Lakeview Residence



july/august 2015

Planted among the live oak trees, atop the crest of a hill in West Austin, the Lakeview Residence affords a sweeping view of the Bright Leaf Preserve to the west, while enduring tree canopies shield the 5,900-sf home from the road to the East. The immediate perception of seclusion from the surrounding neighborhood emanates from the design team’s careful attention to the quality and character of the outdoor spaces as much as the indoor ones. The layout, created to meet the current and future needs of a husband and wife with two young children, is rich and complex, while adhering to, as designer Kevin Alter modestly describes it, a simple one ­room-wide plan.  

To emphasize specific framed views and to punctuate an arrival sequence the design team, consisting of Alter, Ernesto Cragnolino, and Tim Whitehill, molded the Lakeview Residence in-line with a more traditional courtyard layout. Indoor and outdoor public spaces  are flanked with bedrooms to the north and a guesthouse to the south. Facilitated by a serendipitous site circumstance the house seamlessly intertwines the built and natural together. Employing the boundaries of the existing foundation of a demolished house as a road map enabled the team to establish a  tree-­to­-house relationship not allowed by current building codes. In one location the architects were able to slide a stone-and-glass wall within a few feet of a 17” diameter live oak tree. The long wall casually leads the eye, initially travelling along its planar surface, but pausing briefly to allow attention to the magnificent tree and finally continuing on to end at an elegantly-framed view of the preserve beyond. The tree becomes a perfect comma in the charming story of the entry sequence to this house,  where a cantilevered concrete slab and hidden steel lintel carry the hefty load of the stone wall, windows, and roof above. Here, we begin to understand the architectural thesis governing the design of the structure: If the cantilevered wall detail more clearly (and more arrogantly) asserted its presence, attention would be pulled toward the highlighted details. Instead, the architects deftly position each architectural element to establish a more profound and even extraordinary relationship of spatial harmony, a mutual resonance between the natural and the man­made.

Entering the site, visitors are greeted with a meandering stone pathway that gracefully slivers through a beautifully curated, Mark Word­ designed landscape. The front door refuses to reveal itself. Without this point of termination, visitors feel encouraged to slow their pace and consider the curious, cypress­-clad forms deposited about the landscape and held together by the conspicuous but slender horizontality of the roof fascia. The delicate scale and uninterrupted character of the steel fascia is essential to serve as a point of visual reference and to provide a strong mechanized juxtaposition to the meandrous nature of the Oak trees and previously mentioned cypress-clad forms of the house. The pure and slight nature of the fascia is achieved through the use of an inverted steel channel held away from the much thicker structure of the roof enough to allow space for a hidden system of gutters and downspouts.

In the front courtyard, heavy limestone walls reach up to meet a line of clerestory windows that buffer a physical connection to the fascia, thus reinforcing its conceptual importance and allowing for an exquisitely uninterrupted ceiling plane that passes from outside in, and back out again. The stone and glass walls are uncomplicated, in the best sense of the word, a handsomely arranged system of vertical planes assigned the arduous task of elegantly but effectively allowing (or disallowing) natural light and views of the space inside and out. In direct opposition to the consistent nature of the fascia, a stucco, stone, and glass palate forms the gesturally calibrated, telluric wood volumes of the house: Its striated cypress skin, a sterling example of formal expression married with functional logic, is reminiscent of tree bark, and serves to integrate the structure, large though it is, with the surrounding grove of live oaks.     

To achieve the desired scale, materiality, and response to light and shadow, the design team conceptualized a vertically oriented wood façade; employing an affordable custom-milled knife blade to prevent costs from spiraling out of control. This innovation allowed them to craft a wood profile that was not only intriguing, but that could also be easily deployed on an undulating surface.  The unique, striated wood facade (which runs along the straight) consists of 2 x 6 cypress boards, milled and equipped with a tongue-and-groove profile to be easily blind-­nailed to the wall, not unlike a traditional wood flooring installation. Around the curve, the wood facade is composed of 2 x 2 cypress boards, milled and installed in a similar fashion.    

Inside the house sits a small but dynamic table built for the Lakeview Residence by Mark Macek of Macek Furniture Company. Evidence of a curious incident in the life of the tree is embedded in the vivid russet pattern of the monolithic slab of walnut. A slice runs through the grain of the tabletop, with one side of patterning rotated almost 90 degrees from its neighbor. This extraordinary detail, which likely occurred the moment when one species (English Walnut) was grafted onto another (Black Walnut), shaped Macek’s design. In the table’s conception and in its execution, it is like the house; it finds and expresses the beauty of fortunate circumstances. Such subtle artistry pervades the Lakeview Residence, certain to reveal itself in new ways as years go by, just as the family who dwells there desired.