Articles tagged as: College of Architecture

April 28, 2014

Texas A&M’s Depression-era Architecture To Be Examined By Preservation Experts

Admin building

Preservation experts will examine Texas A&M's Depression-era architecture, including the Jack K. Williams Administration Building.

A significant era of Texas A&M University’s architectural heritage will be discussed by two preservation experts in “A Collection of Extraordinary Talent & Artistry: The Depression-Era Buildings of Texas A&M,” on Wednesday (April 30) at 4 p.m. in Preston Geren Auditorium, located in building B of the Langford Architecture Center.

Nancy McCoy, a founding principal of Quimby McCoy Preservation Architecture, LLP, and Justin Curtsinger, a designer at the firm of Quimby McCoy, will focus on the quality and detailed ornamentation of university buildings constructed in the 1920s and ‘30s that incorporated the work of an army of artisans and craftsmen.

The buildings were designed and their construction was supervised by Frederick Giesecke, campus architect and department head who founded Texas A&M’s architecture program in 1905. Giesecke oversaw a depression-era building boom that included the Chemistry Building, Jack K. Williams Administration Building, Cushing Memorial Library and Scoates Hall.

“The buildings were designed to impress students and visitors with the institution’s wealth and power and the heritage of the state and the institution,” said Curtsinger.

The Chemistry Building

The Chemistry Building

Quimby McCoy is overseeing an $11.4 million renovation of the Jack K. Williams Building, which will house the university president’s office after its completion this fall, and a $10.6 million renovation of Scoates Hall, which will house classrooms and several of the College of Architecture’s research centers after its renovation is complete in November 2014.

The speakers will lead audience members on a tour of Scoates, which is a short walk from Langford B, after the lecture.

McCoy, who earned a bachelor of environmental design degree at Texas A&M in 1981, is an outstanding alumna of the College of Architecture and a member of the American Institute of Architects’ College of Fellows; Curtsinger earned a master of architecture degree in 2010 and a bachelor of environmental design degree in 2008.

The lecture is hosted by the College of Architecture and the Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering with funding by the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Cynthia Woods Mitchell Fund for Historic Interiors.


Media contact: Phillip Rollfing, Texas A&M University’s College of Architecture;

More news about Texas A&M University, go to

Follow us on Twitter at

March 31, 2014

HRRC: 25 Years Of Helping Communities Reduce And Recover From Disasters

Airmen conduct search, rescue

“Our research shows we need to change how we are impacting our surroundings and start focusing on where we are building, how we are building, and how our activity modifies the natural environment,” said Walter Gillis Peacock, director of the HRRC.

For 25 years, researchers at Texas A&M University’s Hazard Reduction and Recovery Center (HRRC) have championed resilience, edging the focus of disaster planning away from its traditional realm in emergency management, in favor of helping communities and their leaders plan smarter — to avoid, absorb and otherwise recover from all kinds of disasters.

“In the past, nobody was thinking about how to reduce the risk of a natural disaster,” said Walter Gillis Peacock, director of the HRRC, the only research center in the United States dedicated to researching vulnerability reduction and long-term recovery.

“Our research shows we need to change how we are impacting our surroundings and start focusing on where we are building, how we are building, and how our activity modifies the natural environment,” said Peacock. “We need to reconsider what ‘normal’ development should be, and quit setting ourselves up by placing ourselves more at risk, more likely to experience a major natural disaster.”

Losses wrought from natural disasters result largely from planning decisions made regarding where and how human settlements are built — they do not simply happen, showed a study on the rising cost of floods led by HRRC fellow Samuel Brody, professor of urban planning.

The study, coauthored by HRRC fellows Himanshu Grover and Wesley Highfield, earned a best paper award from the Journal of the American Planning Association and provided scientific proof for a notion long held by planners.

Another long-held notion was put aside by an HRRC study that revealed how the 100-year floodplain, a longstanding metric for determining the chance of an area’s inundation by floodwaters, appears to be an inaccurate measure for predicting potential flood-related loss.

HRRC researcher

An HRRC researcher inspects damage in Galveston wrought by Hurricane Ike in 2008.

In this study, Brody, working with Highfield and Mike Lindell, professor of urban planning, reviewed a decade of data collected from counties adjacent to the Gulf of Mexico. They found that approximately half of the flood insurance claims originated from damage occurring outside of the 100-year flood plain. On average, the data revealed that damage occurred approximately 1,067 feet beyond the plain boundary.

Findings such as these, which help policymakers understand the consequences of land development in at-risk areas, have been integrated into the HRRC’s Texas Coastal Communities Planning Atlas, a web-based geographic information system.

The interactive atlas, designed for nonexpert users, created by Brody, Peacock and HRRC faculty fellows Forster Ndubisi and Doug Wunneburger, is layered with scientific data and findings concerning physical, environmental, policy and social patterns along the coast. It includes data on hazard vulnerability, impact and recovery over several years and can isolate data for a particular community, neighborhood, or even a home.

The atlas also includes a “what-if” scenario, showing how development affects stormwater runoff in Galveston County and areas that are particularly susceptible to damage that might occur if a hurricane makes landfall.

Users of the public site can visualize one or many of the atlas’ information layers two counties deep along the Texas coast or zoom in to a specific location. Available data sets include hurricane storm surge zones, property values, elevation, dams, wetland permits and more.

By spotlighting socially vulnerable areas, the atlas can help emergency management planners focus mitigation resources where they are needed, reducing losses and strengthening community resilience.

Hurricane Ike business damage

A study by the HRRC's Shannon Van Zandt and Yu Xiao, post-Hurricane Ike, found that households and businesses are closely bonded post-disaster and enhancing the resilience of one will help the recovery of the other.

A study by Shannon van Zandt, HRRC fellow and director of the Texas A&M Master of Urban Planning program, showed how social vulnerability mapping can reveal disparities that affect residents’ capacity to respond, mobilize resources and bounce back from natural or other types of disasters.

“Lower-income populations often live in low-lying areas and in lower-quality homes,” said Van Zandt, “which exposes them to greater risk during a disaster. Vulnerable populations are less likely to have access to information and resources enabling them to anticipate and respond to threats, yet they are more often than not the groups who most need to heed warnings to evacuate or seek shelter.”

Small business also plays a critical role in disaster recovery. In a post-Hurricane Ike study, Van Zandt and Yu Xiao, assistant professor of urban planning, found that it is important for relief efforts to include local businesses because, Xiao said, “households and businesses are bonded closely in post-disaster return. Enhancing the resilience of one will help with the recovery of the other.”

The study also found that small businesses tend to be more vulnerable because they often occupy buildings in inferior condition and are more likely to lack hazard management plans and resources to finance recovery.

The scope of HRRC’s research encompasses disasters of all kinds, including climate change, drought and their impact on future water resources.

A 2012 study led by George Rogers, professor of urban planning, focused on how the Texas drought of 2011 and competing demands for water affected businesses near Lake Conroe, which experienced a dramatic lake level drop. The study showed that increasing water needs in groundwater-dependent Montgomery County, Texas, one of the fastest-growing counties in the nation, is depleting the groundwater supply faster than it’s being replenished, leaving the region solely dependent on the 20,100-acre lake, which is controlled, in part, by the city of Houston.

The study suggested that county water management authorities institute immediate, proactive water conservation measures as they seek to diversify their water resources and negotiate an authoritative voice in how the lake’s water is used.

Decades of research in disaster response and hazard mitigation planning undertaken by HRRC research fellow Mike Lindell, professor of urban planning, inform his book,Emergency Planning,” co-written with Ronald Perry, professor of public affairs at Arizona State University.

The book guides readers through the steps of developing emergency management plans, offering a number of strategies to help ensure success. It delves into the patterns of human disaster behavior, social psychology and communication, as well as the basics of generic protective actions, planning concepts, implementation and action.

Another book, “Introduction to Emergency Management,” co-authored by Lindell and Carla Prater, senior lecturer of urban planning, covers everything from the social and environmental processes that generate hazards, to vulnerability analysis, hazard mitigation, emergency response and disaster recovery.

Responding to the need to coordinate disaster resilience, vulnerability and risk reduction research on a national scale, Peacock has spearheaded “Creating a More Resilient America,” a national initiative aimed at marshaling resources and collecting data relevant to major urban and rural areas subject to natural hazards.

“This is what Texas A&M’s College of Architecture has always focused on,” said Peacock, “linking our understandings of the physical, built and social environments to help ensure a sustainable and resilient future.”


About Texas A&M Impacts:  Texas A&M Impacts is an ongoing series throughout the year highlighting the significant contributions of Texas A&M University students, faculty, staff and former students on their community, state, nation and world. To learn more about the series and see additional impacts, visit

Media contact: Richard Nira, Office of Communications, College of Architecture;, (979) 845-6863

May 14, 2013

Texas A&M At Galveston Researchers Map Risks To Natural And Artificial Environments

Texas A&M University professors are knee deep in research about rising waters. They’re uncovering vital information to help protect lives, property and the natural environment of coastal dwellers. Their latest project is looking at flood risks in 100-year flood plains near the coast.

Urban planning professors Samuel Brody and Michael Lindell and Assistant Marine Sciences Professor Wesley Highfield are part of the Institute for Sustainable Coastal Communities. It is an initiative between the College of Architecture’s Hazard Reduction Recovery Center at Texas A&M University and faculty at Texas A&M University at Galveston.

Institute researchers can help prepare coastal communities to absorb, adapt and respond to disturbances such as hazardous events, hurricanes, coastal storms and flooding. They are in the second year of a two-year $313,000 National Science Foundation grant to investigate the accuracy of the 100-year flood plain measurement.

The safety zone

Sam Brody

Sam Brody

Brody, who is director for the institute and principal investigator on the NSF grant, says many people believe significant environmental damage and the loss of life and property from recent Gulf coast hurricanes is confined to the 100-year flood plain, but their research is proving otherwise.

“The floodplain designation may be an inaccurate predictor of loss,” Brody said. “Our research findings about the 100-year flood plain will provide policy makers and localities with improved criteria for assessing flood risk in low-lying coastal areas and protecting themselves against loss of property and lives.”

Safety in the eye of the beholder

Wesley Highfield

Wesley Highfield

Brody says misperceptions of safety afforded by the 100-year designation have left property owners unaware of flood risk and made it more difficult for decision makers to ensure that community development occurs in a resilient manner.

The research team is analyzing the following data samples in Texas and Florida coastal communities:

  • Insured property damage records
  • Proximity of damage claims to 100-year flood plain
  • Impact of development patterns upon flooding in Gulf of Mexico coastal counties
  • Household survey information about flooding in and out of the floodplain; flooding experiences; risk
    Michael Lindell

    Michael Lindell

    perceptions; flood insurance purchases; emergency preparedness actions and the effectiveness and cost of flood mitigation and preparedness actions.

“Collecting data about different aspects of people’s flood insurance purchase will help us better understand why people fail to protect against flood losses and, in some cases, discontinue their flood insurance policies years after first purchasing it,” Lindell said.

After gathering the data researchers layered information into a Geographic Information System to better understand characteristics of flood losses in relation to delineated flood zones.

Preliminary research findings challenge perceptions that living outside 100-year flood plains will ensure safety from storms. “From 1999 to 2009, flood losses along the Gulf of Mexico, totaled more than $20.3 billion,” Brody said.  “Up to half of insured flood claims in the Houston-Galveston region were located outside the 100-year flood plain.”

“There is a reduction in the cost of damage a quarter of a mile outside the floodplain,” said Highfield.  “But, it still left an average repair cost of $25,000 per property.”

Safety near urban sprawl

Brody said sprawling, low intensity development with four to 21 percent impermeable surfaces like parking lots significantly increased losses from flooding in study areas.  He confirmed that flood damage was reduced, where natural environments are embedded in developed areas.

The Institute for Sustainable Coastal Communities provides coastal communities public participation and education opportunities, web-based sustainable information and graduate and undergraduate education materials. For more information about the ISCC go to


About 12 Impacts of the 12th Man: 12 Impacts of the 12th Man is an ongoing series throughout the year highlighting the significant contributions of Texas A&M University students, faculty, staff and former students on their community, state, nation and world. To learn more about the series and see additional impacts, visit

Media contact: Cathy Cashio-Bertrand, Texas &M-Galveston, at (409) 740-4830

December 13, 2012

Texas A&M Continues Expansion Of The Arts, Awarding First Masters Of Fine Arts Degrees Friday

Texas A&M University will award its first Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degrees Friday, Dec. 14.

The recipients, Natalie Pittman and Jose Velasquez, earned their degrees through the Department of Visualization’s fine arts degree program within the College of Architecture, a program that was launched in fall 2011.

Natalie Pittman and Tim McLaughlin

Natalie Pittman and Tim McLaughlin

Placing more emphasis on visual and performing arts programs has been a priority for Texas A&M in recent years, officials note.

Pittman, who also got her undergraduate degree in environmental design at Texas A&M, says she’s proud to be one of the first two MFA graduates and that the university’s expansion of fine arts studies is a natural extension of its established strengths. “Fine arts are based in research, design and science,” she notes. “This is what we’re already doing at Texas A&M, just under different titles. It is valid to explore these within the context of art.”

The Department of Visualization, also known as the “Viz lab,” was officially created in January 2008 and has offered Aggie students an opportunity to explore how visual images can create understanding, says Tim McLaughlin, professor and Viz department head. “Visual imagery can be used for the purpose of science, medicine, making sense out of big data, creating virtual representation of objects or places in architecture, engineering or entertainment,” he explains.

Many Viz graduates have gone into high-demand and high-paying positions as computer animators, creating the animation for movies such as Pixar’s “Brave” and DreamWorks Animation’s “Kung Fu Panda.”

“Our reputation has primarily been garnered through the exploits of our former students in the entertainment world,” notes McLaughlin, “but we have many other former students working in petroleum exploration, military simulation, marketing, and other areas that don’t carry the same cache as movie and video game making.”

McLaughlin says the expansion of Texas A&M’s arts programs is important because art is the driving force behind technological advancement. “We often think of the fast-changing world as being driven by technological changes and therefore focus much of our academic energy on science, technology, engineering, and math,” he contends. “The reality is that across a broad range of our economy, the drivers of the technological changes are artists.  Think of how our capacity to share information is structurally made possible through engineering. Then think again about why we use this capacity to such an overwhelming level and you will realize that imagery and visual experiences fuel the desire to do so.

“When we decided we wanted home theater experiences, it was because of the thrill of seeing what artists had done with imagery,” McLaughlin adds. “When we wanted to communicate the inner workings of the body, we turned to artists to help us create visual representations that both specialists and laymen can understand.  As every field of study becomes awash in data, the only way to create meaning from such enormous complexity is through imagery.  For Texas A&M to continue to be a leader in the traditional fields on which its reputation has been sown, the capacity to create meaning from discovery and the capacity to discover due to the inspiration of artistry is a must.”

Natalie Pittman artwork

Pittman's artwork chronicles her struggle with chronic pain.

Pittman says she strives to create meaning through her art, specifically within the theme of chronic pain. In January 2011, she was diagnosed with De Quervain’s tenosynovitis, an inflammation of the tendons in the thumb, and has used her art to chronicle her struggles with chronic pain. “My desire through this body of work was to find a way to take that which limited my ability to work and transform it into something creative and beautiful,” she explains.

After graduation, Pittman says she plans to take what she’s learned at Texas A&M and first pursue a professorship, “but I am also looking at work in computer animation in the animation or gaming industry,” she states.

McLaughlin says he’s looking forward to watching the university’s first two MFA graduates walk across the stage at commencement tomorrow because it symbolizes a culmination of the hopes and dreams of many. “A fine arts degree program at Texas A&M is something that generations of students have longed for and never had the opportunity to engage in,” he stresses. “It’s been a goal for many faculty and staff members who have held the belief that this university has the capacity to make a real impact in the larger visually engaged world by producing scholars and professionals who are visual artists.  I’m thrilled to be here to congratulate our first graduates to walk across the stage. I’ll be smiling not only for myself and those students but for all those people who have wanted to see it happen.”


Media Contact: Lesley Henton, News & Information Services at Texas A&M University; (979) 845-5591;









October 8, 2012

Aggie Lands Gig As Host Of National Television Show

David Applebaum

Former Texas A&M architecture student David Applebaum will host a show on NatGeo.

When the creators of the new show “American Mansion” on the National Geographic Channel (NatGeo) were looking for a host, they reached out to the agent of former Texas A&M University student David Applebaum, saying they had a really good show, but the 50 potential hosts they’d auditioned so far were all wrong. They wanted a real, working architect ― someone who knows something about mansions.

“Good thing I had that agent,” says Applebaum. “He sent me out on plenty of auditions ― me…short, bald, over 40 and the only one in the room with that description. Everyone else is a 20-something, tall, chiseled model that took a drafting class in high school. In other words, it’s all about eye candy and I’ve never gotten more than a call back.”

But this time, when NatGeo called, “my agent says, ‘I have the perfect guy,’” recalls Applebaum, who graduated from Texas A&M in 1980 with a bachelor’s degree in environmental design. In 2010, he was selected as one of the College of Architecture’s “outstanding alumni.”

Applebaum works out of the design studio he founded, David Applebaum Architect, located in Bel Air, Calif. He works with clients mostly on large residential projects, starting in the design phase and continuing throughout the building process.

Known as the “Architect to the Stars,” Applebaum has designed homes for a long list of celebrity clientele, including Frank Sinatra, Rupert Murdoch, Cuba Gooding Jr., Seth Green and Diane Keaton.

With a client list such as this, needless to say, Applebaum has designed some opulent digs.

Kykuit, The Rockefeller Estate

The premiere episode of "American Mansion" on NatGeo will feature Kykuit, The Rockefeller Estate.

But even he was awestruck when his first assignment as host of “American Mansion,” premiering on NatGeo on Friday, Oct. 12, at 7 p.m. CT, turned out to be Kykuit, The Rockefeller Estate in Westchester County, N.Y.

The four-story, 40-room stone mansion was home to three generations of the Rockefeller family, starting with John D. Rockefeller, founder of Standard Oil. The house overlooks the Hudson River and Kykuit means “lookout” in Afrikaans.

“The show is about houses that have stories,” says Applebaum, “and the Rockefeller Estate has a great one. John D. Rockefeller was the richest self-made man ever. His father was a travelling salesman and his mother was an amazing woman who taught him to work hard, be humble and righteous. John gave a percentage of his first paycheck to charity and continued that practice to his death.”

In addition to featuring the home’s spectacular architecture, furnishings and fine art, the premiere episode will tell the dramatic history behind the mansion’s construction. “At the beginning, Rockefeller and his son, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., had very different ideas and four different architects, which is a recipe for disaster,” Applebaum explains. “The construction also came about as the mafia was starting in America, so there was murder, arson and kidnapping threats all taking place as the Industrial Revolution was kicking into high gear. The history books only tell a small part of the story and we will tell a bit more.”

Applebaum says he’s not only the show’s host, he’s part of the team. “The producer let me re-write much of the script in my own voice, I art-directed all of the animation, I shot B-roll at my office with my son on camera,” he laughs, “and what do you expect from an Ag ― of course, I also carry lights, cameras, booms and sound equipment.”

And he even had to brave weirdly dangerous conditions at the birthplace of John D. Rockefeller. “At Senior’s birthplace, I had to deal with snakes and biting insects. My protector (who is otherwise Clint Eastwood’s bodyguard) asked if I was OK wandering in such conditions. I replied, ‘These are pets in Texas!’ But I won’t spoil what you have to see to appreciate,” he teases.

Applebaum says he’s counting on his fellow Aggies to watch the show and contact NatGeo with positive comments so he can continue on as the only former student hosting a national television show.

“Next we start looking for 19 more mansions with interesting and dramatic stories as we have a commitment for 20 shows a year ― if we get picked up, so please help,” he says. “I have a few in Texas on the roster because I’m hoping to combine the show with a chance to come back home, visit friends and enjoy the bluebonnets and Indian paintbrush.”

David Applebaum flashes a Gig 'Em

Before his helicopter ride over the Rockefeller mansion, Applebaum sends a message to his fellow Aggies.

And at least one professor at Texas A&M has not forgotten Applebaum: Professor of Architecture Rodney Hill has fond memories of his former student and the two continue to maintain contact to this day. “David was in my beginning design class and was one of the most talented students I have encountered,” Hill notes. “His personality is magnetic and his energy level is off the charts. When he was a senior, he became president of the student architects club and I was the faculty sponsor. I asked him to be my teaching assistant in my new beginning design class and he was awesome. We have kept in touch all these years; rarely do we go over two weeks without an email or Facebook conversation.”

Applebaum treasures his roots as a Texan and an Aggie, saying, “The great state of Texas is second to none with a rich history and a story around every corner. Texas made me who I am and Texas A&M helped me become the person I wanted to be.”

Find out more about Applebaum’s debut episode, “American Mansion: Secrets of the Rockefeller Estate” on the NatGeo website.


Media Contact: Lesley Henton, News & Information Services at Texas A&M University;

(979) 845-5591;

For more news about Texas A&M University, go to

Follow us on Twitter at

Share this story