Photograph by Will Michels
Frank Chip Briscoe
has politics in his blood and preservation on his mind. Born
to a Texas political dynastyhis father was a district
attorney, his cousin a governorhe got his feet wet last
spring by challenging the congressional seat held by House
majority whip Tom DeLay (he lost the Democratic primary by
a razor-thin margin). In April, he visited Pakistan, where
he has been working with an international team to uncover
a 4,500-year-old city. All this while working for veteran
Houston builders W.S. Bellows, which built the Live Oak Friends
Meeting House (above). Trained in historic preservation at
Cornell, Briscoe and his wife live near Houston in a family
farmhouse hes restored himself.
are the goals of your work in Pakistan?
My primary role is to work with the Pakistanis, through UNESCO
[United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization]
to assist with the conservation of the ruins of Moenjodaro.
Moenjodaro is one of the capitals of the Indus Civilization,
in the valley of the Indus River. Ive been going there
since 1995. Its an enormously important place in the
history of civilization. Its the oldest planned city
in the world and the largest Bronze Age city that we know
of. Its water distribution system was the most advanced of
its time and included indoor plumbing and one of the first
uses of wells. We believe Moenjodaro and its sister capital,
Harappa, are the first places in the world where baked industrial
brick was used.
Only about 10 percent of the site has been excavated, and
theres a prohibition on further excavation until the
exposed ruins are stabilized. We still have a lot to learn
about the way the city was planned. For instance, we havent
found definitive evidence of any kind of defense structure,
which is interesting, because the Indus River was a transportation
What was your latest visit like,
given recent events?
People here thought I was crazy to go. But Ive known
the team working there for quite some time now, and Ive
always been very warmly received. My relationship with them
hasnt changed. Its very satisfying to be involved
in this project. I hope to stay involved if the political
situation allows it.
Why did you decide to run for Congress?
I ran primarily to promote a smart-growth agenda for my district.
Weve got to be among the worst offenders in terms of
the way resources are used here. Its deplorable that
were not even beginning to work toward sustainable growth.
Traffic congestion and sprawl have gotten terrible. For instance,
theres a proposed expansion of the Katy Freeway that
connects Houston to its western suburbs. Its now about
13 lanes wide; the plan is to almost double it, with all passenger
vehicles, no plans for public transportation. Theres
growing opposition to the lack of transit options, and its
supported in part by air-quality standards that have to be
considered when you widen freeways.
We also need to be much more considerate of the environment
when we design and build things. Im looking forward
to being part of the move toward sustainable design in my
job as a builder.
Would you run for office again?
I would consider it, although I dont have any plans
to. Running for office was a wonderful experience. I met a
lot of people doing very important work. Politics was always
a very personal thing to me growing up, because of my familys
involvement. What pushed me to run was that I was really riled
up after September 11, among other things. I hope it doesnt
take something like that to make me try it again.