat of the afternoon have got you down, don't worry; there's a great getaway Downtown that is a place of sanctuary, silence, and really good air conditioning and can take you to your happy place – the Texas State Law Library. Conveniently located near the Texas Supreme Court, the library – aside from preserving the priceless holdings of Texas' legal history (having recently survived the funding chopping block) – is a place full of nice nooks to relax, read a book, and beat the heat. It is a public law library that is home to historic legal documents and the nicest and most helpful librarians you'll ever meet.

Texas State Law Library, Tom C. Clark Building, 205 W. 14th, Rm. G01, 512/463-1722, www.sll.state.tx.us

Best Place To Re-Create 'Cabaret'
East Side Show Room

The periscope winking at you from the bar is your first sign. Indeed, walking into the mother-and-daughter-owned East Side Show Room is a welcome submersion into the bar culture and design of 1920s/1930s Europe – wrought-iron fixtures, penny-covered tables, and exposed-brick walls. There are definitely Austin fingerprints all over though, from a Texas-grown menu to the weekly live music, and the top-notch cocktails will get you sassier than Sally Bowles. (Don't worry; the lighting's low.)

East Side Show Room, 1100 E. Sixth, 512/467-4280, www.eastsideshowroom.com

Best Purdy View From an Automobile
Highway 290 East to I-35 Flyover

Not that we recommend taking your eyes off the road, but as you leapfrog your way from Highway 290 East to I-35 heading north, look left and you'll see either a glimmering testament to Austin's growth or a towering reminder of how our little city has grown up, whether we wanted it to or not. It's the same tall buildings either way. Just a matter of perspective. But, really, if you're driving, watch the road.

Texas Department of Transportation, 125 E. 11th, 512/463-8588, www.txdot.gov

Best Retro Staycation
Lakeway Resort and Spa

Around since the 1960s, this lakeside lodge is instilled in the childhood memories of many Austinites. But with new management and much improved service and food, the Lakeway Resort and Spa deserves another look. Our favorite features are the separate pools, one with water rides for kids, the other a swim-up bar and hot tub for adults only. Enjoying a cocktail overlooking the lake from the cascading pool or indulging in one of many spa treatments and then sleeping on a cozy, oversized bed after dinner will make you forget you live only 30 minutes away.

Lakeway Resort and Spa, 101 Lakeway Dr., Lakeway, 512/261-6600, www.lakewayresortandspa.com

Best Tolls for Thee
David Chapel Missionary Baptist Church

For years you could tell time, literally, in East Austin's Chestnut neighborhood by the bells in the tower at David Chapel. Music filled the sky at 9am, noon, 3pm, 6pm, and 9pm – like clockwork. But those sounds are now gone. Why? We're not sure, but man, we miss those midday melodies – songs that make each day go by more gently and sweetly. After all, this is a music city, and there's no better way to make it so than for music to rain from the heavens – even on sunny afternoons. Bring back the bells!

David Chapel Baptist Church, 2211 E. MLK, 512/472-9748, www.davidchapel.org

Best Zócalo
Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center

Clean, curvaceous, and modern, the Mexican American Cultural Center takes the crown for most beautiful open space to gather. The zócalo, or plaza, is a bold, sweeping semicircle of white stone cradling a wide green lawn overlooking Downtown and catching cooling wind from the river. Pure, uncluttered architectural elegance!

Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center, 600 River, 512/974-3772, www.maccaustin.org

Fairest Flourish for Cold Water
New Deep Eddy Mural

Deep Eddy Pool has been a haven for Austin swimmers and sunbathers for more than a century. The soon-to-be-dedicated Deep Eddy Mural has been a community effort of Austin artists (notably Wanda Montemayor and Lisa Orr), historians, and especially schoolchildren, who have studied the pool's history, reproduced its images, and told its story in the mosaic carefully constructed along the access ramp beside the pool. Designed in the style of hand-painted postcards, the mural re-creates a sense of place in time: like moving and meditating in clear, cool, fresh water.

Deep Eddy Pool, 401 Deep Eddy Ave., 512/472-8546, www.deepeddy.org

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