Sustainable Homes in the USA

We are proud to be in this fine book and I’m particularly happy that my pictures are getting published all over the place. I’m enjoying photography more and more, as I have been mentioning in this blog. I’m preparing an exhibition… I’ll post about it soon.

Anyway, the focus of the book is sustainability. I encourage you to review the Texas Architect article by Richard Wintersole, AIA:

 Conserving energy is important to Neal, thus the SIPs serve as a thermal umbrella and air is encouraged to circulate through the building from end to end. The Farleys plan to add a large, low-velocity fan to improve the air circulation. When ambient air breezes through the home, the Farleys and their guests are truly in touch with the natural world.”

or by going to the Dwell article by Sarah Rich

In a climate like this, air-conditioning seems indispensable, but to cool the entire structure artificially would be inefficient and costly. Neal devised a solution by building a 540-square-foot box nested within the superstructure, which contains the bedroom, bathroom, and kitchen, as the only air-conditioned space in the building. The two-story plywood envelope has sliding walls on all sides that can be closed to keep cool temperatures in or left open to the fluctuations of the natural ventilation throughout the building.”


Farley Studio Entry is in!

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We’ve been shooting pics for the Farley Studio and putting them together for a presentation. Pretty intense week and weekend but I’m VERY happy with the pics. I was running around the building like mad at sunset, I think I CAN be in two places at once!

The awesome site plans and exploded axo’s are from fab Jett of fodastudio who is so talented I just want to slap him…

It looks pretty good huh??? I hadn’t been in the finished space and it won my heart. As usual, it felt playful but calming, daring but appropiate, unexpected as always. The good thing about MJ is that he doesn’t stop surprising me, when I think I have him figured out, he goes off in a completely new direction, EVERY SINGLE TIME…

If you don’t believe me, wait until we post the almost finished Pilates Studio and especially the Wolfe Den, which is well underway… I’m green with envy with that project… I want it to be mine!!!

I’m also really getting into the photography part of the studio. I was quite shy at the beginning, but after the success with these, the pilates studio pictures, and a project for another architect using a Hasselblad, I’m starting to get requests to shoot other people’s work too. Bring it on!

Farley Foto Flurry

So here’s what you can get for a bit over 150k:-) Again, Kyle is an artist living in Clebourne, Texas. He needed a super economical painting studio where he could live too.

Metal superstructure with metal sips; exposed plywood, polycarbonate, galvanized corrugated metal skin. Formed within the slab are a fire pit and a channel for artist clean up. If anyone tells me again we’re expensive EVER…. I’m sending them here.

Photos by Viviane Vives and MJ Neal, AIA

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Big Ass, Bad Ass, Kyle’s Ass

Our excitement over some key elements is crossing over from client to client! We’re talking about the

Big Ass Fan!


(I’m talking really loud because the last time we mentioned them in our newsletter and in this blog, we got the coolest swag imaginable, thanks guys!) But seriously, we love this company, and we love the product. Hell, it’s good enough for the cows, right? The thing, though, is that it’s good for the rest of us too.

See, besides that it looks cooler than you-know-what, the reason we are all excited about it, it’s because the energy savings and the comfort levels we are expecting to get out of it. This fan moves at a very low velocity, but it displaces vasts amounts of air. When you check their site out make sure to click on “product innovation” to read about it.

You may know this already, we are obsessed with reducing as much energy usage as possible in every one of our projects, we all know that this is becoming more and more crucial, right? So, the idea is that this fan will work in sync with the air conditioning, and distribute the air coming from it with high efficiency, reducing the amount of time that the A/C unit operates. The fan requires much less use of energy and it doesn’t use any chemicals or put out any exhaust. It also lowers the temperature by several degrees on its own. Every bit counts!

So, Curra’s finish out is on it’s last stretch and we are counting the minutes. Soon the big perforated plywood panels will be up (that will be a big day!) and the door with a stainless steel and wood handle, designed by MJ and crafted by Crippen Sheet Metal (steel) and Archwood Cabinetry (wood) will be finally done. All the restaurant equipment is in, and wait until you see the metal vanities, finished with white car paint…

So, what’s up with Kyle’s Ass? Good question. He really wants a Big one! Actually, the Big Ass Fan is perfect for his project even more so! His painting studio IS like a big modern barn, and the fan will become a must have in his case (only a small portion of the studio is air conditioned, one of the reasons we’re able to build such a big structure for a very minimal price! … And he also owns two miniature donkeys.)

So, now enjoy this journey to the Cleburne site, via the wonderful pictures that Justin Parr took. He’s an artist and friend of Andy Benavides, the general contractor and art gallery owner, mind you ….(are we lucky or what! A builder/artist??? And he’s not the only one we work with, right? Remember John and Mike?) Anyway, meet the crew in Cleburne (I think MJ is in love) and by the end you’ll see our crazy but lovable client and friend riding his miniature donkey. I know, what are the odds…

The view is still so pretty…

That’s Shorty.


The Steel Sips man, David.

And the boss-man, Andy Benavides, also proud gallery owner and maker of picture frames…

It’s ok guys, MJ said this one is coming down, anyway.

No, really. (True story… really)

OK, let’s eat, good idea.

That looks yummy.

It’s ok Kyle, you’re not paying for the food…

Or are you???


OK. Back to work. I want a Big Ass Fan!!!!.

The architect has much “esplaining” to do.

The name’s for posterity, these guys are the kind that take pride:-)

Political propaganda put to good use.

That’s the fire pit. Maybe they are discussing the pig roasting? (We’ll be there for that!)

Let’s get to the donkey part…

Tonto and Harold

Big tonto on Tonto: I want a Big Ass Fan!!!

Guy’s crazy, dude.


Steel is up!!!

If you have been reading about the craziness at the job in Cleabourne, you’ll be happy to hear that the construction is actually progressing nicely and that the steel is up! Our happy friend/client is sending us many pictures (mostly taken with his phone, I think…) MJ will have you want to notice the indentation in the foundation specially designed to collect the sand that this fine artist throws at his paintings when he works… there’s also another cut in the foundation that is to be a fire pit… but MJ will post about that, I’m sure. For now I’m just going to paste these here and I will let MJ comment on the job.

I don’t know when that will be because he’s taking off for Dallas in the AM, to visit this site, present another project (I will post renderings of the presentation soon) and to have drinks with another potential commercial client, the lucky dog… VV

The happy architect in front of our office, soon to be former office… (More on that soon. I think we found the perfect space!!!) Although, I’ll be very sad to see this building go, it’s a 50’s gem. and it’s a crime to touch it… unless they do something brilliant with it (let’s hope.)

From Clebourne to Austin to San Anton to Clebourne (the back way)

Maybe I should title this blog “the Daily Debacle”. Actually I dedicate everyday to the making of beautiful things. Maybe I should say the making of beautiful, appropriate things.

I receive one of those phone calls I’ve been talking about.

To back up for a minute and fill you in: in the last episode we found out that the original contractor was leaving the industry and delivering horses. Did I mention this guy was a bull rider. A true cowboy with a grip of steel. He will crush your puny hand.

I had a client meeting yesterday where I met the new contractor for the job. He is an artist. Literally. Someone that speaks the language. ( looking forward to getting to know him better). So my client is down here in Austin yesterday and then travelled to San Antone to hang with his bud, the new contractor. The artist. To have marg’s at what sounded like a great bar, with trains passing and everything …

I had to stay in Austin and try and chase down a missing in action HVAC sub (more on that later) Well, like I said, I get this phone call later in the afternoon from my client. He tells me that he has driven in the back way to see if he can see what the crew is doing from a distance. Wants to get a long view. Nothing. Proceeds to the house. just sits down from his long trip back when the phone rings. His father in law is with the steel crew and the contractor in back.

Client “hello”

Father in Law “When are you going to be back?”

“I’m back”

“Good. These guys have forgotten their plans at the house and can’t put anything up.”

Client “I’ll bring them my set shortly”

So the contractor and the steel erector had forgotten their plans.

The long and the short of it, even later in the afternoon I had a message from the client that the first piece of the steel super structure was up and that “It’s beautiful!” Sweet words to my ears. I hope it wasn’t put up backwards.

But best debacle of the day. The HVAC contractor ,who’s been holding up my restaurant job for two weeks, is missing today. So the job will quickly come to a halt if the required work isn’t done shortly. Dry wallers are ready to walk because they can’t finish, the framer can’t finish . We can’t pull the top out inspection to even cover the ceiling up.

The process of bidding the front handle and push was started yesterday though . It’s stainless steel and an exotic wood that will take on character as the oil in hands rubs of on it. There should be some patina almost immediately. This first and last physical sensation of the resturant should be a warm one.


These writings are exclusively the opinion of MJ Neal and do not necessarily reflect the opinion and philosophy of MJ Neal Architect

“There is work in understanding one another, having patience, arriving at something”
Ettore Sottsass – interview in Domus 887

“We live in a period of speed: in order to manage it we need to work together, looking at technology as a tool not as a goal, keeping the basic values of humanism, avoiding superficiality, solving people’s needs without serving power and materialism”
Ricardo Legorreta – preface to “the Architecture of Ricardo Legorreta”
by John V. Mutlow

So they tell me, We’ve started you a blog. A what? Actually I do know what a blog is. It seems though that I heard somewhere that blog’s were already passe’. That the one’s in the know have already moved on. Is this like the buffalo moving. Perhaps.

And then, you have to be personal. People want intimacy. Well there are magazines and web sites for that. So occasionally, probably most rarely, will I attempt to put something down here. Not that I need something else to take up my time. (I’ve also heard blogging can be addictive) As slow as I type, this is doubtful to happen.

So, one of my clients from out of town calls the other day. He does this, as they all do, from time to time. I never know what to expect (they might have been up all night on a bender snorting coke and drinking whiskey… these conversations can go either way; other times they call to fire you… that’s one of the greatest things and the most dreaded thing, not knowing what to expect.) Well, it turns out, the contractor on the project (they just poured the foundation) has decided to leave the business. He has been offered the “job of a lifetime”. Good for him! But he has agreed to finish the exterior envelope of the building. (Exterior envelope is architect speak for the outside) Although he is not going to be at the job site to oversee what is going on, he has his guys lined up to do it. Sees it in his mind’s eye, has gone through it three times, mind you, and has informed his people how to make it happen. So my client finally gets a hold of him and he’s in the middle of delivering a baby horse. What is someone doing picking up the cell phone in the middle of delivering a baby anything? So to get to the point, this guy, the contractor, has been gone for a while, if you know what I mean.

Last Sunday, I’m set to travel to the job site. Monday, steel to be delivered and erection (of the steel) started. Schedule for the week is all in place. I get one of those phone calls. So, I ask the client, (because the contractor no longer returns my calls, not that he did very often before. This no returning of phone calls is one of my pet peeves and where I am based, Austin, Texas, there is a plethora of this. Almost a way of life. Hell it is a way of life for some. You wonder why anyone carries cell phones. I certainly wonder why I do.)

“So,” I ask my client, “what’s up with the steel?”

“Well, MJ, it would seem that the steel fabricator has to be in court for the sentencing of a family member” (Now this is after waiting on the steel for a week because of weather. )
The story is tragic. You couldn’t make this stuff up. And I’m not going to go into it for respect for the people involved, but it is truly tragic. Monday comes, Monday goes. No steel… So we wait. Waiting. Hurry up and wait the phrase goes. Something heard all to often in the industry.

I’m going to Mexico… Tequila anyone?