The subtitle of the new “Lake|Flato Houses” book is “Embracing the Landscape.” The monograph focuses on how the residential work of Lake|Flato Architects adapts to the site-specific conditions of brushlands, deserts, hillsides, mountains, cities, and water. The San Antonio-based firm displays a profound understanding of landscape. For instance, cities are viewed as a landscape type — not phenomena independent of nature, but rather a synthesis of nature and culture. Lake|Flato does not misuse or abuse the word “landscape.” In fact, the firm does not “do ‘landscaping’” at all — that is, it doesn’t use natural elements to decorate. Instead, Lake|Flato forms true partnerships with the environment.
The Hog Pen Creek Residence is included in the water section of “Lake|Flato Houses.” The water that is engaged includes Lake Austin and Hog Pen Creek, as well as the storm water that flows across the five-acre sloping site. The placement of the house was determined by the site: the confluence of water bodies, the slope, the setbacks, and the magnificent large trees and their root zones. Lake|Flato has mastered turning site constraints into design opportunities. The house embodies and reflects the deep structure of the place as well as the minimalist aesthetic of the graphic designer client: High nature is married to high design.
In Texas, water-land interfaces are important design challenges, as fresh water is precious. Lake Austin is visible from almost every interior space of the house, perhaps most dramatically from the graphic-designer client’s small glass-box office perched as a prospect and a refuge. The lake is seen from the kitchen/dining/living rooms, from the bedroom, from the bathroom, from the screened porch, and from outdoor living areas. The transparency of the main house even provides vistas of the lake from the guest suite. Big trees frame and enhance these views.
Wood is employed judiciously and elegantly throughout in the inside and the outside of the house.
An ipe boardwalk spine runs from the wood-slatted garage, past a fitness room and the guest suite, through a dog-run entry porch at the main house, and then down to a pavilion on the lake. Exposed-concrete walls contrast the dark and light tones of the western red cedar, Douglas fir, maple veneer, Alaskan yellow cedar, and ipe. All the interior wood floors are mesquite block. A large pecan tree felled during a storm has been recycled throughout the house as furniture. Hog Pen Creek Residence is designed for comfort, reflection, and activity. The house is situated to take advantage of shade and cool breezes. The clients compete in ironman triathlons, and spaces are provided for their off-season training. Outdoor areas provide opportunities for dining, and the screened porch is a pleasant place to read or to talk or to watch the squirrels, birds, and turtles in the dappled Texas light.
Over the past 30 years, Lake|Flato has pioneered an inventive Texas modernism. Their residential work exhibits the powerful range, flexibility, and adaptability of their approach. As Hog Pen Creek Residence illustrates, each project engages the specificities of the site and the needs of the client. Each project embraces the landscape where it is situated.
“The Hog Pen Creek Residence is a beautifully orchestrated choreography of spaces, both outside and inside,” Texas Society of Architects 2014 Design Awards juror Marlon Blackwell, FAIA, observed. “It just seems to rise up out of the landscape and has a beautiful set of relationships between the interior spaces and the exterior spaces, all done with the highest level of regard for the materials and the detailing of those materials. With the Hog Pen Creek Residence, lots of expertise is demonstrated — this is Architecture with a capital ‘A’.”
Frederick R. Steiner is dean of The University of Texas at Austin School of Architecture.
Published in the September/October 2014 issue of Texas Architect.