Helen Thompson
Helen Thompson
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BLOCK PARTY

The profile of the Balcones House by Austin architect Mell Lawrence is wide-brimmed, a glass pavilion rising from a solid concrete base. Its lantern-like public face is complemented by the solid form of the guest house, a separate structure that sits with its back turned to the street. The full floor-to-ceiling glass walls of the second floor give the rooms a sensation of being like a perch, connected at all times to the tree canopy and the sky.

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The interior spaces at the ground floor of the main house expand horizontally to the west, opening up to the exterior through sliding glass doors. They are organized around a central wood volume that houses the mechanical and storage spaces, and are contained by thick board-formed concrete walls that add shadows and texture as well as regulate the internal temperatures.

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The smaller exterior wall acts acts as a buffer against the harsh Texas sun while the thicker interior wall acts as a thermal flywheel, allowing interior temperatures to remain steady even in extreme summer heat.

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The kitchen has full views of the landscape.

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Polished concrete floors in the kitchen contrast to the more-textural concrete of the walls.

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The ground-floor layout is designed as a box-within-a-box, with a central core covered in untreated fir wood housing storage spaces and the vertical air circulation.

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Upstairs, spaces are organized to emphasize horizontality.

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With storage and more-private spaces located inside the core, main living areas are designed to be open. Massive sliding glass doors surround the kitchen and living room, opening to the garden and swimming pool.

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Upstairs, on the fully-glazed level of the house, is a bedroom and a master suite with a 15-foot-deep screened porch. Flooring alternates between soft wood and polished concrete, with ceilings featuring structural fir decking and steel beams.

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The bathing space in the master bath.

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A small, detached guest house provides additional living space, and accommodates an office and art studio that houses cabinetry that conceals a fold-out desk, drawers, and a pull-out queen bed, while also serving as wall-space for a bathroom behind.The flat roof reaches well beyond its walls, shading the glazed top floor from the harsh Texan sun.

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Detail of guest house and bath behind the storage wall with its pull-out bed and fold-down desk.

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Detail of concrete walls.

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The house and guest house were built using cast-in-place concrete, also chosen because it can withstand the hot Texas climate.

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PHOTOGRAPHY BY LEONID FURMANSKY

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