Weird City Rising - Design Bureau

Austin architects bringing in the modern: Eric Barth and Ryan Burke of A Parallel, Kevin Alter and Tim Whitehill of Alterstudio, Brian Bedrosian of Baldridge Architects, Arthur W. Andersson and F. Christian Wise of Andersson-Wise, and Burton Baldridge of Baldridge Architects.

East Windsor Residence

The East Windsor residence boasts extraordinary views in the heart of the city. Visitors enter through a pivoting glass door, where the natural stone gives way to its dressed-up counterpart. Inside, one is immediately greeted by a staircase of massive ebonized oak treads floating above twin steel channels and hanging in a three-story vertical space. 

East Windsor photos by Paul Finkel Piston 

Bouldin Creek Residence

Burton Baldridge: “Along with a lot of the other houses we’ve done, the game was to try to build immaculately but build smaller. To try to build rooms that function well, felt bigger, and connected to the exterior, but put the money in the quality and well-detailed, well-conceived building, rather than big spaces that were allegedly marketable.”

Tower House

Arthur Andersson:  “At the Tower House, we went vertical to take advantage of views and breezes and to minimize the impact of a large footprint at the site. On the terrace, some 30 feet above the ground, even the hottest summer afternoon is enjoyed under a canopy open to a panoramic view of the lake.”

Photos of Tower House by Art Gray

Deep Eddy Residence

Photos of Deep Eddy Residence by Casey Dunn

El Greco Residence

Photos of El Greco residence by A Parallel Architecture, except for bottom right by Whit Preston

The complete interior remodel  of El Greco brings natural light and spaciousness to the core of the home, where a load-bearing plaster wall acts as a permeable threshold between living spaces. A sculptural steel staircase folds its way up to a completely reorganized second floor, housing a generous master retreat, children’s playroom, and treetop roof-deck.

Sugel says:

Design Build Alliance’s recently-completed South Second Street House, designed by Stuart Sampley [M.Arch. ’02], was featured in the April 30 edition of the Austin American-Statesman. The project is a modern five-star green home that fits in well with the older homes in the Bouldin neighborhood of South Austin.

Weird City Rising

Tuesday, November 29th, 2011

by Caitlin Ryan 
photo by Jonathan Allen

Over the past 10 years, Austin—once best represented as the sleepy college town in Richard Linklater’s 1991 indie film, Slacker—has become a curious point of attraction for modern, minimalist architects relocating from powerhouse firms in major metropolitan areas in order to start their own practices.  

There’s a certain charisma to Austin—one that it’s famous for. The city could be described as a velvet coffin; it’s the type of place where you can settle down, find immediate comfort, and lie happily until your death. The capital city consistently lands atop national “Top 10” lists for quality of life, world-renowned university systems, urban greenery, and small-business vitality. A liberal oasis in a state typically defined as a sea of red, Austin has spent much of this century reimagining itself, demanding to be recognized as among the most progressive, innovative cities, not just in Texas, but in the United States.  

This type of enterprising cultural economy serves as a primed canvas for those migratory architects interested in thoughtful, careful, pedagogic design and build. Austin’s economy—named by a 2010 Brookings Institute’s Metropolitan Policy Program report as one of the most recession-proof in the nation—weathered the 2008 collapse better than most, but it wasn’t impervious to the “flipping culture” that the market (and national media) so strongly promoted. If there’s one critique that Burton Baldridge of Baldridge Architects can offer, it’s to move away from a calculable “Dwell aesthetic.” “The mark of this point in time is so easily readable on much of what’s built.” Baldridge says. “If you throw it ahead 30 years from now, it’s going to look like what was built ‘right now,’ and if it wasn’t built well, it’s going to delaminate.”

Thus, there’s a danger of misinterpretation that comes along with a design scene in relative nascence. But in concert with Baldridge, Austin firms like A Parallel, Alterstudio, and Andersson Wise are keeping the award-winning architectural growth spurt on course by way of experiential—rather than vacuously stylistic—design and build.  

The city is fertile ground for remodels, with a plethora of inefficiently planned ranch style houses built in the ’50s and ’60s that no longer function in a modern sense. Eric Barth and Ryan Burke of A Parallel are often tasked with righting the ship and resurrecting these battered, thrice-remodeled homes. 

“What’s most unfortunate about the flipping tendency is finding layers upon layers of previous construction,” Burke says. “When working with an existing building, our priority is to assess what should be saved, and then design thoughtfully to create permanence. When someone comes in, they see the value of the architecture as opposed to the opportunity for the next remodel.”

Kevin Alter of Alterstudio Architects sees the value in creating buildings that transcend comfort, and says the most profound are the ones that “leave you with a different understanding of the world.” Alter, who first came to the University of Texas as a professor whose research focused on the modern movement, argues that Austin effortlessly embraces the attitude from which a non-dogmatic modernism arose. 

“In post-war America, the modern idiom was used as a way to embrace the pleasures of living in a modern world,” he explains. “Propriety wasn’t so important. You might sit on the floor, and you might not have a formal dining room, but you’d have a great room— where one space freely flows into another. A modern world in post-war America was something to revel in. Modern industry won the war and defined an opportunity to embrace the pleasures of living in a modern world. ” 

To build a modern building takes a certain amount of finesse and construction aplomb. A decade ago, there weren’t many Austin builders well suited to do so. Now, a new crop has come forth, including Pilgrim Building Company’s Branson Fustes who has worked with A Parallel, Alterstudio, and Andersson Wise. “As a builder, the refreshing aspect is that more often than not, architects and clients are seeking quality over quantity,” Fustes says. “This allows a design that can be fully realized in craft and its materials…and of course, the devil’s in the details, and [the architects] know it.”

Though still somewhat lacking in Austin’s civic realm, modern architecture is finding a smooth inroad by way of residential design. “There’s a lot of young money in Austin, and much like the technology industry in Austin, there are a lot of people who want to feel like they are on the leading edge of what’s happening,” says Brian Bedrosian of Baldridge Architects. “But those people didn’t grow up in those houses. They grew up in suburbia.” Herein lies the educational bent of a conscientious architect’s job.  

Baldridge Architects, most known for what it calls “playful, screw-ball” projects, is often asked to “warm over” a full-blown modern house. Other times, it’s presented with the challenge of introducing a modern house to a neighborhood, like Austin’s Pemberton Heights, which had very little modern presence. The firm is met with great success because, like the others, it is able to correct the misinterpretation that modern architecture is anything other than a way to improve one’s ritual of life. 

An intellectually stimulated city with a legendary casual attitude and (mostly) temperate climate like Austin proves a great opportunity for enterprising architects willing to challenge, push, inform, and enlighten a developing market. Arthur Andersson and Chris Wise, architects behind Temple ranch and the towering new W Hotel, say, “Austin is currently experiencing an architectural renaissance. We’re enthusiastic to be one of several practicing in this great city.” 

It’s that same brand of enthusiasm that allows for a refreshingly close relationship between architect and client, one that’s often lost in a larger-scale city. Uniquely, those forward-thinking clients who do ultimately invest in the core tenets behind good, modern architecture can expect to see their lives evolve alongside their rapport with Austin industry trailblazers.

“It’s a great pleasure as an architect to run into clients at Whole Foods, for example, and hear them say their home has changed their life,” Alter says. “In a way, it’s like being a small-town doctor. Helping people live better in one's own community is a great, great pleasure.”

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