"The main premise of this book," Charles Moore wrote with Gerald Allen and Donlyn Lyndon introducing The Place of Houses, "is that anyone who cares enough can create a house of great worth—no anointment is required. If you care enough you just do it. You bind the goods and trappings of your life together with your dreams to make a place that is uniquely your own. In doing so you build a semblance of the world you know, adding it to the community that surrounds you."
That houses should create a center for those who inhabit it seemed obvious enough, but Moore often pointed out that houses should, at the same time, be instruments of connection. This second part has been, in most cases everywhere blithely liquidated, as houses have, by and large, become instruments of isolation. This has confounded most attempts at making places that have any chance for nurturing a community.
When Charles Moore accepted an invitation in 1984 to come to Austin and develop a new post professional graduate program at the University of Texas, it became another opportunity to develop yet another architectural practice. Like those that preceded this one—MLTW; MLTW:Moore/Turnbull; Moore Grover Harper; Centerbrook; Urban Innovations Group; and Moore Ruble Yudell—what would ultimately become Moore/Andersson Architects began with the act of making a house, the seventh that Moore would design for himself.
The place would center Moore's hectic life and work, but root himself in a prized Austin neighborhood, the larger sense of the Hill Country, and the even larger sense of Texas itself.
What Moore did not want to do was declare his tenancy with a monument. Instead, he wanted to make a place that would respect the scale and patterns of the neighborhood, and unobtrusively tuck under the limbs of the site's trees. And even though the existing 1930's-era bungalow with a 1950's "ranch" addition offered little in the way of promise, Moore felt it was important not to erase the house, but keep it intact as a reminder of the site's history. He would call the design process "selective erasure".
For starters, the notion of a "compound" seemed right, since Moore and Andersson could break down their needs—two homes and a studio—into constituent parts, thereby reducing the apparent scale. "Compound" also implied a loose confederation of buildings that could take advantage of connections and overlaps to create what Moore described as "chances for encounter."
Ever since childhood road trips throughout the West, and through to his Master's thesis at Princeton, which focused on the Spanish adobes of Monterey, California, Moore was always interested in the Hispanic antecedents of American architecture. The idea of the courtyard, into which the attention and life of the inhabitants could focus, protected by a thick-walled shell, still seemed a worthy model, given Austin's temperate climate.
Moore was also fascinated by what might be considered the opposite of Hispanic typology: thin-walled dwellings, built as clusters of small, toy-like structures by German, Prussian, and Alsatian immigrants to the Hill Country above Austin. Instead of focusing inward, these houses turned their attention outward—by means of porches, windows, dog-trots, gables and dormers—to the land the inhabitants came to tend as farmers or ranchers.
Moore took these two contrary architectural idioms and fused the vernacular voices to make a place special to Texas, but "uniquely his own." (Strong helpings of Soane, Maybeck, Schinkel, Pompeii, Sherwood Ranch, Vierzehnheiligen, Bantry House, and Kyoto were added to the mix!)
Binding all these metaphors was the sense of the building as geode. The whole compound would be sheathed in plainspoken board and batten, painted taupe to emphasize the foliage, preferring reticence to self-importance, and covered by an metal agricultural roof.
Charles Moore House
But upon entry, each layer gets looser and freer and more festive, until the act of crossing Moore's threshold unleashes what Paul Goldberger once described as "mad magnificence." Thwarting all expectations of the shell's equanimity, the inner sanctum is encrusted with Moore's collection folk art and toys, the crystals of the geode.
This is the place that Charles Moore called home for the last ten years of his life, where he centered his many activities, ideas, friends, colleagues, and students, and where he connected to the bigger picture.
The Andersson House
Arthur Andersson's house, aligns the southern edge of the courtyard's lap pool. Where Moore's house on the other side is a riot of colors and pattern, Andersson's house is all shades of white and gray, but no less rich. It is a study in how a small house, with only one living space, a narrow kitchen, and a cabinet like bedroom can seem spacious, even grandiose.
Its simple gable roof is held aloft by pairs of beams that converge to a central point above a monumentally scaled window frame that suggests a mirror, but it is only a framed opening. The soaring arch, made of styrofoam is borrowed from a Francesco Borromini travertine window surround in Rome. A row of windows provides views to the pool, while light wells tunnel through the walls above let shafts of light descend into the space during the afternoon. Andersson described the library wall, which follow the line of the Compound's ellipse, as a "cliff dwelling for books", recollective of Anasazi settlements. Above the books, well-known Texans such as Stephen Austin and Sam Houston have been made into backlit trophies, each adorned with antlers.
The Main Studio
The Main Studio occupies the southwest corner of the Compound's core. Clever folds in the roof carry down from the entry tower so the ceiling inside has all the feeling of a soaring tent canopy. A giant plastic skylight turns an irregular triangular section of the roof into a hallmark Charles Moore light well.
Artifacts from the Charles Moore's career and practice fill the room, including giant photographs of the Orinda House shower deployed as window screens. When Moore completed an expansions of the Williams College Museum of Art, they opened with a retrospective exhibition of Moore's work. Moore/Andersson designed and painted columns for the exhibition, inspired by the Catalan architect Domènech i Montaner's own columns in the Palau de la Música in Barcelona. But Moore's columns are tied together with interlocking moose heads and antlers, a homage to National Park Lodge visits in his youth.
The shelves that once organized architectural material catalogs, now provide a home for Colin Rowe's architectural library, all illuminated by galvanized metal valences.
The Cube Loft
The Cube Loft is a guest space that manages to squeeze all the basics of an apartamento into a mere 220 square feet of space. Kevin Keim and Adam Word Gates took what was known as the "Cube Room" and did some architectural surgery on it by duplicating and adding a dormer window from the other side of the Compound. That allowed a small corner of the otherwise inaccessible attic to be opened up and filled with sunlight, with just enough space for a bed, closet, and little desk. Guests ascend into the sleeping loft by climbing a modern variation of a Japanese Tansu chest, with a kitchenette inserted within. A "Murphy" table, kept from the original space but repositioned makes a place to eat or work, easily folded up to make space. And then a "ribbon" zips and twists around the world, obligingly becoming shelves for art and books, stair railings and the desk above, typing it all together.
The Cube Loft is filled with brightly painted works of Folk Art from Alex Caragonne & Margie Shackelford's collection. Their riotous colors and surrealist abandon counterpoint Kevin Keim's collection of Herbert Bayer geometrics, made with similar palettes of colors, but far stricter Bauhaus geometries.
The West Studio
The West Studio was constructed as Moore/Andersson Architects' drafting room and architectural model shop.
A single gable steel roof has the apex cut away and replaced with corrugated plastic so the whole space within is flooded with sunlight. Cedar posts and trusses frame the entry, extending from the parking structure. The drafting room is raised on pier and beam, but where the site cuts away, stairs descend into a double-height model shop. A pair of corner doors slide open on barn tracks, mindful of Charles Moore's Orinda House in California.
Hal's Box Trot
Since the Foundation does much of the preservation and maintenance work on its own, we constructed a shop in 2004 to accommodate materials and tools. The structure closes off the northwest side of the secondary courtyard, following the roofline of the adjacent West Studio. A corner is clipped away to provide entry to what will become a private little garden in the deepest corner. Mindful of the Missouri Pacific trains that continually rumble by on the nearby railroad, the Box Trot is really a box car with a single rail on which a timber door and 4-square window can glide. When the timber door is open, it becomes a dog trot, so each of the studios can be ventilated with a strong breeze encouraged by a giant hayloft fan. The door then becomes a sunscreen for the southeastern window.
Inside, lofts under the roof and open frame trusses provide storage space for lumber and timber. Since the site sloped to the east, we were able to include a garden shed under one of the loft. Doors that open in different directions allow big mowers to fit in the shed, while a truss and pulley hoist open the flap for ventilation.