Architecture & Lodging
2012 Readers Poll
2012 Critics Picks
Best Belly of the Whale

For every public works project there are naysayers, but woe be to those who call Cotera+Reed's “whale rib" lights anything less than glittery spotlights on downtown Austin. When these behemoth cantilevered rods were first being installed, passersby were treated to the optical delights of a full array of ever-changing LED possibilities. Since then, those lamps have helped people get back to their cars safely, served as a spindly awning for Sunday church services for Austin's Christian homeless, and effectively stitched together the West and East sides. And … you know … that spot, placed squarely between “dirty Sixth" and “even dirtier Sixth," is just ripe for a Nineties-style rave. Glow sticks at the ready!

812 San Antonio St. #406

Best Domiciles for Eccentric Bats

These ploppy, upside-down, vase-shaped containers on stilts are well-suited to house the most discerning of flying furry friends. Think of it as a bat B & B - where the bats who just want to get away from the colony can go. Oh, and that stuff they excrete, guano, is good for garden soil. A two-fer.

Barbara Attwell
2012 E. 16th

Best Glitter-Encrusted Venue

Barely a year old, Riverside's rebirth of the late Beauty Bar has become a sparkling hot spot, drawing in local, regional, and touring acts, proudly carrying on the tradition of its Red River ancestor with a come-one, come-all, genre-hopping ethos. The new ballroom's 750-capacity trades the old salon for a modern, saloon-style venue, but the real standout is the glitz. Enough glitter to fuel a drag ball coats the walls, adding extra twinkle and punch to light shows and a great air of fabulous refinement.

Best Grandstandin'

Why do they call it a stand if it's got seats? UT architecture professor Juan Miró and his partner Miguel Rivera designed the canvas-shaded grandstands for the Circuit of the Americas. If Texas winters keep getting hotter, they'll be the best place to keep yourself cool while the cars are burning up the track. While they stop your brain from boiling, the design duo will be busy at work on the new observation tower and amphitheater.

Circuit of the Americas
9201 Circuit of the Americas Blvd.

Miró Rivera Architects
505 Powell

image courtesy of Circuit of the Americas

Jana Birchum

Best Makeover

Well-trimmed like an Italian Renaissance giardino, but 100% Texas, the Commodore Perry Estate looms on the edge of Hyde Park like a friendly and stalwart sentry. Since its first incarnation as a private residence, it's seen a number of private schools and public events pass between its walls. In 2011, this chunk of property was snatched up and rescued, excavated, and renovated back to its 1928 glory. Now its all promenade, balustrade, tiled magnificence, and a Gothic-revival chapel to boot. Dreams of future milestones, elegant soirees, and sunset walks in a lovely garden: We feel like we'll be revisiting this story soon.

Commodore Perry Estate
4100 Red River

Best Organized Chaos

It's baaaaccckkk – bike wheels, wrought iron gate panels, discarded lamp parts, and all. After struggles with the city of Austin over building permits due to safety and accessibility concerns, Vince Hannemann's 33-foot-high, 60-ton Cathedral of Junk returns to delight and stimulate the senses. Heaven can wait when a monetary donation grants entry into these pearly gates.

Cathedral of Junk
4422 Lareina

Best Outdoor Museum With a View

Somewhere there is a castle on a hill. Moats of grass line broken concrete abutments. Walls and surface abound in a vertical arrangement, all open to the elements. Every square inch, it seems, is covered with graffiti. The site indexes every marker, spray can, and paint brush that touches it, and these marks overlap and accrete, building a truly cacophonous visual statement. Snarky, cartoonish characters sit next to expressions of stenciled undying devotion, and we think we spy the hands of some local artists in the mix, too. Terraced for your viewing pleasure (there's a majestic, undisturbed sight line to the Capitol), this is one of those 'condemned' spaces we never want to see developed. Walk among the ruins and see the world anew.

HOPE Outdoor Gallery
1101 Baylor

Best Place To Ponder Pacifism and Peace

Boy, you better believe that Austin’s Eastside has some murals. But none so reflectively gorgeous as the ones gracing the walls of the East 1st Grocery. Mosaic-ist Stefanie Distefano’s imagining of international political superman Mahatma Gandhi is inspired. Mr. G’s facial features fold into roselike lozenges that refract Austin’s broadband sunlight, making the Indian icon truly beatific. The Virgin around the front corner of the building (whose folds are mirrored like Gandhi’s face) is also Distefano’s handiwork. Makes one wonder what the two would have to say to each other. … Virgin: "Paz!" Gandhi: "Shaanti!" The rest of us: "Amen!"

East 1st Grocery
1811 E. Cesar Chavez

Best Recycled Fast-Food Joints

We wonder if the folks at know about beloved Austin burger chain Hill-Bert's. For almost 40 years, the Maldonado clan has been serving up some of the best burgers, fries, onion rings, and shakes in town. But from the outside, there's always been something strangely familiar about the place. The first location was opened on North Lamar in 1973 in an old Burger Chef franchised by the family's patriarch. And when it came time to expand – first to locations on West 35th and Cameron Road, then most recently to North Burnet – each venture employed a distinct recycle-reuse ethos in a distinctive facade, reclaiming old, abandoned Taco Bell structures. Yes, they "used to be Taco Bells." And as our local heroes keep making us proud, ever-expanding and moving on up, maybe it's time to crank up

Various locations

Best Talk About Sex, Baby

Enter the Q and you're greeted by a Sex Wall. That's right. Prominently quivering on the shelf is a blue-haired Marge Simpson dildo, only outdone by a gigantic glitter number that spans the breadth of the shelf. This LGBTQ safe place has couches, games, and a kitchen, but it's also the community center to learn about safe sex and health issues. Top or bottom – errrr, we mean top to bottom – the wall is stacked with bins of condoms, sex toys, and other sex-talk objects, all for the perusal of the group meet-ups. If you can't make it to the Q's MGroup or drop-in hours, they'll even come to you. And that's no dirty joke.

Todd V. Wolfson

Sandy Carson

Best Toilet Tableau

The triangular plot of land near the corner of Lamar and 29th Street is prime visual real estate, and the folks at Radiant Plumbing & Air Conditioning know how to spin a golden opportunity into a fantastical turd. Who can forget such colonic classic window displays as Harry Potty and the Deathly Bowels, timed with the release of the final Harry Potter movie? Outfitted with a poop-stache and a case of Dos Equis, the Radiant Toilet tells us (we can only assume in a Latinidad accent) to "keep flushing, my friends." Politics as usual is reformatted as a fece-off between a black toilet and his white challenger. "Give a crap! Vote!" – a tagline that makes you wanna cast your ballot over and over. Forget schadenfreude – scheissefreude is here to stay. In closing, we'd like to thank Radiant Plumbing & Air Conditioning for the opportunity to write a paragraph full of poop jokes/euphemisms; you keep us juvenile and regular. In short, you help us go.

Radiant Plumbing & Air Conditioning
901 Reinli

Best Urban Space for an Art Walk

If E.A.S.T. is like a body, East Cesar Chavez is its spine. Eateries, coffee houses, and taco-stands sidle next to libraries, art bookstores, and the Spanish-language newspaper, El Mundo. Pinaterias hold court alongside quirky gas stations and residences. New construction spaces – sometimes rendered as concrete and corrugated steel sheds – are just as common as old spaces (which initially used corrugated metal because it was inexpensive). It's a picture of a street in a state of transition. To truly keep East Cesar Chavez a beating heart of life, culture, and community, we can make this a true creative mix by honoring old and new.

East Cesar Chavez, east of I-35 and west of Airport Blvd.

Best Way To Announce Yourself

If you’ve seen the signs of Easy Tiger, Man Bites Dog, or a host of other neo-Austin institutions, then you’re already familiar with Swec’s handmade signs. Meticulously crafted and tailored toward building a strong visual brand, there’s nothing better a business could do than hire Swec to be its ambassador for the cruising gazes of Austinites.

Joe Swec Sign Painting

Best Wildfire Phoenix

The Civilian Conservation Corps put Americans to work back in the Depression era. The fruit of their labor can still be enjoyed today at the cabins of Bastrop State Park. These humble architectural gems (think Bilbo Baggins meets Gaudi) are back in action and boast toasty fireplaces for a fall or winter weekend getaway – all thanks to the heroism of scores of locals who worked to save the landmarks during the devastating Bastrop wildfires of 2011. The park's 5,926 acres may have been transformed by one of the worst conflagrations in Texas history, but they were not destroyed by it.

Bastrop State Park
100 Park Rd. 1A

Jana Birchum

Devaki Knowles

Most Productive Rooftop

Why aren't the Tea Partiers freaking out about Sweden? It is clear they are trying to take over the world. What's our proof? Take Swedish Fish, for example, or Robyn ... or trolls ... or logs. There's a massage named after them, for Sven's sake. And don't get us started on ABBA. For real. Sweden's got the Chinese quaking in their sweatshopped iPhones. Well, IKEA has sealed the deal for global dominance with 273,700 square feet of the largest privately owned solar farm in the state of Texas. Yep. Their entire rooftop is covered in energy-generating sun suckers, enough to create 2,398,500 kWh of clean electricity annually. Self-sustaining socialists.

1 IKEA Way
Round Rock

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Critics: Arts & Culture

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