By Eliot Stone, THC Heritage Tourism Program Specialist
Standing outside the Comal County Courthouse in New Braunfels, architect Brantley Hightower unrolled his shirtsleeves, buttoned his cuffs, and led the THC’s heritage tourism staff toward the building’s entrance. We visited New Braunfels with Hightower in November 2015 to produce a short video promoting the THC’s newest mobile tour, Town Square Walk Around (see video below). Turning back toward our group from his position on the courthouse steps, Hightower began, “One thing I find so fascinating about courthouses is the way the architectural choices that went into the development of these buildings express community values. The materials, design elements, colors and textures—in the context of the community and its history—all provide such captivating insight into the people who built this structure. You can really see who they were and what they wanted to convey by examining those choices.”
“They must have had a sense of humor,” I responded. “These palatial arches smack of fairytale whimsy; not exactly an architecture of justice meant to inspire unwavering respect.”
Slyly peering over the top edge of his sunglasses’ frame, Hightower chuckled, “Wait until you see the courtroom. It’s painted powder-pink.”
The THC’s heritage tourism program staff first met Hightower while developing the Town Square Walk Around tour for inclusion in the Texas Time Travel mobile app. The tour leads travelers to cities and towns lining the I-35 corridor in Texas—from Gainesville to Laredo—and provides visitation information, GPS-enabled travel maps, and narrated video slideshows of historic and contemporary images for each city and town in the tour. The architectural history of each city and town is described in the slideshows, providing travelers with professional interpretation of Texas’ historic downtown architecture and each community’s approach to town planning.
As a professional architect and author of The Courthouses of Central Texas, Hightower advised the Town Square Walk Around production team by guiding, focusing, and informing interpretations included in the tour, often reminding us that, “you can read a town like a book.” His tremendous enthusiasm, knowledge, and ongoing advocacy for preservation of Texas’ architectural legacy was invaluable.
Hightower developed his architectural expertise—and his passion for historic Texas architecture—while completing an undergraduate degree at The University of Texas at Austin, where he focused on small town urbanism. In his later Master’s research at Princeton University, he examined the visual perception of facades, completing his course of study in 2006. He then worked for notable architectural firms such as Perkins & Will in Chicago, Max Levy Architects in Dallas, and Lake|Flato Architects in San Antonio.
In recent years, Hightower recognized the growing need for architectural and design services in Central Texas, and, in response, opened his own professional practice—eponymously named HiWorks—in 2012. On the HiWorks website, an inventory of projects—categorized as real and unreal—illustrate Hightower’s talents, both realized and conceptual. Ranging from private residences to outdoor venues to institutional structures, the project inventory also demonstrates HiWork’s manifest commitment to its founding principal that “an innovative, functional, and beautiful built environment can improve individual lives and thus make the world a better place.” The firm plans for continued growth as it provides innovative architectural and design work for an ever-expanding portfolio of clients.
The HiWorks website also hosts the firm’s blog, in which Hightower provides behind-the-scenes glances into ongoing projects, as well as insightful commentary on architecturally relevant events and happenings. As an additional form of public outreach and education, Hightower produces a monthly podcast entitled "The Works." The podcast guides listeners on a tour of themes and topics in architecture as seen through Hightower’s quirky, insightful lens. Listeners will find a log of "The Works" episodes on the HiWorks website and may subscribe to "The Works" via iTunes.
While engaged with the launch of HiWorks, Hightower also spoke during a 2012 TEDx event in San Antonio, during which he discussed the history of Texas courthouses and the importance these fantastic structures hold for community life and cultural legacy in Texas. Watching Hightower talk, it’s clear his interest in architecture and design serves him not only as a professional occupation, but as an all-consuming passion.