If there has ever been a tenet that holds true in the rugged environment of the Texas Hill Country, it is that you have to occupy the land according to its own terms and conditions. There is little use in fighting the sharp sunlight, the biting heat, and the frequent droughts. These are all integral parts of the climate here. These conditions are also give the rolling hills west of Austin their particular charm. Forced to live according to the schedule of the seasons, one must allow for the opportunity to relax and soak in the environment. In the heat of summer there is often not much else one can do except find a breezy spot of shade and kick back and watch the clouds blow up from the Gulf.
This climate, like all climates, has a direct impact on the spaces of inhabitation; or at least it did before the advent of water pipelines and air conditioning. The early settlers in this area recognized this fact rather quickly. It didn’t take them long to figure out a few simple rules with which to make their environment bearable in the stifling heat and humidity of a central Texas summer. Block the sun, catch the prevailing breezes, and situate the buildings in the landscape so as to best be able to survey the land and you have conquered the hardest parts of creating a livable space. If you can also provide yourself with an adequate water supply and adequate building materials, then most of your inhabitation needs are cared for.
To fully understand the impact of these few simple rules, just take a long drive through the landscape and look at the land and the occurrences that take place on it. If during the summer you happen upon a field of cows at noon, look closely to how they occupy the fields. Invariably they will be in the shade of a strategically placed oak motte with their noses pointed to the South-east, the direction of the prevailing breeze. Notice also the ranch house, with its long front porch and two rocking chairs under the shade. The same strategy applies.
Although the summer is dominated by very parched conditions, the cooler months of the year bring good rains. This asset is easily capitalized on with the use of a cistern. This too you will see on your drive through the rolling hills. Stone cisterns dot the farmyards and fields of Texas ranches. Rusty galvanized steel cisterns are found sitting squarely next to spindly-legged windmills in the roadside fields. This is necessary in an area where wells frequently run dry during drought conditions.
The vernacular architecture of the Hill Country is fraught with ingenious uses of materials. Entire barns are sheathed in beaten out panels from rusted out Model T’s. Fence posts are made of the ever-present cedar posts that are the natural byproduct of clearing the adjacent fields. Hay pens are welded up from the beds of long defunct trucks. This form of recycling is a defining element in the inhabitation of this landscape.
The two buildings that comprise Deep Eddy West directly address these concerns, and in so doing, themselves define a new Texas vernacular. These passive strategies allow for a sensible, if not simple mode for coping with the environment. The shops are given form by the vagaries of the site and allowed to register the dynamics of their landscape. They are inherently of their place, necessarily of their time, and created out of a common- sense attitude. These buildings arise from simple functional concerns about their relationship to the landscape, their position in the cultural milieu, and the stringencies of budget and desire.
Details showing how the various materials meet and play off each other. From left to right: corrugated Galvalum meets wooden trim that affixes the reclaimed aluminum windows to the SIPs; vermillion painted Hardi-panel slips behind the white sliding window; weathered steel column seen against the Galvalum siding; vertical Galvalum on “saddle-bags” meets the painted Hardi-panel; corner detail of corrugated siding with shadows from adjacent live 0aks.
Details showing how the various paint colors and material combinations play against the sky. From left to right: the Galvalum sheathed fascia angles outwards to present a sharper edge against the sky. The soffit is blue-grey painted Hardi-panel. Vertical Galvalum siding skins the “saddle-bags” which hang from the vermillion colored office, where it sidles up to an oak motte; the light chimney over the office peers up from the top of the concrete block “spine” that runs down the middle of the building and defines the trough of the rainwater collection system; at the cleft in the rear wall of the large shop,the blue underside of the projecting roof section meets the horzintal Galvalum of the main work area and the vermillion colored Hardi-plank of the office.
Heading west on Hamilton’s Pool Road, you come around a bend and get your first glimpses of two buildings that make up the Deep Eddy West studios. A long row of steel industrial sash clerestory windows rhythmically dominate a gleaming band of Galvalum that peers above a cedar brake. Beyond the line of the roof, light chimneys strain their Plexiglas domes upwards toward the southern sun. Three of these are set at a distinctly different angle, and later reveal themselves to be attached to the smaller building beyond. Turning onto the caliche road that leads to a gate, the buildings hide behind the dense cedar and oaks. The land once again assumes its olive drab color which is punctuated at the gate by a rusting corrugated “tin” and fieldstone barn. Entering the gate and driving a little past the intermittent oak copses and cedar brakes, the large shop presents itself in a welcoming gesture. A seventy foot long porch perches lightly over the tall native grasses with the corrugated roof playing counterpoint to the horizontal corrugated siding. The butterfly roof of the building projects upwards into a feathered edge solar shade, protecting the clerestory windows from the harsh summer sun. Large square openings, sealed by sliding doors, offer up the space of the porch as extensions to the inside work area.
Construction photo showing the concrete and steel pier and beam foundation and the punched openings in the SIP panels.
Around back, the horizontal corrugated Galvalum siding gives way first to a “spine” of grey concrete block, then to vermillion painted Hardi-Plank and then back again to horizontal Galvalum. The building sidles up to a motte of oaks and a small swale, along which the walls are punctuated by large double awning windows, salvaged from a school renovation. These aluminum windows are trimmed out and held in place by sealed wood giving definition to the rhythm of fenestration. Two vertical corrugated “saddle-bags” attach themselves to the red Hardi-Plank walls, which on the interior reveals itself to be the office, the “saddle-bags” becoming a bookshelf and window-desk respectively.
Construction photo at an earlier date than the previous shot, showing the punched openings prior to receiving the windows.
Construction photo showing the SIPs erected and the roof panels going on. The punched openings have yet to be infilled with the 2x members to accept the windows. The concrete block portion of wall defines the “spine” that collects the water from the various roof sections and delivers it to a large gutter over the rear entrance of the shop.
A cleft between the corrugated siding and the Hardi-Plank walls defines the rear entrance to the building. It is sheltered by a low sloping roof that projects out to carry a large gutter, thus revealing the true function of the butterfly roof configuration. All of the water collected from the roof is channeled into the large gutter via this roof section. From here it is carried off to the two 10,000 gallon cisterns sitting to the edge of the swale. The rear entrance is also defined by a deck that bisects the oak motte. After leaving the protection of the oaks, the deck thins into a slowly rising "ramp-bridge", that spans the shallow swale and rises to greet the porch of the smaller building a hundred feet to the north.
Construction photo of the interior from under the “spine” that channels the rainwater to the gutter at the rear of the building. The quality of light from the clerestories provides an even and balanced daylighting that will preclude the need for artificial lighting other than dedicated task lighting. The exposed concrete block re-appears at the interior to define the presence of the office. Exposed reclaimed open web steel joists give rythym to the main work space to the left.
Construction photo showing the light chimney over the office which terminates one end of the “spine”. The wall of the office steps inwards a few feet from the edge of the oak motte to allow for “saddle-bags” to hang off the wall and to allow a ramp to sneak between the building and the trees.
Where the large shop beckons with a long thin porch to the South the small shop responds similarly with a shorter but deeper version of the same. At the back of this porch two eight foot wide sliding doors open to connect the interior work area to the porch allowing the porch to be an extremely useful work area during the nine or so months of beautiful weather. The porch perches ten feet above the swale, as does the office end of the building.
Looking up the connecting ramp towards the smaller shop’s porch. The smaller porch nestles between two small clumps of existing oaks. At its west edge the building is one step up from exiting grade, at its east edge it perches over ten feet tall concrete columns that define an undercroft that will later be converted to a pottery studio.
Seen from afar the smaller shop peers over the trees and stands out in the landscape with its bright yellow siding and reflective corrugated Galvalum metal. It does however fit into the landscape with its scale and overall form, especially with its porches and sober detailing.
Overview photo of roof showing the various plains of the roof and their relationship to the “spine”. The light chimey over the office can be seen to the left. The roof and light chimneys of the small shop can be seen beyond the tops of the oaks.
Clad in vibrant yellow Hardi-Plank siding the office end seems to hover above the dense green of the surrounding cedar and oaks. The shed roof, sloping towards and becoming the porch roof, with its shiny Galvalum, plays a foil to the ever-changing color of the sky, sometimes brilliantly highlighting the view, sometimes merging seamlessly with the grey-blue of the sky, yet always punctuated by the sentinel-like presence of the three light chimneys.
From top: rear of the smaller shop showing the yellow painted Hardi-plank, the Galvalum clad “saddle-bags” and the steel sash clerestory windows. The understory will be converted into a pottery studio at a later date; The smaller shop seen from the southwest corner, showing the large porch with the large opening into the building.
The light filled interiors of both workshops are wide open warehouse type spaces, with only the offices and restrooms claiming their own territory with translucently topped walls. Glare free even light is achieved through the use of the industrial clerestory windows. This high light allows the shops to be used throughout the course of the day without the need for additional lighting, except for task lighting where required. The clerestories also allow for the shops to not need mechanical ventilation. Their placement high on the North walls allows for a Venturi effect to passively ventilate the shops, evacuating hot air at the North facade and bringing cool air from under the porches. Even on 110˚ plus days the breezes through the shops allow one to work in comfort.The shops made use of many sustainable design ideas. Already mentioned were the passive cooling strategies and the rainwater harvesting system. The other pieces that help to define the sustainability of the shops are the materials themselves. The pier and beam foundation utilizes steel beams and reclaimed open web steel trusses. These joists occur also as the roof structure, and because of their given size, force the building to be its particular dimensions. The walls, sitting on top of the raised floor deck, are composed of Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs). These panels, made of a sandwich of Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) treated with a nontoxic borate to deter insects, and Oriented Strand Board (OSB) skins create a load-bearing wall with integral insulation that will outperform a standard 2x6 stick-built wall assembly. The panels were shipped to the site with window and door opening already cut, and quickly assembled by an inexperienced crew, to the dried-in stage, weeks faster than could be done with standard construction techniques. Coupled with the SIP roof panels, the walls create a continuously insulated, tight building envelope.This pragmatism, coupled with standard materials found in the landscape, and reclaimed and reused “scavenged” materials helped to create 4000 s.f. of easily inhabitable, pleasant space, for an almost unheard of price of $35 per/s.f. (1997 prices...) All of these things synergistically work to create a place that feels at rest with its environment, the true definition of the vernacular.
From left to right: a “bridge” connecting the rear entrance of the larger shop to the deck of the smaller shop. The Galvalum roofing over the deck is exposed as is the wooden structure of the roof as well as that of the deck. Weathered steel beams, columns, and trusses can also be seen at the deck structure; the Galvalum fascia of the smaller shop is accented by the yellow soffit color that matches the color of the office section. A light chimney can be seen peeking upwards towards the sun.