Where Western Interiors Begin: Analyzing Design Regionalism in Texas Interiors


Presenters: Carl Matthews and Caroline Hill

In the 1920’s and 1930’s politicians, community leaders, and writers consciously and adeptly began a campaign to distance Texas identity from a stereotypical view of the American south and its legacy of slavery (Ely, 2011). This distancing focused on “Old West” aspects of Texas history and culture. However, when driving across the 773 mile east to west extremities of the state (TSHA) one experiences great geological, cultural, architectural, and industrial differences. The eastern region or Gulf Coast Plains have much in common with neighboring states of the “deep south” such as Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi. The North Central plains are characterized by high rolling plains, cross timbers, and prairie. The panhandle and great western plains are primarily arid stone escarpments and dry-brush land. The South western most region of the state is more like northern Mexico in geology, vegetation, and climate.
 
These vast physical differences in the landscape are also mirrored in demographic variations of the regions settlers and inhabitants. Native American populations, European (especially German), Latin American, and African American immigrants have all left their social and physical mark on the state. While the current economy of Texas is quite diverse, the four major businesses that shaped the state prior to World War II were ranching (cattle and bison), cotton, timber, and oil. 

Even though great physical, cultural, and economic differences exist in the state, it is the romantic legacy and lore of cowboy culture that has been most employed to establish a cohesive Texas identity. This identity is rooted in desire for open spaces and free range, cultivation of rugged individualism, protectionism, and connection to or dominion over nature. The cultural lore is peppered with larger-than-life characters and historical figures. 

The proposed presentation will provide a framework for understanding how the convergence of physical aspects of the state have merged with cultural, historical, and economic aspects to create a distinctive and identifiable Texas interior. The paper draws from academic concepts in popular culture (theory of mass society, theory of culture industry, and theory of progressive evolution) and design/architecture (vernacular architecture, architectural regionalism, critical regionalism, and phenomenology). The concept of establishing a sense of place and identity through design that is both intentional and goes beyond ornamentation will frame the discussion. 

Specifically, a series of designed interiors (both commercial and residential) will be presented to illustrate how a wide range of influences from kitsch pop culture to abstracted architectural forms and volumes have been employed to create a branded Texas interior – an interior typified by grand scale, regionally derived and inspired materials, attention to light and views, and integration of iconography and symbolism. The interiors are drawn from many areas of the state to illustrate how the overarching notion of Texan-ness is interpreted throughout the sub-regions of the state. The discussion posits that interiors are shaped as much by perception, memory, imagination, and literature as by current human needs and desires. Negative effects of these attitudes which has led suburban sprawl, resistance to densification, and resistance to spatial usage efficiency will also be discussed.

References:

  • Collins, J. (1989). Uncommon Cultures: Popular Culture and Postmodernism. London: Routledge.
  • Ely, G. S. (2011). Where the West Begins: Debating Texas Identity. Lubbock: Texas Tech University Press.
  • Eggener, K. (2002). Placing resistance: A critique of critical regionalism. Journal of Architectural Education, 55(4), 228-237.
  • Lefaivre, L. & Tzonis, A. (2012). Architecture of Regionalism in the Age of Globalization: Peaks and Valleys in the Flat World. New York: Routledge.
  • Texas State Historical Assocation (TSHA). Texas Almanac: Environment. Retrieved from http://www.texasalmanac.com/topics/environment/environment September 3, 2012.