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MY STORY

by

Cities, towns and geography have been a fascinating subject for me, and have been a large part of my life since childhood.  I recall one of my first intrigues with maps coming from a geography textbook in elementary school.  In the textbook was a colorful map of a small town in Ohio (I think it was Mt. Victory).  This particular map showed the individual buildings of the small town as dark boxes and forms against what I recall to be a yellow base that defined the limits of the town, with the simple grid street pattern of the town at the intersection of the highways stretching outward.  I recall looking at this diagram often, dreaming about what this particular town was like.

Mount Victory
Mt. Victory, Ohio (Image from US Geological Survey 7.5' Quadrangle, Mount Victory, Ohio, US Topo, 2010)

Also during my childhood I came across a map my parents had of my own hometown, Pampa, Texas.  From this I learned how the street patterns on the map related to the actual town, and I became mesmerized with the street patterns, how some streets were continuous while others were offset, how the grids of the central city  aligned with the Santa Fe rail line that ran diagonally across the prairie, while the neighborhoods around the central area had streets that aligned with the cardinal points.

Pampa Streets
Pampa, Texas (Image Copyright Geosthetics 2011)

From this I started looking at other maps, including the Rand McNally road atlas and the H.M. Gousha Texas and Oklahoma state maps that were lying around the house.  My family also had a World Book Encyclopedia  set, which was filled not only with maps, but information and pictures of geography and cities.  I would constantly study and dream about the numerous towns and cities, how they related to each other, how they were tied together by railroads and highways, and the implied geography shown on the maps.  I would take an atlas or map with me when my family traveled to different towns and states, and mentally trace the routes we took.

I eventually came across maps of larger towns and cities.  My first large city map was of Houston, Texas that my father had kept from a business trip he took in 1969.  This map was mesmerizing, given the size of Houston and the complexity of the street and freeway patterns.  From this map I discerned beauty and grace of the freeway routes, how freeway interchanges worked, and the street pattern changes that occurred as one got further away from the central city area.  This map also had a detailed guide to the downtown area, with the numerous civic and office buildings keyed to a legend listing what each building was.  From this I would try to find pictures of the Houston skyline, and try to determine which buildings were which.  This eventually led to my interest in skyscrapers and architecture in general, which would become my profession for over 25 years.

I also came across maps of nearby towns and cities, such as Amarillo, Borger, Dumas, Lubbock and other towns in the Texas Panhandle and South Plains region, and began collecting maps of other towns and cities in other areas and states as we travelled, including Dallas and Fort Worth in Texas, Oklahoma City and Tulsa in Oklahoma, and Santa Fe in New Mexico.  I began to notice the intriguing variety of forms and street patterns, and how different towns and cities had different characteristics to their street patterning, how they grew directionally, and the impact on form that transportation such as railroads, airports and freeways had on each city's form.  I also began to take note of geographical differences that impacted the form and street patterning.  I became obsessed with collecting maps of cities and states, as well as specialty maps of national parks, railroads, or insert maps from National Geographic, eventually collecting around a thousand individual maps.

My first summer home from college, I took a job at a surveying and civil engineering firm, which introduced me to legal subdivision plats, topographic surveys, and the intricacies of utilities and their impact on cities.  I continued this work with a similar firm in Lubbock, Texas, where I went to school, and eventually was asked to join a land planning firm, which I worked at throughout the balance of my college education, becoming familiar with zoning and other municipal requirements that impacted how land was subdivided, platted, and developed.

During my architectural studies at Texas Tech University, my interest in cities, their forms, history, and development continued, and I took advantage of the numerous urban design and related social, history and economic courses, and read a lot of books on the topic.

Lubbock Streets ca 2000
Lubbock, Texas (Image Copyright Geosthetics 2011)

After graduation, I moved to Chicago, Illinois, living in the glorious lakefront neighborhoods, and working as an architect with several firms on mostly urban, and some suburban, projects that included new buildings and the renovation/restoration of historic structures, custom single family homes and large condominium high rises, as well as banks, hotels, collegiate buildings, and urban public spaces.  Through this experience, I began to understand the nuances and benefits of different types of buildings, the impact of their relationship to the street and surroundings, the benefits of densities and the positive urbanity that they can bring to a neighborhood, the benefit of pedestrian-filled streets and the dynamics of contiguous street frontage filled with shops, restaurants and businesses that feed off of each other, creating a glorious experience that cannot be found in our typical suburbia.

Chicago Lakefront
Chicago's Lakefront (Compilation image from US Geological Survey 7.5' Quadrangles, Chicago Loop, Illinois 1999, Englewood, Illinois 1997, and Jackson Park, Illinois 1998)

This urban nuance has been reinforced with travel to numerous other cities and towns across this country, where I have been able to experience the great variety of our built environments and the subtle differences in character and spirit that gives this nation its great dynamic.

All of this experience has reinforced my intrigue with towns and cities, the forms they take, the geography that defines them, and the people and history that have built them.  This intrigue is the driving force behind Geosthetics, which I am creating to celebrate the beauty of the built and natural form.

Please enjoy my musings, the imagery I have collected, and the imagery I have created to celebrate this interest.  Also, I invite you to share your thoughts, your interest, your knowledge, and your personal stories and reminiscences about particular places, whether it be your hometown, where you went to school, where you vacationed, where you want to go, and where you live now, so that we can create together a repository of interest for the built and natural environments that we live in and enjoy.

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