What constitutes someone “shaping” the look of Austin? Is it the architect or engineer of a bunch of high-rise condos, whose silhouettes have forever changed the city skyline? Is it someone who is moving earth and landscaping public places? Or is it someone who is doing it little by little, one small residential and commercial project at a time? Well, I happen to think it’s all three and more, but today’s piece focuses on someone doing so much of the latter he’s worthy of a full column.
It’s not that Jamie Chioco is designing a lot of spaces that makes him such an incredible Austin-shaper; it’s the fact that he’s doing it so darn well. Chances are, if you’ve been anywhere in Austin, you’ve at least moseyed into one of his commercial spaces; though odds are you’ve more than moseyed. He’s in demand as the designer for some of the top restaurant and retail spaces around Austin: Perla’s, Galaxy Café, Bettysport, Royal Blue Grocery (multiple locations) and he’s got plenty of exciting new projects that have just been completed, like Man Bites Dog on Burnet Road and Lavaca Teppan, located on Lavaca Street in Downtown.
We were going to do the standard interview-then-whip-up a brilliantly structured and nail-bitingly suspenseful piece, but every sentence Jamie said was so dripping with meaning and interest, we thought we’d just let him speak for himself. Read on to see what projects Jamie has coming up for the future of Austin, if he thinks an architect has a responsibility to consider the aesthetic of a city and whether he thinks he’s shaping the look of Austin:
Austin is a fairly new city as far as most of our built environment is concerned. We have a few great, old buildings and some historic neighborhoods... That's allowed architects and designers more freedom to experiment
Adrienne Breaux: It seems like you’ve been tackling a lot more commercial than residential projects lately or is that just our perception? Do you like working on residential projects more — where you can create a personal and meaningful space for a few people — or do you like projects where your interiors can affect a larger group of folks?
Jamie Chioco: Actually, we've been busy with both. On the residential side we just completed an addition/remodel in South Austin and we have a new residence under construction in Rollingwood. Designing a home for someone requires sensitivity towards every facet of how that person or family lives. The more information you can draw out of a client the better the design solution. Commercial projects have to be completed at a much faster pace. We'll go through a few schemes and have to decide on a direction very quickly. It's exciting to run with a design idea; you just have to make sure it’s strong enough to weather the changes that occur throughout the remaining design and construction phases. Residential or Commercial? That's a tough one because they are so different on almost every level. I'd have to say that I'm happiest when I'm working on both.
AB: What do you think your most influential space in Austin is so far? Which project do people seem to know you the most from?
JC: I believe the Royal Blue Grocery stores (three total, so far) all in downtown Austin have made an impact. Even though our design statement is subtle they really contribute to the downtown urban environment. Now that there are more condos and apartments these stores offer quality and convenience for everyone that lives and works downtown. They are definitely a nod to the bodegas you'd find in New York City. There are certain spaces that make Austin feel like a bigger city, these stores do that I think. The newest addition on Congress Ave. is a hybrid grocery store/sandwich shop/coffee house/sidewalk cafe. It's one of the most bustling places downtown. Stroll by during the lunch hour and see for yourself.
AB: What about your own design evolution. Can someone look at all your commercial projects in Austin and see a distinct evolution of style?
JC: I don't think so. We approach every project with an opportunity to do something new, exciting and inventive on some level.
AB: Your most known-for aesthetic — lots of wood-wrapped interiors and streamlined built-ins — seems to be showing up in many of your recent projects. Do your clients come to you because they like your style and want that, or do you recommend that style because it just works for the project’s modern needs?
JC: I think clients come to us because we have a sensibility towards design that takes into account the aesthetics, quality, budget and schedule. There is so much beyond the way a project looks that makes a project successful. Many clients have some idea about how the project should look and feel. It's up to us to interpret and really listen to their needs. It's only then that design ideas can be formulated. I guess with our projects the thing that ties a lot of them together aesthetically is our materials palette and a purposeful connection to the immediate environment.
AB: How do you think your style works in Austin? Do you feel like it blends with current trends? Stands out from the vernacular architecture? A combination of both?
JC: I think a contemporary approach to design works in most situations especially Austin. Austin is a fairly new city as far as most of our built environment is concerned. We have a few great, old buildings and some historic neighborhoods. In comparison to other cities we have a very small percentage of historic buildings downtown and in our neighborhoods. That's allowed architects and designers more freedom to experiment. Look at the new Arthouse building by LTL and the soon to be completed Federal Courthouse by Mack Scogin Merrill Elam Architects. Those buildings are upping the ante in Austin for well-designed buildings. I think that kind of answers your question.
AB: Do you think an architect has a responsibility to consider how their work is affecting a city’s “look”? Or do they have a responsibility to only do the best for a project — and not think about how it’s shaping a city?
JC: I think we have a responsibility to at least consider and recognize the context within which we are building. Once you've done that then you can make design decisions within that framework. That goes for any scale project, from civic projects like the Federal Courthouse to the smaller scale spaces like restaurants, bars and retail stores. It is these decisions that shape a city.
AB: What are your future plans for Austin? Do you feel like you have a part in shaping the “look” of Austin?
JC: I plan on staying and working in Austin. I think I have a small part, again, in reference to the scale of our projects. I'm glad that people get to experience spaces that I've worked on.
AB: How do you see Austin architecture changing? What do you think it’ll look like in a decade?
JC: Architecture in Austin will progress. It has to; our population will continue to grow and at some point we're going to have to accept big changes like building infrastructure that can deal with the growth. Those kinds of changes will bring rail stations, bridges, museums etc. I think if done well, parts of Ladybird Lake will be developed. Any city that has a waterway running through the center of it finds a way to develop it. There has to be a way for the running trail and the amazing potential for waterfront development to coexist.
AB: Your two most recent commercial projects, Man Bites Dog and Lavaca Teppan are pretty stunning, as usual. Can you talk about what other projects you’ve got coming up?
JC: Thanks Adrienne. We have a Vietnamese restaurant project going through the city permitting process right now. The location is at South First and Elizabeth, the previous home to Bouldin Creek Cafe. We're also working with the Torchy's Tacos folks on a few restaurants both in town and out of town. There is downtown liquor store in the works, an Italian restaurant on West 6th, Kung Fu Saloon Dallas, a remodel of Annie's West bar and a backyard pool and cabana. I think that's covers it....for now.
AB: Who do you think is someone shaping the look of Austin right now?
JC: I would have to say Michael Hsu Office of Architecture, not a big surprise here. Not only is Michael a good friend but we share office space so I know the amazing projects he's worked on and some of what's in store. He and his staff are incredibly talented. They know what it takes to consistently produce successful projects.