… I guess in English you would call her Compassion. I ordered canelones and a caña, she ordered escalibada pintxo (two of them) and a cortado and we got to talking. This retired Catalan told me how her “vice” had always been traveling and how many countries she had visited (and how she’d always chose a country that was not the United States… I was too sad to take the bait.) She visited a new place almost every summer of her life in her fifty years of employment at the electric company.

Every time she came back to Barcelona and could see the shores of the city from the plane, she thought to herself: “I’m home.” Me too. For many years, when I was flying back and I’d see it from the little blurry window… my heart would jump a little. I had lived in so many other places… Paris, Madrid, New York, Los Angeles, my dear and lonely Sant Feliu de Guixols… but Barcelona was always home.

Until, one year, coming back from somewhere, maybe even Barcelona, just like that, the three lake city made my heart jump a little in mid air. The Colorado river made itself just so handsome, glistening in the setting sun, even if he seemed a little tired from making the city happy by squeezing through yet another “damn.” Home. Barcelona was pushed back into the folds of my brain (but not my heart) and the “velvet coffin,” as some young artist calls it, took its place.

I always felt a little like an impostor everywhere, but I knew I’d carved an actual physical impact out of this city; the Colorado river became, a little, my new Mediterraneo. Had I finally landed somewhere? I felt almost settled, an unusual feeling for me.

Not for long, there it came, my father’s death stomping across the Atlantic; caring nothing about my home or lack of it. Back to Barcelona three times in a row, a descent into hell.

Then came the loss of absolutely everything. Austin didn’t move a finger to save us; but nothing and no one can do anything about loss rolling over you like this. Home, family, town and country, business, and absolutely all of your tears. Loss. The Barcelona that had gone was about to become my own personal torturer in the hands of my sisters, as my mother prepared to follow my father to their new home.

Another move, to city number eight. Hell frozen over, Austin lost. Seven just not my lucky number anymore. I moved, precious family in tow, to the most beautiful bay in the world. I made winged friends and one day while the little love birds brought rainbows to my hands for me to hold, my mother’s death finally came too.

Back to Barcelona, back to a completely different kind of hell, one I didn’t know it even existed. I felt it most in the hallway, that wind again, a fiery monster that blew manic air into our hearts for daring to take down the convoluted theater of my mother’s life. No conjuring of mine would conquer it, how pretentious of me to have tried. Oh god how I tried, I eat all my fears and grew very tall and fat, I sang songs of water and blue again, but I was no match for the ghost of fire that had already swallowed my mother long ago. I never imagined it would survive her. Stupid.

While I’m having my conversation with Compassion at the cerveceria over the canelones, the caña, while I rest for a moment in her kind eyes; while I fall in love a little with this motherly Catalan that has seen possibly thirty countries, more than I have seen, and that’s saying something…

… meanwhile, my childhood pictures are rapidly stuffed inside huge, black, garbage bags; dragged away into the forever darkness through the windy, blood red, hallway. My own kin.

It all happened so fast, or did it? It’s still happening, a loop inside my heart. I scream. I give up, in the now utterly dead passage to hell, I cry in the arms of the young policeman, all of them gone; my heart stops. Then the loop plays again. I hear words that should have never been uttered.

Still unaware, as she talks about traveling and about the frisson of coming home, I do realize that nothing feels like home anymore. My mom is dead. Just.

Fade to Black.

I can say I’m thankful that my mother pushed me onto the path of my freedom; cause she did, the powerful wind from her wild heart blowing my direction, back when it was healthy, maybe just a little too strongly.

I can say that I miss her, that I will carry her in my own heart forever, that I will keep breathing her fire. That I will be careful to tame it just so. That I will pass it on to my son. But I want to shout to whatever god and country is left that I want a home with all of this heart that has learned freedom the hard way.

I’m not sorry. I don’t know where home is. It all got swallowed. So be it. But even as my great trip will also come one day, to one that has traveled so much and that hopes to depart with grace, maybe I can only travel for so many decades without admitting it: I want to go home and I would like my sisters come visit me there. Or did.

©Viviane Vives – rewritten from a piece wrote in Oct 2011, two days before my most horrible birthday ever. I actually posted this on the wrong blog, as I want to post it on

(re-write August, 2013)



“His renowned work weaves materials, colors, and textures with earth and sky into architecture that engages nature and the senses; his carefully programmed and delicately detailed creations evoke a sense of poetry.”

(Text of MJ’s Fellowship Investiture)

MJ Neal is now Morris Jerome Neal, FAIA.

Hurray MJ!

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A friend comes to pick up her child from a play-date with our son and she announces excitedly that we are in Dwell. I smile and I say I know! Isn’t it great, we’ve been on Dwell a couple times, which one did you see! And she goes, no, you are in the “100 Houses we Love” Dwell, and you have a big article in it!

So we pick it up. Here’s an excerpt of the editorial:

They only chose TEN full articles, one per year. Thank you Dwell not only for choosing us–what an honor–but also for making us the chosen article for 2008.

One in ten years, ten homes in one hundred. Wow.

And so it is! Now in stands and zinnio, enjoy!

Continue reading ‘Honored by Dwell: 100 Houses we Love, 2000-2010’

We love, love, the article about the Farley studio that just came out on 360º West magazine. Both. MJ and I, think it may be one of best articles on one of our projects. Right up there with the one in Dwell. The photography, the writing, the layout, and the editing simply rock. Kudos to all: editors, writer (Meda Kessler,) art director, and photographer (Ralph Lauder,) a big thanks, what a great job!

Farley 360 Contents Page image by Ralph Lauder

Image by Ralph Lauder. This image appears in the 'contents' page of the latest (June 2010) 360º West, the editorial has an image of our project as well; the article starts page 48

Photos by Ralph Lauder

Continue reading ‘360º West of Farley’

The American Institute of Austin, Austin chapter is posting some of the award videos they make every year. I’ll post our wins as they become available. This project of ours was the honor award in 2008. Here’s why, according to the judges.

There is tacit wisdom of architecture accumulated in history and tradition. But in today’s panicked rush for the new, we rarely stop to listen to this wisdom. Architecture needs slowness to re-connect itself with this source of silent knowledge. Architecture requires slowness in order to develop a cumulative tradition again, to accumulate a sense of continuity, and to become re-rooted in culture.

In order to create an experiential background for grasping and understanding the dialectics of permanence and change, I believe that we need an architecture that rejects ephemerality, speed, and fashion; we need an architecture that slows our experience of reality.

Juhani Pallasmaa

Melancholy and Time

Encounters – Architectural Essays

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The owner requested that the house have the feel of a “cabin”. A place of solace and repose in the middle of the city.

It also was important to respect the delicate lines and low profile of the existing mid century modern house designed by the late A.D. Stenger, one of Austin’s great modernist architects. From the street, the house looks virtually untouched. It remains a modest presence on the block.

The original house was taken back to the studs, the existing fireplace with its eccentric stone work was saved, and two previous unfortunate, mold infested, additions that made the existing house a black hole were removed.

A master bedroom and bath where added and the interior of the existing house completely remodeled and re-oriented around a long skylight and two interior courtyards. The skylight and courtyards maintain privacy and allow natural light into all parts of the house while providing a connection with the live oaks and changing sky.

Maple, tinted to match the tone of the pine flooring, wraps through out the house becoming cabinets, paneling, and flush doors. Traditional, earthy D’hanis “mocha” brick pavers become the surface in the courtyards.

Update: this project won a citation of Honor at the AIA, Austin 2010 Design Awards.

Duval Studio


The program was to provide workspace for a multi-disciplinary creative studio. The location was in the last remaining intact interior of a small completely masonry (interior and exterior) strip center designed and built in the late forties.

New additions are of wood and steel to contrast the existing raw masonry. Everything new is installed so that when removed, the integrity of the raw space is maintained for the future.

Careful allocation of funds and tricks like kerfing the ¾” plywood to provide the “poor man’s curves” where used to meet the extremely low budget of twelve thousand dollars. New materials are formaldehyde free plywood with a tung oil finish, cold rolled steel, and paint.

Update: this project won a Merit Award at the AIA, Austin 2010 Design Awards.

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Sunday Morsel 8


“When Geometric Diagrams…”

When geometric diagrams and digits
Are no longer the keys to living things,
When people who go about singing and kissing
Know deeper things than the great scholars,
When society is returned once more
To unimprisoned life, and to the universe,
And when light and darkness mate
Once more and make something entirely transparent,
And people see in poems and fairy tales
The true history of the world,
Then our entire twisted nature will turn
And run when a single secret word is spoken.

Novalis/ 1800
translated by Robert Bly in News of the Universe: Poems of Twofold Consciousness

July 2014
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