The studio will fluctuate between operations “on” the context versus operations “in” the context. The semester will begin with an intensive mapping exploring a range of “natural” and “cultural” forces at play within Milam County. Utilizing scholarly research and direct observation, the proposed cartographic exploration will expose an intricate weave between people and places. Subsequently, the studio will use the expanding awareness of this rich context to precisely locate a series of Interventions for visitor interpretation and respite, along the designated Camino Real de Los Tejas. The final project, a building and (immediate) landscape design will be located adjacent to Sugar Loaf Mountain and will serve as a culmination of the contextual explorations and explicitly engage the role of architecture in the construction of meaning.
During the course of the semester, our role will be to explore and understand, to render visible and accessible, then, to envision and project (proh JEKT) as we engage and contribute to this unfolding narrative across space and time.
In this Texas landscape, an evolving network of Spanish paths (El Camino Real de Los Tejas) founded on prehistoric American Indian trails, enabled the convergence of cultures, initially, Indigenous Peoples, Spanish and French and, later, German, Czech, Polish, Anglo-American, Afro-American and so on. These trails, which became rails and highways, followed the clues given by the land. Over hundreds, if not thousands, of years, the persistent traversing of the land has left a residue of marks (roads, forts, ranchos, acequias, swales, missions, towns, names, words, trees, and so on) that retell a rich narrative intertwining people, place and time.
With support of El Camino Real de los Tejas National Historic Trail Association and Blackland Collaborative, this studio will focus its efforts on Camino Real as it stitches together people and places in Milam County, about an hour from Austin. The county straddles the Blackland Prairie and Post Oak Savanah ecoregions with three rivers –Brazos River, Little River and San Gabriel River– crossing toward the Gulf. In addition to the branches of the trail, the area is punctuated by settlements including, but not limited to, the Rancheria Grande, Spanish Missions and Freedom Colonies. In many ways, Milam County exists because it is a place of convergence, connecting diverse peoples (and places) for over 10,000 years.
In 2004, El Camino Real de los Tejas was incorporated into the National Trails System, which includes historic trails like the Trail of Tears and Lewis and Clark. As designated by an act of Congress, El Camino Real de los Tejas commemorates a historically important route of national significance, including trade and commerce, exploration, migration, settlement and military campaigns, and, therefore, demonstrated the potential for greater historic appreciation and recreational use. In 2011, a comprehensive management plan by the National Park Service provided a vision for the trail with particular attention to visitor experience (interpretation) and use.
Unlike national parks, this historic trail is simply a network of paths passing through the landscape from the border of Texas (actually, Mexico City) to Natchitoches, Louisiana. At times, the trail aligns with existing roads and is marked with signage, some of which is over 100-years old, and other times the trail is obscured by urban expansion. Sometimes, the routes are lost over time. With the majority of land privately owned in Texas (95.8% as determined by the US Census Bureau) and, therefore, inaccessible; the visitor’s experience is at best a drive (2580 designated miles) punctuated by historical markers and the occasional historic site.