Made in Houston

The Story of Houston's Sprawl, on Your Coffee Table

Two Houston engineers have created the ultimate conversation-worthy coasters.

By Sarah Rufca Nielsen August 3, 2016

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Generally the point of coasters is not to make a statement. No one likes a person who is constantly talking about coasters, because there's no polite way to say, "Have you noticed my neat new coasters?" without all your friends hearing, "Hey animals, what do you think you're doing with those glasses on my wood table?!"

Which is probably what you meant anyways, because who otherwise would bring up coasters?

I say this because there's always a but, an exception that proves the rule. And in the case of coasters, the attention-worthy exception is a limited-edition set of coasters designed to tell the story of Houston's sprawl. Designed by Brian Barr and Dr. Matthew Wettergreen of Data Design Co_ and manufactured by Houston's Post Studio, five acrylic coasters each feature a laser-cut outline of Houston at different moments in time. In 1836 the city was just a dot, growing to a West Virginia-ish shape by 1920 and continuing to spread until 2015, the final year represented.

Stack them together or compare them side by side and you've got a visual representation of the unique phenomenon of Houston's sprawl. That's totally conversation-worthy, which is the entire idea behind the new company. Data Design Co_ started with Barr's final project in Wettergreen's Prototyping and Fabrication class at Rice University, a three-dimensional map of Houston's registered voter population that simply and effectively portrayed a complicated issue. From there Data Design Co_ was founded, according to their website, "with the belief that in the right context, numbers can shift perspectives and change lives. By designing household objects imbued with data, DDCo_ aims to start conversations about important topics that until this moment may have been too complex or inaccessible for the dinner table."

In addition to coaster maps of Houston, they have also created versions for Chicago and Los Angeles. Each product is a limited edition, with only 100 numbered sets of each being produced. The 'Houston: A Story of Sprawl' coaster set is $60 and available at

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