Context. While some architects dismiss a roof and four walls as a straitjacket that restricts their creativity, many others make a big effort to design structures that speak to their immediate surroundings. But whether impelled or compelled, too often an architect’s effort to work within context results in a well-meaning but not terribly articulate conversation with the buildings next door, the street or the park across the way. While it might seem easier to succeed outside the city – to see the landscape as a blank canvas – trees, stone, water and dirt can be unforgiving; plus, a house badly sited or poorly designed on a beautiful stretch of earth will always look out of place.
Engendering a dialogue with the natural world has been central to the practice of Texas-based Lake|Flato Architects since 1984. And like a living thing, the firm has evolved over the years, developing an ever-keener fluency in the language of the environment. The firm’s most recent projects – often spun of local materials worked by local craftsmen – are finely illuminated in Lake|Flato Houses: Respecting the Land (Rizzoli New York, 2021).
“I grew up in Texas and spent an enormous amount of time in the outdoors, and I have great memories of camping out along the edge of the river, knowing what it took to stay warm or stay cool,” says co-founder, Ted Flato. “You come out of architecture school with certain tools, but these ‘living tools’ I learned growing up and I have leveraged that knowledge in our work.”
While clearly read as significant forms, Lake|Flato buildings register equally as sympathetic companions to the landscape. Situated in the hill country of central Texas, the Verde Creek House is an artful rendition of a humble camp compound. A constellation of “cabins” connected by breezeways and graced with wide-open porches, this getaway not only embraces the environment physically, but celebrates the idea of living as much outdoors as in. “The rooms open directly to the open air, so you’re never traveling by a bedroom or down a hallway, you’re either in a room or outside,” notes Flato.
Although essentially shed-like, these volumes (constructed of local materials, including limestone and cypress) are not without visual delight. “The interest comes from the simple expression of how the house is made,” suggests Flato. “We set the columns on the outside so you can clearly see how the structure works. The ‘ornament’ is in the trusses that span the main living space, it’s in the stone floors that look as if you just swept the dirt away and that’s what you uncovered.” Like a strong declarative sentence, Verde Creek is an assertion of principle, not an exclamation of impulse. It is assertive, but it stands on solid ground.
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