Architecture for Travelers is an interdisciplinary conversation about home, and a collaboration with Lynn Xu and our families. It began during a residency at the Akademie Schloss Solitude and so far it has taken form as:

  • a walk across Texas from Galveston Island to Marfa

  • a series of photographs taken during the walk, printed for exhibition and collected in a book  

  • another book (of poetry and prose) that explores travel, collaboration, and architecture

  • an experiment in building that resulted in a house

  • an occasional residency for artists and writers


"A walk is always filled with significant phenomena, which are valuable to see and feel."

—Robert Walser, The Walk (trans. Christopher Middleton) 

The walk began on November 10th at UTMB on Galveston Island, Texas and ended December 20th at 404 West Galveston Street in Marfa, Texas. 




Since we met in 2007 we've lived in five countries, seven states, and more than twenty apartments. Some years ago, we decided it was time to find a place we could call home—somewhere to consolidate the things our parents kindly stored for us, locate the main office of the small press we edit, and start a family. Driving from Berkeley to Houston in the winter of 2009, we fell in love with West Texas. We got married there on March 24th, 2012, in Marfa, and that same June threw caution to the wind and purchased a small lot on the south side of town. By fall we had moved to Stuttgart for a year-long residency at Akademie Schloss Solitude. There we had the pleasure of living with architects, composers, dancers, film-makers, visual and performance artists, and others, and conversations with them and with our families transformed the idea of construction into a collaborative experiment. Because of work, we now split our time between Marfa and Chicago, and we occasionally use our house as a residency for other artists and writers when we're away. Among those who have spent time there so far are Yang Licai, Mathias Svalina, and Naomi Reis. A number of month-long residencies are being planned for 2019.

16-31 July 2015: Interior walls, sheetrock taped and floated on most walls.

31 July 2015: Filling in the trench.

31 July 2015: Sewage hookup! 

27 May 2015: Front siding. (Wires sticking out from the left/west wall shows our weathervane.)

25 May 2015: Siding finished on north and west walls.

21-22 May 2015: Siding on the north wall.

20 May 2015: First piece of siding on the northwest corner.

Early May - 14 May: You can see the tunnel that Josh dug by hand here, for our sewer line. And the mechanical arm shows the city opening up the sewer main.

6 May 2015: After a few months loitering below the equator, the Tyvek is gone and spring winds blew off most of the Roofing felt. But we're back at it, and here's Josh nailing down our galvalume (aluminum-zinc alloy coated steel), which will hopefully outlast our human life.

13 January 2015: This happened early on but the effects are everlasting. Van's thumb after he hammered into it, several weeks later.

11 January 2015: Roof sheathing. 

11 January 2015: Lower end of the loft space. Rafters all up, beginning of roof sheathing.

9 January 2015: Heading back from El Paso with our roofing and rigid insulation on I-10. Ciudad Juárez on the other side. "It Must Have Been Love," on the radio.

9 January 2015: Josh and I went to El Paso to pick up our Mueller U-Panel roofing material (26-gauge commercial grade steel, in white, for maximum reflectivity). This is a view from the loading station: truck-bed, trailer-hitch, and open road (2mi from New Mexico).

6 January 2015: Lisa (leaning out from our loft), Van (on the ladder), Brandon (supporting the sinking ladder), Josh, and myself (elongated by the evening sun).

6 January 2015: Lisa and Brandon drove in last night -- here they are helping us with the final sheets of sheathing.

4 January 2015: Hats off to a good day's work.

3 January 2015: Josh swinging from the rafters. 

3 January 2015: Because we do not have a roof, any bad weather (aka: rain/desert downpours) leads to oceanic ponds between sill sealer.

31 December 2014: It is the last day of the year and we've got weather in the teens. Here is a view of the framing from the far side of our bedroom. Looking at the axis, the left frames demarcate the bath from the bed, and the right partitions both the bath and bed from the open living space.

31 December 2014: North wall.

29 December: Framing beams salvaged from our initial bulwark and recycled, Deb pulling the rusted nails out.

28 December 2014: The Edwards family in action. 

28 December 2014: Snow cluster.

25 December 2014: All four sides are framed.

25 December 2014: Southeast corner of the casita, framed and sheathed with Oriented Strand Board.

22 December 2014: Another angle on our high wall, photo by Martha (originally in color).

16-22 December 2014: Van drove into town while Lynn is away. Both the north (10ft) and south (16ft) walls are framed within the week.

24 August 2014: Another moon-like colosseum. This time, it is the nocturnal Sugar Ant, coming out to collect secretions from plant-eating insects. 

22 August 2014: Pond o' concrete. A part of the curing process (letting the concrete sort out its own chemical properties as it strengthens) is keeping it wet. For five days, we will spray, pond, and cover the slab, making sure it is moist and cool. When wet, its surface acquires a mirror-like quality and reflects the full face of our Elm. In the National Palace Museum in Taipei, Wen Zhengming's (16th-century) paintings are described to be made from "boneless washes." 

21 August 2014 8:30am: DW Construction arrived (6-men crew) followed promptly by Big Bend Concrete (1-man driver/mixer, who was able to move the truck by pushing a button on the tail-end) to pour and float 18 yards of pure slab. The concrete, which will be both foundation and floor, was driven in from Alpine at $5/mile (delivery fee), mixed on the spot, and divided by two runs. Here is footage of the first.

18 August 2014: Black plastic vapor barrier.

15 August 2014: We have a street address! This existing column, made from flesh-colored concrete, is covered with various carvings and graffiti. There used to be another one, on the other side, but it was gone before we got here. Last week, a woman drove by looking for the other one. When they were little, she said, her husband carved their names in a heart there.

15 August 2014: Josh drilled into our uncanny root (again, it is the Tree of Heaven) and filled its flowering holes with chemicals. (The forestry department lays out a five-year plan for the killing of the TOH. We cannot smoke it out, as our friend Ross suggests, because it will use the fire as seeding.)

12 August 2014: The Tree of Heaven continues to haunt our building process. Its rhizomatic roots form endless braids underground. We cannot sink our shovels in without tearing into one of its arms. This one here just tore through our electric saw.

11 August 2014: Observing the waterline and making sure that everything is plumb. This is incredibly tedious.

10 August 2014: Forms made from oriented strand board and 2x4s salvaged from the adobe bulwark we tore down . . . still a couple weeks from pouring the concrete.

8 August 2014: We bought some yellow string from Marfa Hardware and drew it taut around the stakes to make the contour of our casita.

4 August 2014: Here it is! Our official construction permit. Yep.

Lynn’s Notes on Building . . .

August 8, 2014, an auspicious day on the lunar calendar, marks the first real day of building. Our construction permit was approved on the 4th and, on the 6th, Josh's parents drove in with a trunk-full of produce and power saws. On our lot, which measures 6,746 square feet, we've planned two buildings: a main house (where we will live) and a casita (where we will host artists, architects, writers, and friends). We decided to build our south-facing casita first, which, with clerestory windows in the front and back, will be an open floor-plan of 600 square feet. We hope to use this site as a sort of building diary. 

28 May 2015: Ran out of white screws for our siding. Neither McCoy's in Alpine nor Marfa Hardware had white screws, so we purchased silver screws, pinched them in cardboard, shook the can, and sprayed them white.

27 May 2015: Electrical meter.

21 May 2015: Three panels of siding on the north wall.

20 May 2015: Van eating coconut popsicle in front of Junie (our electrician's) truck.

18 May 2015: Our siding is delivered.

16 May 2015: Clerestory windows.

8 May 2015: The roof is up, and here you can see most of the R-panel/rigid insulation is in place.

13 January 2015: Tyveking our house Roofing felt and weatherproofing.

12 January 2015: Roof underfoot. Sun overhead.

11 January 2015: Van on roof.

11 January 2015: Hanging out on the roof / nailing in the roof.

9 January 2015: Home Depot El Paso --> Rigid insulation.

8 January 2015: A few more rafters.

7 January 2015: First rafters. You can get a sense of the wind from the sound and the blowing-tree. Definitely not ideal conditions to work in when handling 20ft rafters 16ft up in the air. 

6 January 2015: Upper body sheathing.

5 January 2015: Sawing a final piece for our loft floor. (View from loft.)

4 January 2015: Propping up the plywood for our loft. 

3 January 2015: Josh and I take turns sweeping the water from our house. 

2-3 January 2015: Ceiling rafters to support our loft space (above the bed and bath, 8ft-2ft slope).

31 December 2014: Here is a section of the south wall. The square cutout on the left will be our picture window (double-paned single hung) and the human-sized rectangle on the right will be our front door.

30 December 2014: Framing the interior wall.

28 December 2014: Richard visits us daily, at times, several times a day, and a litter of strays ripple behind him. I like this speckled one (medium size) in particular, because of his floppy ears. 

27 - 28 December 2014: To Van's delight, it snowed in the night. (North wall.)

26 December 2014: Making measurements for sheathing. Both east and west sides and most of the north wall are sheathed as high was we can reach. All of the nails are driven in by hand.

25 December 2014: Dusty constellations.

24 December 2014: Framing for the east wall. Framing boards: Canadian forest Hemlock fir.

22 December 2014: To tip up our highest wall (16ft, south-facing) a handful of friends came out to help, including Camp, Jean and Richard (our neighbors), Riley, and Ross. This photo was taken by Martha Schnee (originally in color).

24 August 2014: The spectral drone of our water hose (in the background, Josh spraying concrete) puts us, once more, in inter-planetary trenches with the Harvester Ant.

21 August 2014 2pm: First critter on the concrete.

21 August 2014: Instead of wire mesh to reinforce our concrete we went with tiny fibers mixed into the pour. They look incredibly delicate and remind me of the plastic grass you get in take-away sushi boxes, or decorative nori.

19 August 2014: Afternoon thunderstorm.

16 August 2014: Here lay plumbing for the sink, tub, and toilet.

15 August 2014: Lynn made stencils from Nut-thin boxes, duck tape, and silver spray paint from the store.

13-15 August 2014: Sliding in the blue boards and digging trenches for the pipes.

13 August 2014: We discovered a rather large ant colony on the back of our lot. Around town, they're known as Harvester Ants (foragers and seed-collectors, measuring a quarter inch each in length) and last month one of them bit Lynn in the butt. When we sprinkled Borax on their small hill, several volcanic mouths opened, making a face not unlike Lorca's (drawing on the right).

11 August 2014: Continuing to build forms for our foundation.

11 August 2014: Switching on the water main.

8 August 2014: Setting the corners.

7 August 2014: In the morning we found a lone morning glory in the rubble.

30 July 2014: Just before 9am the small tractor came to level our lot. This was done in less than three hours. (Notice the bush-like tree fanning out from the left: that is a young, blossoming Tree of Heaven, from the ground up.)

30 January 2014: A pile of roots wrestled from the dirt. At the time, of course, we had no idea what we were dredging up. Later, after the summer rain brought back its leaves and color, we learned it is called the "Tree of Heaven" ("Alianthus," from the Ambonese word "ailanto," meaning: tree reaching for the sky), a deciduous invasive native to the dividing shores of the Yellow River, where it is called 臭椿 in Chinese (literally: foul-smelling tree). It is one of the oldest plants recorded in Li Shizhen's Compendia of Materia Medica, and its bark was used to treat asthma, epilepsy, malaria, and so on. During the mid-1700s, "chinoiserie" brought its spear-headed blades to Europe, and then America. It arrived in San Francisco during the Gold Rush, then traveled with the railroad east. At the turn of the century, the Chinese population in Marfa neared three hundred, imagine that.

That said, the Alianthus is famous for tearing through foundations with its extreme dexterity and grow-anywhere attitude. Interlocking roots burrow underground like wire mesh to form nutrient-rich capillaries in the soil. Meatier parts of the root are bright orange, like a tropical fruit. During mating season and when it is being uprooted, it will emit a smell not unlike the smell of rotting cashews.

31 January 2014: Mr. Cataño (down the block, who takes care of the cemetery on the outskirts of town) helps us haul off the trim and brush.

27 January 2014: This is what our property looks like from above.

23-28 January 2014: Rebecca and Christoff came down from Winnipeg to help us save our Siberian Elm, which has been encased in a suffocating braid (4-5") of vine since the 1950s. Here is Christoff, Baron in the Trees.

20 September 2012: Our friend Rob comes to help us drill through the floor (into the basement: Lynn's request to fill in the basement). Earlier in the day, Josh took Rob's advice and rented a 90 lb. jackhammer from Alpine. For the job, he also lent us his compressor. Later on, seeing our slow progress, Rob stopped by to show us how it's really done.

23 June 2012: This is right after we signed on the dotted line and pushed over our paperwork. Our lot, measuring 53' x 125', came with this adobe bulwark, caving in like an abandoned shipwreck.

28-31 January 2014: Lynn and Rebecca managed to dig up these bricks with their hands, brushing them clean with leather gloves. All sorts of glass/remnants of glassware lay buried here, we think, used to be a pharmacy or mechanics shop. We stacked the bricks in fourteen rows, Josh made the joke, it is a brick sonnet, or an ode to Carl Andre.

27 January 2014: For a moment, Josh overcame his fear of heights and climbed into the tree with Christoff's gear.

14 August 2013: Alan sent us a packet of drawings and this is what he imagined for our small casita, strikingly reminiscent of rooms at the Akademie.

14 August 2013: Alan thinking through our main house.

20 September 2012: At the very end, we got the drill bit stuck (like the Excelsior) in an old pipe used as rebar. To fill it all in, the next day, Rob came by with his backhoe.

23 June 2012: Inspecting the insides.